: Game Arts
: GungHo Online Entertainment
: PlayStation Vita
: Puzzle, Platform
: October 16, 2012
The PlayStation Vita is not even a year old yet and weíve seen a handful of ambitious games available for it in full retail games, and also in downloable content. Dokuro is one of those types of games. Itís the latest in terms of downloable Vita games that aims to impress you with its features catering to the hardwareís strengths. But how does Dokuro stack up for this new handheld?
Not a single audible line is spoken in Dokuro, at least the characters provide little murmurations here and there, but you can easily tell that this isnít your typical hero story. Like many, many games before it Dokuro is a story about a damsel in distress and a lone hero who comes to save the day. What sets Dokuro apart from this tried and true approach is that the hero is an unlikely character. In fact, the little skeleton you control is a member of a great Dark Lordís army.
On the contrary, this Dark Lord has kidnapped the helpless princess and has locked her away within the bowels of his castle, awaiting the hour until he forces her to marry him, no doubt to possess her riches or power. The main character is ordered to keep the princess subdued but this impish skeleton finds this heroic and defiant quality about him and decides to help this poor princess instead, feeling a loving bond as well.
Wouldnít you know it; this skeleton must be under a curse because when he drinks a potion he reverts back to his princely form, a form that the princess, in turn, has taken a liking to. Itís not your typical video game romance story, but thatís what makes Dokuroís presentation so alluring and magical. You even feel sorry for the skeleton, as heís told by this dark antagonizing female character that despite his actions to save the princessís life, she would still never pay him attention. So you get attached and hopeful that somehow the tragedy of this unlikely hero can be broken. It takes on a very Beauty and the Beast theme, in a way, and thatís refreshing.
Dokuroís strength can really be seen in the way it looks. The game exhibits a chalk on blackboard style and it works so well. Itís really like an artist took the time to draw these characters in detail and somehow this thing came to life. I guess youíll just have to see footage to truly appreciate it. The art direction doesnít just play on chalk but it mixes it up a bit. It too tells a story during gameplay. For example, while the skeleton character is in his undead form the world around the characters is black and white, which is largely interpreted as depressing, lonely, and desolate. However, when the character reverts back into his regal prince form, the world around them then comes alive. Backgrounds take on new and bright colors and does a great job of expanding that hero-antihero dynamic of the dual physicality of the skeleton prince.
Dokuroís sound isnít totally mesmerizing. Truthfully you have a charming little main theme at the main menu that plays, but practically what you hear during gameplay is what youíll hear throughout the majority of the game, save for the occasional boss battle. Dokuro seems like more of a silent movie. It relies on lines of scripted text to tell its story from time-to-time. The narrative will be accompanied by a somber theme to move things forward but it largely will sound all the same. I do appreciate the silent movie approach, given its unique chalkboard presentation, but a little more diversity in sound and music couldíve spruced things up a bit because, as youíll see, Dokuro is a game whose difficulty changes little by little. Similar to an orchestraís crescendo, figuratively speaking. However, the soundtrack doesnít build up with the gameplayís pace.
Dokuro is a treasure trove of puzzles and unique puzzle solving that builds from a minimal approach, to get things started, and gradually builds into a massive test of your dexterity and really gets you to scratch your head in bewilderment at times. The point is to lead the princess basically from point A to point B. Now that may seem easier than it appears but youíd be wrong to think itís that easy. No, far from it at times. You see there are many confounding variables that can influence how you move the princess from danger to safety.
It starts off pretty easily. The game will introduce you to the basics right off the bat, so you can expect the first puzzles to fly by quickly with minimal effort. The learning curve is good as it prepares you to accomplish puzzle after puzzle as they come to you, each one different and difficult than the last.
Of course you can also use platform genre techniques to get around. The skeleton can jump and double jump with the press of a button. Things in the world, such as blocks and explosive barrels, can be pushed and pulled to get around or set a trap for unsuspecting foes. If an enemy gets too close the skeleton can swing a bone in hand and strike them away, but it wonít kill them in this form. Double tapping the screen allows the skeleton to drink a blue potion that temporarily allows him to revert into his prince form. In this form he replaces his bone weapon with a sword that can be swung three times in a row and destroys any enemy he strikes with it. Additionally this is the only way that the princess can be picked up and carried, which is necessary in some puzzles of the game. Strangely your ability to double jump is disabled in this form. This power has a limited effect though and can be cancelled and recharged at any time. This technique can also be mapped to the right shoulder button if you donít want to take your thumb off of the primary buttons.
