I first heard of Dandara when a writer pitched the review to me in 2018.When he submitted it, all I knew going in was that it was a metroidvania. After reading his first draft, it seemed like he was having trouble describing exactly what Dandara was, in terms of gameplay and presentation. He eventually delivered a review that had me intrigued, so I bought the game and let it sit in my library. When Dandara was recently upgraded to the Trials of Fear Edition, I figured now would be the perfect time to give it a shot. I immediately understood my writer’s initial trouble.
Dandara is a game unlike I’ve ever played. It’s a mix of Dark Souls and Gravity Rush all wrapped in a metroidvania tortilla. I’d say it has platforming elements, but your character can’t walk. Instead, she jumps from white patches of salt to another. Up and down make little difference and you can stand on ceilings, walls, etc, but movement is complicated by the whole not being able to walk thing. Dodging enemy attacks, and even just avoiding damage at all can take getting used to. Luckily, you’re eased into the whole thing with a slow starting beginning—but even after being carefully introduced the concept of moving only by attaching myself from platform to platform I found that Dandara has its ups and downs.
Like any metroidvania, in Dandara you explore until you find the way forward, or you find an item/ability or something else that either opens a way forward, or enables you to overcome an obstacle you previously couldn’t. When you defeat enemies, open some chests, and break some obstacles, you are rewarded with salt. This salt is then used at campsites to increase Dandara’s abilities. Resting at these campsites also replenishes your health, your healing items, magic, and respawns defeated enemies—very soulslike, and with a little bit of Salt and Sanctuary, though I feel the latter is by coincidence. Soulslike usually means good enemies, and satisfying combat—that’s not really the case for Dandara.
You can attack in Dandara, but combat is pretty simple, and more about avoiding damage than doing damage. Enemies are perfect for the gameplay, and harass Dandara in multiple ways, making you leave the safety of your platform while braving incoming fire. Sometimes dodging from one platform to another can feel like a feat of luck when your screen is filling with enemy projectiles. But combat is not the best part of Dandara.
Despite combat not being the best, the boss fights are some of my favorite encounters in the game. The bosses are usually about doing more damage to them while avoiding their attacks, but Dandara’s unique movement system makes them feel almost puzzle-like. Also, they are some of the best set-pieces of the game, and probably my favorite part.
Dandara is challenging, but not punishing like some pixel-art platformers and metroidvanias out there. There is a risk reward aspect, and again like Dark Souls, if you die you’re threatened with the loss of the salt that you had on you when you died unless you can return to the location of your body. And while the soulslike elements are implemented well enough, it’s disappointing to see them being such an integral part of an otherwise unique concept.
Dandara’s presentation is great. I absolutely love the pixel art style and animations. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing—it’s yet to get old for me. Dandara’s visuals can be a bit bland, though—but there are moments that are absolutely stunning.
Dandara’s latest update was a large, free DLC which upgraded Dandara to the Trials of Fear Edition. There are three new areas to explore, and according to the product page—a new secret ending. Apparently more dialogue and lore has been added as well, fleshing out the world of Dandara. I can’t give a comparison, unfortunately, as the Trials of Fear Edition was my first experience with the game.
Another major upgrade to Dandara was its improved keyboard and mouse control scheme. Dandara was originally made with touchscreens and controllers in mind, and apparently the keyboard and mouse controls were unplayable. They’re much better now, though I felt like my jumping precision was never quite as good as it was with the controller. If you have one available, controller feels like the better way to play.
Danara: Trials of Fear Edition is a great excuse to replay Dandara, or get into its world for the first time. Its unique brand of gravity defying metroidvania gameplay is worth the look, and there is a beautiful world to explore and interesting bosses to fight. But Dandara, on the whole, is just okay, even with the improvements the Trial of Fear Edition has made.
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