- Developer: Long Hat House
- Publisher: Raw Fury
- Release date: 06/02/2018
- Price: £13.49 / $14.99
- Review code provided by Raw Fury
Introducing: Dandara Switch Review
I know. I know. You read that information up above and saw that this was a game from 2018 and got really confused as to why there’s a new Nintendad review of it now, right? Well, that’s because Dandara got an addition in the form of the Trials of Fear edition recently. That’s why now is as good a time as ever to rediscover this inventive metroidvania game.
A New Mythology
The story is a bit on the thinner side in Dandara, but I would not necessarily call that a bad thing. There is more there that meets the eye if you are willing to look, and there is an online community that’s doing some wonderful deep dive work into what some of the more symbolic elements mean. I’ve held off on looking too closely into it so it does not affect my review, but I am interested in getting some reading in when I get the chance. This is another game that’s based on mythology that I am not familiar with, Brazilian this time. I can’t personally verify exactly how much of that made it into the game, but I do love seeing more mythological diversity in games instead of pulling from the same few wells over and over.
As the hero Dandara, it’s your job to end the oppression that has taken hold in the world of Salt, bringing hope back to the people and bringing about the change that is needed. It’s a fairly simple premise, but it gets the point across. Some more metaphorical elements allow you to interpret the material in a variety of ways so everyone is going to engage with it on a different level. The themes of freedom and creativity are pretty clear though, which is appropriate given the interesting approach that has been taken to the mechanics.
Moving Around At The Speed Of Sound?
Dandara does not move through the world in the same way that your typical video game protagonist does. There is no running or jumping to explore, instead Dandara moves more like a “flash step”, zipping from one surface to another. You’re going to spend most of your time in this game ping-ponging all over the map by pointing the left stick the direction you want to go, and tapping a button when the guiding arrow has landed on the spot that you wanted to go. Since this serves as the basis of everything you are going to be doing in this game, from movement and exploration to combat, if you don’t click with this mechanic, you’re going to have a hard time with this game. I’m sad to say that it never really clicked just right for me.
A Tipped Balance
I can handle the movement well enough now that I have played a good amount of the game, but when it comes to combat is where things start to get pretty messy. While I did eventually get a handle on movement, the ability to do combat at a fast pace never really came to me. Even if it had, though, combat in Dandara can be clunky, especially in the early game. As time goes on, you do get upgrades in order to make things more smooth, but by that point, it’s almost too little too late. I would be using all I had available in every boss encounter, and even in some encounters with normal enemies. I think this would have been fine if I were able to move normally, but the combat and the movement mechanics just never quite mesh.
I will say that I was proud of the way that the boss fights played to the mechanics of the game, though. Each one was a little twist on what you knew so far. The mini-bosses served mostly as tests to see if you were paying attention, but the actual boss fights had me play with the mechanics in ways that I hadn’t quite planned to at times, which is a testament to their strengths. A good fight here and there does not make up for messy mechanics elsewhere, though.
A Feast for the Eyes
I’ve said before that I am not a big Metroidvania person in the first place, but I was really drawn in by the presentation of Dandara. When the music hits, it really hits. There is a light techno flair to some of the tracks that pumped things up a lot. The tracks that I am not as fond of tended to be ones where I would not even notice that they were playing. That’s not always a bad thing for games, but when some parts would be so wonderfully stand out, it was a shame to see others fall so far into the background that I would not even notice them.
The art was the part that struck me so much, though. While I am a big fan of games that have traditionally animated elements, pixel art really can prove to hit some of the same highs at times. I recently praised the beautiful and bouncy pixel art of Wunderling, and getting to transition into Dandara so soon after that was a real treat. It’s beautiful, though in a different way. There are not a ton of characters here, but when they are there, the design is really great. Dandara herself is excellent as well. She’s simply designed, but animated in such a way that she smoothly flows from one position to another that’s purely pleasing to see. It’s always great to see games push art styles that some would consider to be outdated to new levels.
A New Shine
With all that being said, what’s new here in the Trials of Fear expansion? I’m glad to say that this was a free expansion so if you already have the game somewhere else, then you’re already set to get playing it. The new expansion brings with it a new hidden ending that can be unlocked by playing the game in a certain way, which I will not spoil here. It doesn’t take more than a quick google to find it out, though. There is some expanded story content in the main game as well, but as someone who never played the game in it’s original state, I was not able to personally tell what of that content was new or from the first incarnation.
The other expanded content can be accessed early on in the game, if you know what you are doing. The sign of moving between expansion content and the base game is that the little symbol on your map that marks a doorway will be red. Behind this, you’ll find a handful of new areas, some more story content, and a few new bosses. All of it just as exquisitely crafted as the base game!
The Taste of Salt
Overall, I can see the strengths in Dandara, but it’s a game that I never really quite got along with myself. It’s not bad enough that I am not interested in trying for the second ending that was added for this edition, it’s just one that might sit in my backlog for a little while before I try it. I will say that I think it’s a good option for Metroidvania fans who are looking to shake up their game library a little bit, but if this is going to be your first foray into the genre, then I would say to try some of the other standouts first. It’s not one that I would recommend for younger children who are thirsty for a new platformer either, since they’ll likely find the mechanics a little obtuse compared to typical Nintendo fare.
- Absolutely BEAUTIFUL art
- Great sounds
- Interesting movement mechanics
- Another touch of diversity in the gaming landscape
- Movement and combat don’t mesh well
- Combat can feel like a clunky cat and mouse game
A feast for the eyes that I never was really able to fully mesh with mechanically.