How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. Excellent explorable map, but obviously does a lot unique with the way you platform and approach the game - which is its main charm.
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: Dandara was played on Steam
Buy Dandara if you like…
- The idea of Bouncing Off Walls like a Ninja
- Mind Bending new mechanics to test yourself with
- Frantic split-second decision making
- Decyphering Symbolism that may or may not be pretentious
- Psychodelic Escher-style level architecture
▼ Review continues below ▼
I’m a big fan of new ideas, and I while I wouldn’t say that Dandara is full of new ideas, its core concept is a delightfully new thing to wrap your brain around. It wouldn’t be enough though, to simply have a Metroidvania where your movement is entirely based on bouncing from wall-to-wall onto restrictive “Salt” patches. Truth be told, after I had adapted to the novelty, I started getting bored with Dandara about 60 minutes into it. But, eventually some lady tells you that everything you’ve done up to that point has been in a “Safer” area, and that moving forward was going to be a challenge. She’s not kidding, and the game starts to get awesome at that point – albeit with a few stumbling blocks. Ultimately though I’m happy to report that while Dandara definitely has a lot of room to grow in order to achieve the status of “Great”, it goes beyond being a simple “Idea Game” and becomes something worth playing if its premise appeals to you at all.
Dandara moves fast, and (when playing with a controller) moving from place to place eventually reaches the point where it’s second nature. At first, it is a bit of a headache to keep track of all of your potential escape routes when deciding to dodge, but mastering the technique is not just rewarding, it’s essential for success. You get other tools for avoiding damage, but nothing is better than flinging yourself around like a ninja. Attacking however isn’t quite as fluid. There’s a bit of a wind-up, and your basic attack moves slow, forcing you to be deliberate in your positioning (At least until you max out your energy meter and can just rapid-fire missiles at everything to cheese your way past the end-game enemies.)
The contrast between dodging and attacking makes for a good dynamic. Unfortunately this also requires that the enemy placement is also meticulously designed, and Dandara occasionally falls short. Some rooms in the game combine enemies that, without the aforementioned missile exploiting , are extremely difficult to kill in an amount of time necessary to prevent them from filling the room to the point where it is impossible to dodge. This enemy spam happened often enough that it was that negative kind of memorable. I try not to use the word “unfair” to describe the frustration that these seemingly impossible odds can cause, especially since I did eventually find a solution. But, I definitely think the game could be stronger if those situations were tweaked a little bit away from “Random” challenges and more towards “Designed” challenges.
This brings me to my “Nitpick” paragraphs where I want to talk about the game’s currency system. This is the third Metroidvania I’ve played that has lifted Dark Souls’ currency mechanics and death consequences. To describe it briefly, you get Souls/Salt/Geo from enemies, and if you die any Souls/Salt/Geo that you are carrying are lost and you return to the nearest Bonfire/Sanctuary/Bench. But, you have a chance to get them back if you return to the place you died and trigger a requirement. If you die again before triggering that requirement, you lose the currency permanently. From a design standpoint, a currency system like this accomplishes two things; It provides tension when you’ve accumulated a high number of the currency because venturing forward risks losing it all, and a currency system gives the player flexibility on how they want to advance their stats and available options. This works great in Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, and Salt and Sanctuary because the primary focus in each of those games is combat. Each of them have exploration, and Hollow Knight especially has a high degree of platforming challenge, but the unifying theme between all three of these games is predictable and highly telegraphed challenges that reward mindful play as opposed to high-octane spectacle action.
Dandara isn’t really designed that way. It could be, and maybe sometimes it is, but too often stopping to observe a room’s situation makes that situation worse. Dandara’s strength isn’t in its combat – it’s in its exploration. Furthermore, that second aspect that makes a currency system a good design choice is barely relevant in Dandara. You have four options for using Salt; you can upgrade your health, you can upgrade your potion so it heals more health, you can upgrade your energy meter, and you can upgrade the potion that restores your energy. For the sake of sustainability when exploring, this really boils down to two options – increase the length of time you can take damage, and increase the length of time you can exploit your energy meter (Contrast this with Dark Souls that has hundreds of ways to spend your souls.) You also don’t even have four options when you start the game, because you have to find your first of each potion and a spell before you can level up anything but your health. The currency system would be stronger if you had one of each potion to start, and a spell to use your energy on (I’d pick the Shield Power.) That way the player could exercise the kind of choice that currency systems are supposed to provide right from the beginning. In my opinion though, the best option would be to let go of Dark Souls’ currency system and adopt the Super Metroid/Axiom Verge philosophy; Have all of the upgrades be found through exploration, thus playing to the game’s greatest asset.
I call the last two paragraphs my “Nitpick” paragraphs though, because I don’t think the currency system – as ungraceful as it is – breaks Dandara. In fact, the final area of the game is a claustrophobic gauntlet of enemy challenges, and I felt that the increased tension provided by the loss-risk was to the benefit of the experience. The game’s story is similarly ungraceful. I’m pretty sure it’s pretentious, but I could just be missing the point. There’s substance there, but it’s lacking. But the game manages to provide a host of fun experiences in spite of these weaknesses.
And those experiences left me thirsty for more. The ending and final moments especially make me want to see a sequel. And I enjoyed Dandara enough that I’m sure to be waiting in line to purchase it when it arrives.
Has high potential to be something fantastic, and some of the bosses are great. But does not reach true greatness
Enemies serve as obstacles forcing you choose where to leap on the fly in an exciting self-flinging volley
Exploration is satisfying especially as you master the game's primary gimmick to the point where it's second nature
Some very meta-game style mind teasers both to progress the game and obtain optional content
Interesting, yet not very well fleshed out concepts that left me wanting
Beautiful Pixel Art that invokes fond memories of SNES gaming
Appropriate but a little bit forgettable, with the exception of the great boss theme
Arguably you could build yourself slightly different using the Salt system, but ultimately nothing but achievements provide an incentive to play again
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