Innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t necessarily successful. You need a solid foundation to start building off of before you start spiraling into insanity; otherwise, you’ll just end up with an unbalanced structure that falls to pieces. Case in point: Dandara, an indie Metroidvania that responds to your groaning about yet another indie Metroidvania by introducing a unique movement mechanism that turns it into a unique and enjoyable platforming experience.
The Salt was a happy and prosperous place…for awhile, anyway. Then things got bad. Now nobody’s happy or prosperous. The game’s not super clear on why or how any of this happened, but the point is that things suck at the moment and it’s time for that to change. Dandara, the yellow-scarfed gravity-defying ki-blasting Brazilian freedom fighter, is the one for the job, and you’re going to follow her journey to the ceiling…then to the floor…then back to the ceiling…and so on and so forth, forever.
The bottom line up front here is that Dandara is too rebellious and freedom-focused to actually walk anywhere. All your movement, then, is accomplished through bouncing from ceiling to floor at various angles and often at comically high speeds. It’s a little awkward at first, but Dandara is surprisingly open to where you want her to go and she’ll generally get there pretty quick if you aim well and keep on mashing that jump button.
This unique movement style makes for some interesting considerations, especially when it comes to combat. A guy with a spear is a straightforward opponent in most games, especially when you’ve got ranged attacks as Dandara does – just get away from him so he can’t stab you and blast away. Well, Dandara doesn’t walk, so “getting away” is a little more complex; you can’t just move laterally away from spear guy, but you can absolutely stand on the ceiling and blast away where he can’t get to you. Most battles are won by using your environment to your advantage and the comparison of this to traditional freedom fighters engaging in guerilla warfare is almost certainly intentional.
Combine all this with platforming challenges that would be standard fare in other games and Dandara can end up feeling exhilarating. Our heroine is so nimble that when you get into the zone you can dodge effortlessly between a hail of projectiles, pausing only briefly to take out enemies with well-aimed energy blasts. Don’t expect mastery to come quickly or even naturally, but this is a game that rewards patience and practice. In true Metroidvania fashion there are upgrades to collect and in true “video game made in 2018” fashion there are Souls-style elements like having to recollect your upgrade currency when you die, but these and other gameplay elements feel like they play second fiddle to the joy of movement.
Dandara also looks and sounds great. It’s got a unique urban style that meshes well with the Brazilian theme; this saturates both the visuals and sound design. Dandara herself is a great design; her billowing scarf adds a surprising amount of character and she looks fantastic in motion, which, if you’re playing the game correctly, is going to be pretty much all of the time. Likewise, the environment designs combine the modern and traditional in an intriguing manner that helps develop a sense of discovery and wonder.
While fairly short and bound to frustrate some players, I found Dandara to be an excellent example of how a gimmick executed properly can make for a solid game. The sort of creativity on offer here is what indie developers originally promised back when they first became trendy years ago. Let’s hope that other games can follow Dandara’s lead in the future – by that I mean innovating on traditional gameplay without sacrificing the basics, not, y’know, bouncing off the ceiling.