I received Dandara as a birthday gift back in February and I’ve finally gotten around to playing it. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to describe my feelings about this game…which is why I’m going to try to do it anyway. Regardless, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
Dandara is yet another indie Metroidvania game with a quirky gimmick. There’s no free movement in the game. You can’t walk or jump. Dandara (the protagonist) can only move via bouncing across walls. You use the left joystick to point at a marked patch on an opposing wall and then hit a quasi-“jump” button to jump to that part of the wall.
When I first started the game, it vaguely reminded me of Yoku’s Island Express, another Metroidvania with a quirky gimmick that prevents free movement (it’s a pinball game). That was actually by far my least favorite part of Yoku’s Island Express because it felt really tedious to traverse through the world, which is something I enjoy the most in these kinds of games.
However, once I got past the learning curve, I found it pretty fun and fast-paced bouncing my way down hallways and across the map.
Combat-wise, it’s not too complex. You use a gun that requires charge (so you have to hold and release to shoot rather than just spamming the button). There are missiles and other kinds of shots you can find as upgrades. The combat seems mostly built around dodging rather than offense. The bosses and sometimes even the normal enemies felt very “bullet hell-y” at points and it was really important to learn how to quickly maneuver (as a part of the learning curve). I don’t have any good pictures to attach here but I think you can get a general gist from the gif though, and there’s also videos on Youtube. I didn’t take any of my own screencaps because I was very busy trying to like…not die.
Speaking of which, I definitely think it’s a challenging game, but for the most part it never felt too impossible. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like somewhere along the way, Metroidvanias became synonymous with “difficult platformers”, which is something I still have mixed feelings on, but Dandara’s difficulty wasn’t unexpected in the slightest. There were definitely some difficulty spikes, but it wasn’t too bad.
Other than the area before the final boss, the place I had the most trouble on was the clocktower, the classic difficulty suspect. I later found out that this it was part of the extra DLC levels and thus non-mandatory. I did end up finishing it though without spending too much time on it, so I say it would still slot in the realm of feeling difficult but not entirely impossible.
I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the map design. For starters, it was a lot larger and more interesting than I thought it would be, and still relatively fun to explore. Even after getting used to the movement, I still found it slightly tedious traversing through the map because it’s large and sometimes there’s a certain path you have to take to reach the room you want, and if you miss the path, you may have to loop around and try again because of one-way routes. This was especially present in one of the earlier areas of the game.
On the other hand, the map well is designed to loop back to vaguely where you need to go next. I noticed that this, along with the fact that the game sometimes temporarily blocked off old areas, made the game feel a bit more linear, but I personally don’t have any problems with that. Each area itself felt surprisingly linear as well because you often have to traverse through rooms in a set order due to gates and blocked shortcuts, but again, I didn’t have too much of an issue with that. It just makes the game feel a little more like a classic platformer.
The level up system is pretty standard – you collect “salt” (the currency) to upgrade certain stats. If you die, you lose salt, and have to retrieve it from the place where you died. Due to the difficulty, I actually did end up losing a lot of salt at the later levels and had to do some grinding before the final boss because I felt under-leveled. I personally am not a huge fan of grinding and thus powered through most of the game via the “git gud” method, but the final boss ended up being a bit too much for me.
Overall, I did enjoy my time with the game. My playthrough was nearly 10 hrs long. I explored most of the main map, but I’m not sure how much of the DLC I managed to get through. Based on the coloring on the map, it seemed like there were two areas I skipped because I couldn’t figure out how to access them and couldn’t find anything on Google to help me out. That’s one unfortunate part of playing small-name indie games I guess. I’m not sure if I’ll be going back to it anytime soon though because I have other games I want to play.
The movement is quite innovative and interesting, but everything else (Metroidvania upgrades, level upgrades, Dark Souls style currency and healing) is fairly derivative. However, if you’re a fan of the standard Metroidvania formula like I am and have interest in trying out another one, then I would still recommend this game.