2D indie platformers with pixel art graphics are a dime a dozen these days, and Daggerhood strikes more than a passing resemblance to one in particular: Celeste. Now, if you haven’t played Celeste yet, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a whirlwind platformer that pushes you to your limits and leaves you feeling like you really accomplished something whenever you finish one of its tricky levels. By now, everyone and their dog have probably likened Daggerhood to a “budget Celeste”, and with good reason. It has similar graphics, controls, and goals, plus, it costs significantly less. Does this mean it’s even better than Celeste? Not really; if you read on, I’ll tell you why.
As always here at SwitchWatch, we start with the story, and Daggerhood is sadly lacking in narrative. There’s a short cutscene at the very start of the game explaining that the titular hero, Daggerhood, has been locked away for his thieving misdeeds. Your job is to escape the bowels of the deep caverns you’ve been thrust into and make off with some tasty loot while you’re at it.
In every level, you can collect up to five pieces of treasure, which are scattered around, often in hard to reach places. Collecting all 5 and making your way to the exit is one of the 3 objectives that each level has. Another is to complete the level within a certain time limit, which will give you a star rating out of 3. Finally, each level has a ‘fairy’ somewhere that will disappear after a short amount of time. You need to rush to its location to capture it before it vanishes – and, of course, make your way to the exit afterward. These do look very similar to the ones in Celeste, though they don’t prevent you from using Daggerhood’s signature mobility option; his dagger-throw – more on that, soon.
Fortunately, you don’t have to collect all 5 pieces of treasure and find the fairy and complete the level within a time limit; you’re allowed to replay the missions and achieve these goals separately. I do wish there was some additional reward for completing all 3 in a single run, but this is pretty much impossible for some levels so it makes sense not to encourage this. Given the speedrun nature of the game – it even includes a timer in the top right corner – it would have been nice to include a global leaderboard so you could try to beat your friends’ scores or practice to reach the top spot, but given Daggerhood’s low price this is a minor disappointment.
To traverse your environment, you have the standard mobility options: you can run, jump, and double jump when mid-air. There’s also a wall jump, which refreshes your double jump – a handy addition that most games prevent – but the real star of the show is the dagger. Pressing the Y button will throw out a magical dagger and tapping Y a second time will let you teleport to its location. It also doubles as a projectile that you use to defeat enemies in the dungeons and caverns you’ll try so desperately to escape from, but there’s no real challenge to this. Everything goes down in 1 hit and really just serve as additional nuisances.
On the other hand, using the dagger as a teleportation device is invaluable, and is required for completion of most – if not all – levels, usually to clear large gaps or squeeze through tight spaces. It has a finite range, though, so you need to learn to time your reactivation or you’ll fall to your demise. This mechanic, though simple on the surface, provides a wealth of options to complete each level, and allows the developers to create some devious puzzles. There are also powerups in later levels that will transform the dagger into a hammer or a flower to get past new obstacles, but these don’t last for long and don’t do much to change the core gameplay, overall.
In general, Daggerhood’s controls feel fluid and fun, very close to the masterful platforming you’d find in something like Celeste. The big issue I had with it, however, was the hitbox on the spikes. Putting spikes on certain walls, ceilings and floors is nothing new or out of the ordinary for a 2D platformer, but the coding on the spikes here is very odd. You’ll die the instant you walk to close to the edge of a platform that has spikes below it, and I often met my untimely demise just by jumping near the edge of a spike. My guess is that the hitboxes are coded as blocky rectangles, rather than the jagged sprites that illustrate them, and this led to quite a few annoying deaths. It’s never nice to get that “I definitely shouldn’t have died, there” feeling, especially when the rest of the mechanics feel so tight.
Audio, Visuals & Performance
There’s not a lot to say for the game’s audio. The sound effects and music are passable but aren’t anything special, which is a real shame when you compare it to the great soundtrack Celeste has. I was happy playing this game on mute, though, and it doesn’t hamper the game to do so. After all, each level is 30 seconds or shorter, so Daggerhood is one of those games that’s great to squeeze in a level or 2 during commercial breaks, while waiting for something, or just when you find 5 minutes to spare.
The visuals are quite nice in Daggerhood, but in keeping with the running theme of this review, they’re pretty derivative of the genre. We’ve seen graphics like this 100 times by now on the Switch, so while they aren’t anything to complain about, they are getting a bit old in my opinion. It’s a very minor gripe, but I also think the game’s home screen icon and eShop page aren’t very nice to look at. In an age where buyers make snap decisions based on their first impressions, I think Daggerhood needs a more eye-catching logo, as the current one does it a disservice. In terms of performance, the game ran well in handheld and docked modes, with no bugs that I noticed. I have seen a couple of complaints about the sound cutting out, though, but I didn’t experience this myself.
There are 100 levels in Daggerhood, including 5 bosses which will really test your platforming abilities, so there’s already a lot of content including. Add on top of this the challenge of completing each level under the time limit, with all 5 pieces of loot, and collecting the hidden fairies, and you’ve got tens of hours of replay value. All of this rolled into a package that costs a meager £4.99 GBP or $4.99 USD? That’s a bargain in my books. As always, it’s also nice to see we pay the same price as other platforms, with Daggerhood also costing a fiver on Xbox One and PS4.
It’s certainly not for everyone, as the learning curve is quite steep and I can see some people getting turned off before they reach the final levels, but definitely an easy buy if you enjoy tough, challenging platformers.
Dagger ability is fun and unique
Rewarding “one more try” gameplay
Great value for money
Lacks significant originality
Levels are very short