Dandara Switch Review by SwitchWatch
Developer: Long Hat House
Release Date: February 6th 2018
Price as of Article: $14.99 USD, £13.49 GBP
The world of Salt hangs on the brink of collapse. The citizens, once free spirits, now stand oppressed and isolated. But not all is lost, for out of this aether of fear arises a heroine, a ray of hope. Her name is Dandara.
In this dreamlike world we play Dandara as the story unfolds slowly through meeting inhabitants and enemies. The story is secondary to gameplay but what we do have hints at an underlying and important tale of oppression from a strong kingdom against another and the hope of fighting against these forces.
The story of Dandara and the character herself are loosely based on Dandara dos Palmares, an Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter from the 17th century who fought to protect slaves in a liberated settlement of Brazil. Much is written about her husband Zumbi but very little is known about Dandara herself and its great to see this character brought to a game.
Thommaz Kauffmann created the eerie, gravity defying soundtrack to Dandara and has in my opinion captured the spirit of this game just right. The world of Salt spans technologically absent and advanced sections but its dreamlike, open feel is supported by glitch like sounds that were inspired by Samorost 3.
The mixing of natural piano and Djembe African drums are cleverly blended with synth style sounds to get the right mood. As for the sound effects they work, Dandara has a sound for jumping around as well as charging and shooting her weapon – in particular I enjoyed the simple sounds of resting at a camp and of heading through a door. Whilst the soundtrack and effects are very good what I am particularly pleased about is that they never felt like they took over or got in the way which is a trap games can fall into from time to time.
Dandara features a pixelated 2D art style that many are growing tired of on the Nintendo Switch purely due to volume of games done this way. Whilst I agree that this style is overused its also true that Dandara has its own unique visual spirit that shines through. Its great to see Dandara as a female Afro-Brazilian lead character and she is drawn very well with a cool scarf and fluid movements. Originally the game was planned to be released on just mobile devices but that changed early on and in order to bring it to the console market the art was redone. You can tell.
The shading and sprite style special effects do make a lot of difference from the trail Dandara makes when moving to the blasts of energy from weapons. As a Metroidvania platformer the game is split into distinct looking regions from the original oppressed village to the futuristic town and forest like areas. The variety is welcome and is reflected in the enemies we see though I will say there are very few unique enemies which is a bit of a shame. In terms of performance I experienced no issues at all whether on the move or when docked and the visuals looked equally vibrant and rich in both ways.
Dandara is a 2D metroidvania platformer with all of the regular expectations from tracking back and unlocking new areas to taking on large bosses and getting stronger as you go. What really makes the game stand out is its unique control system. Dandara cannot move around the world freely, rather you aim her at platforms which she can jump to using the Left and Right Sticks to aim and hit A to make the leap – think Puzzle Bobble.
At first this feels peculiar but once you get the hang of it you will find yourself able to leap around the map at pace. Similarly Dandara shoots by using X and the Sticks and doing so sends out 3 missiles a short distance towards your enemies. Shooting takes a small amount of time to charge and the distance is very short so it does take a bit of skill to balance moving around, shooting enemies and getting the timing right leading to some fast paced action as you avoid enemy fire and try to get it just right. The game uses this system to mess with gravity often turning the map sideways as you get to certain sections and introducing clever uses of your jump ability.
Dandara was built with touch controls in mind for mobile devices and as a result you can play the whole game just by using the Switch touchscreen capabilities. Intially this feels easier than using traditional controls due to its intuative tapping of the left side of the screen to jump, dragging to choose a direction and the right side to shoot. I found that after a while I preferred the precision of being able to use the Analog sticks but theres not a lot in it and its great to have this choice.
Right from the get go the game introduces some difficulty and doesnt go out of its way to hold your hand, the world is split into chamberlike rooms which vary in shape and size though none of them are huge.
As you travel the world you bump into a number of dead ends that need you to have completed another section in order to progress, its not always obvious and using your map, wits and exploring will eventually lead to the solution. This puzzle solving keeps you questing and the camp system works very similarly to Dark Souls – by activating a camp you set it as your respawn point.
Camps also give you the option to upgrade your items and skills in exchange for currency, like Dark Souls if you die you lose this progress leaving behind a spectre that you have a chance to return to and collect.
Boss encounters are spread out quite some way but are excellent. In the game you will die a number of times in opposing them but the combination of timing and aiming is balanced very well.
At $14.99 in the US and £13.49 in the UK Dandara has a ridiculous amount of games that compete with it for your hard earned cash. The game offers 10-13 hours that can be enjoyed in a regular control setup or by fully using touchscreen and is well polished. For me its unique enough to warrant the investment though once you have finished the game there is nothing to draw you back so there is no replayability.
Full Touchscreen option
The story is spread out thin