Playing off of the chalkboard style there are three types of magical chalk that can be used and each one of them requires a line be drawn with your finger on the touch screen to use. Thereís white chalk which can repair ďerasedĒ lines that could help lift boxes off the floor to create foot space. Red chalk can be used to generate fire to light candles or the fuse on explosive barrels. Blue chalk can generate water to levitate objects when solving puzzles. While a nifty feature indeed, I noticed drawing these lines was a bit of a hit and miss. The detection in this feature isnít all that accurate and I would find myself tracing a path with my finger a few times before it triggered a response. Almost like thereís a specific way to do it. This can pose a problem because some puzzles rely on chain reactions and in some instances these chalk opportunities are part of it, so missing a connection can cause you to start on this puzzle from the beginning again.
There are three major types of AI in Dokuro, one is environmental, a second is enemy, and a third is the princess. While that may not seem like a lot, when combined they can make for some really challenging puzzle solving. Moreover, when youíre not careful these can easily make for some bad headaches and frustration. The princess has her own mindset; she will always move forward on her own until she comes to the edge of a precipice, which can be very minor at that, before she stops moving. In your prince form you can carry her back a ways but the instant you set her down sheíll walk back to where you carried her from. I donít mean to say this is bad. The game is balanced enough to know it wonít place the princess in the way of impending doom in every puzzle, but that doesnít mean thereís no room for error when you start manipulating the environment to save her. Both you and the princess are susceptible to danger and if either one of you is killed; you start the puzzle all over. Now there were some things about the princess AI that got on my nerves. If youíre in prince form and youíre very close to her sheíll take a few steps back to allow you to do something: pull a lever, push a box, etc., so if youíre standing near a deep drop or near a spike trap, the princess can easily take a few steps back and fall prey to these traps. Sheíll die and with that all your hard work on a puzzle is scrapped and you must try again.
Another frustrating thing about the game is that you can be prone to cheap deaths sometimes. The one that was consistent was being killed by weighted traps. Consider, if you will, the Thwomps from Super Mario Bros. that fall from the ceiling when you get close. In Dokuro these types of traps can be jumped over or swiftly run through. Yet you need to consider timing and when to run past these things or stop in front of them. When you do stop in front of them you could have one pixel of the skeleton in the way of danger and the game will decide to kill you. Itís the equivalent of sticking your little toe out and a chair rolls over it. Itíll hurt you but it shouldnít kill you. I can understand it killing me if half of my character was exposed but a very, very small fraction? Here's another example: you know how spike traps are common in Sonic the Hedgehog games? Touching the side of a spike trap wouldn't hurt you, but landing right on top of it would. In Dokuro, you can touch the smooth and seemingly nonlethal side of a spike trap and it'll still kill you. This would make the puzzles that require a great display of accuracy and especially time to be unforgiving. Hit detection is something that couldíve used a little more investigation.
There is also an option to skip a puzzle if you find yourself having a real hard time figuring out what to do. You can do this ten times though and with hundreds of puzzles in the game this is not to be taken lightly. Although itís impossible to know what lies ahead youíll just have to use your greater judgment to make an informed decision based on the context of a given level.
Between stages come boss fights and these are quite creative. Bosses will have unique ways in which they can be attacked, often taking what skills youíve learned in previous puzzle solving but using them for combat. The boss characters are imaginative and the way you go about defeating them is entertaining.
This game was made for gamers in love with the puzzle solving genre. There are 15 stages with 10 levels in each. This makes for over a hundred diverse puzzles and what could potentially be many hours of gameplay. Some puzzles can take less than a minute to solve while others can take ten or more minutes to surpass. This leaves room for rehearsal and perfection. Your completion times are recorded each time you complete a stage and you can return at any time to challenge your record.
Sprinkled throughout every stage are collectible coins. Thereís one in each level and comes matched with a platinum trophy for collecting and mastering every single thing in the game. Some are within plain sight and others require a keen eye and digging around.
Dokuro is a puzzle-platformer hybrid that has a unique and creative presentation. Itís not often you get to see the bad guy have a change of heart and help the princess survive. On top of that the lead character is a cursed prince trapped in a skeletal form and longs to be the damselís knight in shining armor. He gets put down, being told that he could basically never be loved by a princess, and you feel for the poor guy. With hundreds of puzzles to solve, and more than one way to do it, Dokuro is also a highly imaginative game. Occasionally this is bogged down by irksome issues like the princess making up her own mind, buggy environmental hazards that will kill you by exposing just a bit of you, and touch screen response that can be irritable. Despite this, Dokuroís puzzles grow more diverse and difficult as you progress, not to mention more creative. Itís great for puzzle lovers but also can cater to fans of platformers. Many hours are sure to be invested into this game. At $19.99 itís a good bargain to add to your Vita.