Commentary

10/30/2012

Dokuro Review

Our official review of the macabre puzzler for the PS Vita.

By: Ryan Winslett

Filed Under: Adventure Indie Review

I am the smartest man alive.

At least, that’s how a game like Dokuro makes me feel on a pretty regular basis.

A puzzle platformer for the PlayStation Vita, this adorable little romp to save a beautiful princess from marrying the Dark Lord is overflowing with challenges that offer an abundance of “Eureka!” moments and only a handful of frustrations.

“Nobody was ever meant to solve this puzzle and I, Ryan Winslett, have mastered it,” I tell myself on the game’s 40th level, feeling like I could invent a time machine, travel back to 1925 and slap Albert Einstein for being such a dullard. Never mind the fact that there are 110 levels left to go in this surprisingly massive game and it took me half a dozen attempts to get through this most recent level because I kept blowing up some powder kegs in the wrong order.

And so I press on, occasionally breezing through a level in about 90 seconds only to find myself pondering over the next one for half an hour.

There’s something about entering a new level in an environmental puzzle game that absolutely terrifies me. Keep in mind that I love the genre, but I’d be lying if I said my heart doesn’t skip forward a few beats every time I find myself waiting to see what that next stage has to offer.

Sometimes that first glance reveals only a handful of variables—a couple of boxes that need to be slid around, a single lever that activates an elevator and a small pool of water—and I feel myself exhale a long sigh of relief, my mind already racing forward to figure out how I’m going to get from one end of the level to the other.

Other times, when that initial look at the environment reveals half a dozen moving parts located across a complex series of platforms, that’s when I feel my gut start to tie itself into knots. I start to move the pieces around. I play with the levers to see what they activate. I accidentally push a very important crate off a cliff and realize I have to start over.

Dokuro is a healthy mix of both of these types of levels. As the titular character, the player takes on the role of a lowly skeleton guard who takes a shining to a lovely princess who the Dark Lord has just kidnapped and plans to marry. In order to help her escape this not-so-cool fate, Dokuro must traverse the castle’s 150 levels, each offering a puzzle just waiting to be solved.

As an added kink, the princess is coming along for the ride and, similar to the PlayStation 2 classic Ico, she’s pretty dang helpless. The princess walks left to right unless there is something standing in her way or a sheer drop-off in the level. When an enemy approaches, she attempts to get away only in the slowest of fashions. This makes the princess a living, breathing part of each puzzle, as the objective is to get her safely to a flower that is growing on the far right of each level.

But don’t worry; Dokuro comes equipped with all sorts of nifty abilities to help him get through each dilemma. He can push and pull some objects, draw rope, fire and water into existence with magical chalk, and even change into his human form in order to be more badass when taking on the game’s roaming monsters. The ability to switch into a human only lasts for a limited time but, while active, Dokuro can also carry the princess. Mastering all of these abilities to solve each puzzle is what makes Dokuro more compelling than many games in the genre. The adorable little skeleton has a nice bag of tricks, which means that many of the puzzles will require the player to think creatively and either fall back on tactics they may have learned earlier in the game and completely forgotten, or mix several abilities in inventive ways in order to proceed.

Another big plus for a puzzle game is that Dokuro never really feels unfair. It’s possible to completely botch a puzzle and either get stuck or lose an object that’s necessary to get through, but restarting the level from scratch is only a minor inconvenience. I spoke earlier about the fear I experience when entering a new level in games like Dokuro. What helps me get through that emotion is the fact that I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I have all of the tools I need to push forward. I may have to fiddle around with the environment or restart a few times, but I know I’m never going to be given a task that is impossible to overcome. And once all of those pieces fall into place and all of that effort has paid off, boy-howdy does it feel good.

Accompanying these puzzles are a few added bits of content that give Dokuro even longer legs. Each level contains a hidden (or not-so-hidden) coin to be discovered and your best times on each level are tracked, giving you a decent reason to go back and see how much faster you can solve the puzzle a second time through. You’ll also be able to take part in a boss fight every 20 levels, one of the biggest highlights of the game next to its beautiful chalk art graphics. These fast and fun encounters do a nice job of breaking up the puzzling action, though I wish they occurred more frequently.

Put simply, Dokuro is a wonderful –though sometimes hair-pullingly tough–puzzle game that offers a lot of rewarding content for fans of the genre. I realize that I am not the genius that Dokuro makes me feel like, but I certainly welcome that triumphant rush every time my princess reaches a flower and spares a few words for her goofy little hero.

***

7

Dokuro is a notable title within its genre.

This review based on a copy of the title provided by the publisher.

Filed Under: Adventure Indie Review

About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.

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