Developer: Long Hat House
Publisher: Raw Fury
Category: Action, Platformer, Adventure
Release Date: 02.06.2018
In a sea of Metroidvanias, Dandara for Nintendo Switch challenges the most comfortable portion of an action platformer- jumping. Instead of navigating your way through a labyrinthine world moving in cardinal direction points with jumps, double jumps, flying, and occasionally, with vehicles, you ricochet between opposingly situated platforms at an angle. While Dandara is not the first game to utilize unconventional methods of traversing a level, Long Hat House seamlessly integrates this bizarre mode of transportation into the rotating landscape of a well designed post- apocalyptic world.
The introduction finds our hero, Dandara, awakening within the Crib of Creation to go forth and reclaim the world of salt. It has been overrun by nefarious beings, and the inhabitants of the world are scattered throughout, hiding in their homes to protect themselves and the power they have to influence the world. These hiding inhabitants are the key to our upgrades and power-ups, and will fill is on story details along the way.
Dandara has a beautiful aesthetic and a cryptic narrative. This cryptic narrative also carries over to the game’s item description, and while they help contribute to the world building, it does still come off a little cheesy. Even the introductory autosave screen uses this timbre- Dandara’s deeds will not be forgotten. It’s poetic, but as we’ve seen it mocked so often over the years, it did illicit some giggles from time to time.
Dandara is the possibly the most badass female protagonist that we’ve seen in an action platformer since Samus Aran herself blazed that trail 30 years ago. Just like Samus, she controls flawlessly, at least she does once you learn the controls. You aim your reticule using the L stick, shoot to your destination with A, drink a potion with B, and to charge your stingers, you hold X, releasing to fire them.
Learning the proper timing for your stingers, and their travel distance, is of the utmost importance. Dandara has a bit of a learning curve to go with it’s mode of transport to begin with, and then there is a small one to go with your projectile attack, as well. Just like many of the classics, Dandara pushes the player to memorize the map and enemy pattern recognition to advance through what can be a challenging, but fair experience.
The narrative is not all that important, but the atmosphere absolutely is. While we have the cryptic narrative and descriptions, we also have an emphasis on treasuring the arts. How we can take those arts, and change the world with them. If you run into a dead end, your answer is to backtrack and find an artist that will share their gift with you, to save the world.
When you receive this gift of art, you will use it to progress further. When you progress further, you can collect more lost souls that represent different emotional states. These emotional states are often protected by enemies, and defeating those enemies frees that emotion to be experienced again. Or, at the least, recovering that emotion- soul by ping ponging Dandara around the enemies.
Defeating enemies, however, will give you an easier time of moving through the environment. On top of this, you will also gain salt, which can also be found in chests and destructible landscape around the world. Salt is used as your currency in Dandara, and it buys upgraded health and skills.
Oh, yes, atmosphere. Dandara, from the moment after we see our title cards for the dev and publishers, starts to bring us into a world of glorious HD rumble. While it’s not the first, hopefully not the last, developer to utilize the HD rumble, it is the first time I’ve seen so much of it in any one game! Anyone that has read my other reviews with games that feature HD rumble, knows that I have developed a bit of a fetish with the quirky little feature, and it’s to the point where my comrades here at the Switch Effect have begun to poke fun at me over it.
Dandara has little blips when you make the menu selection to start the game, when you bounce from platform to platform, when you are struck by an enemy. When you activate a door to a new room, the HD rumble gives the you the feeling of weigh shifting from one side to the other, and makes a weird sound effect reminiscent of a theremin. When you reach the game over screen, it shows us an image of Dandara floating in water, and the rumble makes it very much feel as though we are holding a little globe in which is contained Dandara, curled up lifeless as the water sloshes around her, and then it fades into a heartbeat. It’s such a beautiful thing for a game about the importance of art, and the power that comes from unleashing your emotions, and your energy, is backed up with such a visceral reinforcement of these sensations that you generally only see on screen.
The only real downside to the game, at first, is the inability to just simply press a button and shoot your enemies. However, I love when a game has been designed and fine tuned so that everything about the game leads you in a certain direction. This is what is happening with Dandara. We don’t need to have “press X to fire” gameplay, and it would greatly hinder the experience if we did. It just feels really cheap at the beginning, until you realize that you need to have a strategy for how to get through the very well designed levels, while avoiding harm at all costs. Health is in short supply, and so are potions. You occasionally run across campsites that act as checkpoints, but they are also infrequent. At campsites, you can not only rest to regain health and trigger a save, you can also upgrade Dandara, and read through the glossary to review items. Just remember to be careful, because if you die and need to restart from a campsite, you will lose all of your salt.
Dandara has a lot of interesting ideas, and they all work incredibly well, as long as you have the patience to learn that. Until you become familiar with a room and its inhabitants, it is always best to look before you leap. When you return, however, you’ll often be able to almost blindly dart through the room without harm. This is a must have for fans of action platformers, especially those that love to methodically plot their course. It’s also a great way to show off the HD rumble without needing to milk a cow.