A cool heroine in a world of frustration.
Dandara is one of those games with a cool concept and a great sense of style that just doesn’t quite work. The result is a 2D platformer that infuriates more than it should.
At the least, developers Long Hat House should be commended for their inclusion of a black female heroine. The titular Dandara is loosely based on a 17th century Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter, and while this futuristic game does little to explain her quest in the world of Salt (story is little more than a vague sense of direction), she is a welcome face in a sea of white male military shooters.
Dandara’s power is to jump across walls, floors and ceilings – gravity is nothing to her. It requires players to think diagonally rather than laterally, setting up some clever environmental and logistical puzzles, with Dandara bounding through levels rhythmically and at speed.
Exploration is metroidvania-style, the world gradually unravelling as you upgrade the heroine with new powers. The game’s primary inspiration, however, is Dark Souls: it’s there in the way you can recover lost salt from your ghost after dying, the way the cost of levelling up gradually increases, the way you can heal yourself from an upgradeable flask a limited number of times, and the way the circular levels are checkpointed by campsites.
It’s also there in the difficulty. Yet Dark Souls is always fair – no matter how tough it gets, players always have the tools to overcome any obstacle. With Dandara, players are at a distinct disadvantage.
While wall jumping seems like a clever gimmick, in practice this form of movement feels incredibly restrictive. Dandara can only latch on to certain highlighted areas and jumping is her only method of movement. Too easily you’ll find yourself trapped into a corner surrounded by enemies with nowhere to turn and no way of dodging enemy attacks. Aiming jumps requires methodical precision, but the game demands split-second reactions against waves of swift enemies who can only be destroyed by shooting them with a gun that takes too long to charge each shot.
It’s only part way through the game you receive the power to shield yourself (using up precious energy), but later areas become a bullet hell full of fast moving enemies and shots that seek you out through walls. It’s nigh on impossible to escape unscathed without the proper means to evade attacks. Throw in the fact that checking your map to decide your route doesn’t pause the game and Dandara becomes a lesson in patience – if you can stop yourself from rage quitting. Don’t even bother with the touch controls.
The game does feature some challenging bosses to test your skills in a positive way. They are satisfying to best, accompanied by a pulsing synth soundtrack that adds plentiful atmosphere to the alien, sci-fi visuals. Your adventure takes you through eerie jungles, a clouded dreamscape, a futuristic mechanical fortress and more, with a detailed and inventive art style. But the odds are unfairly stacked against you as you traverse this strange world repeatedly licking salt from your wounds over and over again.