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Review: Dandara

0

Served with a dash of salt

Dandara is a metroidvania with a unique method of movement. It may not set the world on fire, but it certainly has an audience. The story revolves around a woman named Dandara who must fight some evil guys because they’re being jerks. That’s pretty much it. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue either, but there really doesn’t need to be. The gameplay is what’s important.

The one thing that really sets this game apart from its contemporaries is the way that you travel between places. Instead of the typical standard, the character is limited to diagonal jumps. You tilt the joystick in the direct you desire, press the “A” button, and then watch as your character shoots across the screen. 

While this mechanic is one of the few things that Dandara does differently, it’s also one of its most frustrating features. 

Dandara (Android, iOS, PC, PS4, Switch [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Long Hat House
Publisher: Raw Fury
Released: February 6, 2018
MSRP: $14.99

There were countless instances where, despite my many attempts to fight it, the game would insist that I go somewhere other than intended. The controls are just not consistent enough for something as demanding as this. Sure, it gets you where you need to go, but you’ll find yourself needlessly dying in no time. It’s hardly an issue for common traversal or basic combat, but it proves itself especially troublesome during boss encounters, where precision and timing are key to success.

For those who are interested, the Switch version also supports touch controls, but I found them to be even less reliable than the gamepad. 

There is no auto-saving. Instead, you’ll have to seek out campsites, which also offer the ability to upgrade your arsenal for currency known as salt. This leads to a wonderful sense of tension as you explore the world. You’re forced to weigh the risks of proceeding or backtracking to save your progress. If you die, and you will die quite often, you lose all of the salt in your possession. However, the game allows you one chance to recover it, in a nod to the Souls series, by collecting a spirit, which appears at your most recent place of death.

Now, I’m sure it sounds like I have almost nothing but negative things to say at this point, however, that really isn’t the case. Figuring out the best way to counter enemy patterns is immensely satisfying, and the grind that’s inherent to the genre is as solid as ever. Backtracking to previous areas is definitely obnoxious, but a late game fast travel option alleviates this to some degree. 

You’re going to want the unlockable powerups too, which become accessible once new abilities are obtained. They run the tried-and-true gamut of health, ammo, and weapons, but they’ll make your life a whole lot easier during some of the more daunting tasks. I just wish it wasn’t such a slog getting to them. They’re always just far enough out of your way that it’s a bit annoying. 

The soundtrack is serviceable, but it never really did anything to "wow" me. The artwork, on the other hand, is quite beautiful. I wish the story itself backed up even half of the great ideas that it implies. For instance, the few characters that you meet during your journey look absolutely wonderful, but they only ever speak about four to five lines of actual dialogue. It just seems like such a waste of potential.

The boss battles are quite intense, and you’ll need every bit of your arsenal to dispose of them. Unfortunately, the previously mentioned movement mechanic can’t quite keep up, and you’ll find yourself dying plenty of cheap deaths as a result. Difficulty in and of itself is not necessarily enjoyable. When I die, I want it to be because I screwed up. Not because of sloppy controls.

The worst offender here is the final boss battle. Without going into too much detail and spoiling everything, the player's movement arrow, which indicates where you are going to land when jumping, is constantly shifting its plotted course and putting you directly into harm’s way throughout the fight. It makes an already janky mechanic much more frustrating than it needs to be. I love a good challenge, but I don’t want it to be at the cost of player control. 

Dandara has a firm foundation, but suffers from inherent design flaws and a lack of direction. Despite its imperfections, I mostly enjoyed my time with it. It treads a lot of familiar ground with its gameplay mechanics, but those were the portions of the game I found myself having the most fun with.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]


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Dandara reviewed by Kevin Mersereau

7

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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Kevin Mersereau
Kevin MersereauContributor   gamer profile

Bacon is delicious on everything. EVERYTHING. more + disclosures


 



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