Sunday, February 11

Review: Dandara [Nintendo Switch eShop]

A central element of the indie spirit is a willingness to take things that are familiar and then make a fundamental change to them, creating a new type of experience in the process. Dandara is a game that fully embraces this, taking the classic Metroidvania genre style and giving it a style of control unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The result is most definitely distinctive, and provides for quite a challenge, but I would anticipate that people’s reactions to it may vary wildly.

The world of Dandara is visually distinct and gorgeous, sporting an art style that is almost as unique as its controls. Rather than use a traditional scheme where you use the left for movement and then a variety of buttons to jump and fire you’ll instead use one of two supported schemes. You can try out the touchscreen controls in handheld mode, though I wouldn’t generally recommend them given the choice, but the likely scheme you’ll choose is more about aiming where you want to go and then jumping around between surfaces. You see, Dandara, for whatever reason, can’t run or walk... she can only vault between certain types of surfaces. This change completely alters how the game works, and its impacts are felt in pretty well every aspect of the game.

The first tricky thing you’ll notice is that it can be a bit disorienting, particularly when you’re getting into big fights or even when trying to make sense of navigating the somewhat labyrinthian map. In particular trying to move too quickly can leave you cursing everything in sight as the quicker you try to move the higher the risk becomes that you’ll end up not exactly ending up where you wanted to. Add on another crucial decision, that in order to fire you need to hold the button down briefly to charge, and the degree of planning and precision required for success gets to be quite a bit higher. You won’t be able to fly in and gun down everything in sight, your moves will need to be precise and surgical. It takes some getting used to, and will likely cause a few deaths, but it does enforce what I assume is a very intended gameplay style.

Possibly the most aggravating aspect of the game, especially when you pair it with the relative difficulty of dealing with the controls, is the way the save system works out. Over time you’ll be able to power Dandara up with new abilities, much like in any Metroidvania. On top of that you’ll be able to choose your upgrades that will boost health, your energy reserves for specials, or the potency of the effects of consuming the orbs you’ll find along the way. The problem is that the camps where you can save don’t come along often and it isn’t unusual to find yourself running low on health. This is where the challenge of combat, the disorienting nature of the movement and screen rotation, and the one-way sections in portions of the map converge to make your life a bit difficult. Unlocking new areas and making progress can be tricky enough at key points without throwing in sparse save points, the presence of that added dimension moves the needle of frustration a bit higher and it may be too much for more casual gamers.

The hook of Dandara is most certainly its unique control style and whether or not you can master and enjoy playing that way. For people craving something different and who want to be challenged it throws quite a lot at you that you’ve never seen before and it can be thrilling. For anyone expecting things to be more traditional and perhaps a bit casual-friendly unfortunately it likely won’t be a great match unless you’re willing to push yourself. I’d be very curious to see what would come out of a sequel and how its style could be refined further. The bones of greatness are very much there, but to enjoy it you’ll need to be willing to put up with some rough edges.

Score: 7.5

  • A distinct visual style
  • Movement and combat unlike anything you’ve played before
  • Unusual and challenging boss fights

  • If you lack patience you’re likely going to die… a lot
  • The save system pushes into aggravating territory in places
  • Navigation and map use can be challenging and disorienting, making it easy to lose track of where you need to go

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