Puzzle-platformers have become fairly commonplace over the past few years, so it can be tough to find one that tries something new. Thankfully, Dokuro does just that by making use of the Vita’s hardware and telling a heartwarming little love story at the same time. As a skeletal wanna-be lover of a damsel in distress, you have to escort her through a castle’s many hazards while her brain shuts off and forces her to just walk right unless impeded by something.
She seems to lack common sense and has no problem with standing on a platform heading towards spikes, or a ceiling that will crush her, so it’s up to you to keep her safe. Thanks to a magic potion, you can transform your skeletal self into a handsome prince armed with a sword, which will not only allow her to notice you (I guess she has no time for skeletons), but also allow you to dispatch of enemies much faster than your usual bone since you can just slice them to bits instead of nudging them into spikes. You can also carry her to safety in this form, but you can’t jump with her in your arms. I’m guessing you probably could if her giant bell-shaped dress was slightly less enormous. Even without her, you’re limited to a single-length jump as the hero instead of a double jump as the skeleton.
The key to keeping her safe is to solve logic puzzles. Sometimes, they’re as easy as just hitting a switch to cause a platform to move so she can get on it to the next area, but most of the time, you’ll have to use your brain – and repeated attempts, to get past your current problem. The Vita’s hardware is put to good use as you use the analog stick to both move your character and spin levers around, while you can use the touch screen to draw rope to finish areas you can move on, or swing from as the case may be. There are some really fun puzzles like figuring out how to get lit barrels to explode with the help of flying firebirds, and properly LAUNCHING THE DAMSEL OUT OF A CANNON using the touch screen to light it. Later, you’ll even face enemies whose sole power is blowing dust on the screen, and you have to figure out how to stop them from doing that or rub it clean if you fail. The puzzles are fun, creative, and make wonderful use of the hardware. You’ll also need to use the touch screen and touch panel to transform into and out of the sword-swinging form at will. The form-swapping potion refills slowly as time goes on, so carefully moving between the two forms can be crucial given each one’s aforementioned pros and cons. Boss battles in particular will require you to learn just when to use which form since you can only really do damage as the prince – but you can set yourself up to do damage in skeletal form.
Just about every major element in the game is a puzzle in some way, except for the most basic platforming sections, and as a result, the game can be both incredibly fun and frustrating. However, like any good puzzle-platformer, there’s a real thrill to solving a puzzle that has stumped you. Many times, you’ll struggle and come SO CLOSE to solving it – you can see the end in sight, you just can’t quite get the princess’s problem solved to get her next to you. Then, after a few (possibly a few dozen) attempts, you solve it. Now, if that sounds bad, keep in mind that the rooms are all very short – some can be figured out in as few as 30 seconds, and since the game saves after every room, you’ve got something that is perfect for either quick play sessions or longer ones. The game is very conducive to either situation, although if you really get stumped and just cannot get past a problem, you can choose to skip it. Like the potion though, you can’t just go around abusing it – you’re limited to ten uses before you have to go back and solve all the puzzles you didn’t solve before in order to fill it back up to ten.
Visually, the chalk-drawing style used looks fantastic and further helps it stand out from other games. The limited animation for character movement may not be to everyone’s liking, but I saw it as an artistic choice as opposed to a way to keep costs down, and keeping the animation simple helps it be more predictable as well. That’s a very good thing given how timing-specific some puzzles are, and how a small change in the animation of the environment can signal a big change in the puzzle or the danger you’re facing. The environments are gorgeous, and the chalk style really makes things like fire pop because the castle environment is usually full of black and shades of grey, so they really stand out and add some life to the world.
The music has a creepy kind of jack in the box sound to it. It’s like that only really twisted – like crazy circus music. It adds a lot of creepiness to the adventure, but does repeat far too often for my liking. Despite that, the sound design as a whole is great because of the atmosphere created by the really creepy music and sound effects. There are slightly creepy ones like spiders crawling around and making noise, while things like rusty gears scraping together, or steel weights smashing to the ground that make you feel trapped every time you hear them. It reminds me a bit of Limbo in that regard, while having the damsel with you reminds me of Ico. Her little squeaks of terror are amusing, and make you want to protect her more since they get across her fear of…well everything perfectly.
Dokuro is an off-beat and unique puzzle-platformer with a beautiful aesthetic and haunting soundtrack. Its logic-based puzzles may not be for everyone, but the anti-frustration measures built into the game make it an easy recommendation for folks who don’t usually like puzzle-platformers due to their difficulty. A very accessible game even with its heavy Vita hardware usage, Dokuro should please both veteran and casual fans of the genre.
Platform: PS Vita (PSN)