Played on Windows.
Also Available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, and Android.
Dandara is one of the most unique games I’ve played recently. It uses an unconventional control scheme, a unique world, and a beautiful look to present a really different game from what I am used to or was expecting. But is it worth playing?
There are a lot of ways to approach Dandara, from the lore behind the game, the story in the game, the fact Dandara is made as a Metroidvania, or just the beautiful world you find yourself in. I’ll tackle all of it, but hopefully, this at least shows why Dandara got my attention, there is a lot here to look at.
The first thing to know is that Dandara is very beautiful. The credits only list a single artist which I find incredible as Dandara is really impressive the entire time. Every scene, every room, and every character looks well detailed.
The level design and just the art is so well done in Dandara.
The most important character is, of course, Dandara, the player’s character. She’s a well detailed black woman showing off a great afro. She also wears a beautiful scarf that waves in the wind as she stands, as she moves by jumping, you can almost feel the force she lands with. Dandara really shines as a character, but all the enemies in the game are well detailed and animated.
The environments also feel really unique and interesting. A number of rooms are a bit strange as you’ll often see furniture on the wall, and ceiling and it brings a feeling of disorientation which is intentional but works well. Similarly, there are only certain areas of the world you can land on, each is painted white and it’s easy to identify where the game wants you to move or avoid.
The characters in the game are also interesting. There are a number of different characters you’ll talk to, and each one is a brand new design that builds on this strange and fantastical world. Whether it be a human who is too large to fit in a room standing up, or the large and wise looking writer character, each new interaction brings something new and beautiful to the player, and it’s worthy of praise.
He’s one of the first characters in the game, but a perfect example of the designs.
The same is true for the bosses. While Dandara has only a couple of bosses, each is an amazing challenge but the fights are unique and memorable. Though, while the enemies are a little generic, it’s the bosses that start to give the player a feeling of oppression. I found by the end of the game, there was enough of what I felt was a Nazi motif to the game, but I believe this is just the feeling of more generic imperialist forces.
Speaking of those imperialist overtones, Dandara is an interesting game for its lore. Dandara is supposed to be based on a Brazilian legend of a Brazilian female named Dandara. While writing this review I spent a decent amount of time looking into the backstory of the legend and character of Dandara, but unfortunately, I ended up a bit empty.
Nazi.. Imperialist… M.Bison, what’s the difference?
What I was able to piece together was Dandara was the spouse of a king of Quilombo dos Palmares who fought with the techniques of capoeira and fought against Dutch oppression in Brazil, finally killing herself after being captured. There’s an odd collection of information on here, and often it seems that there are more social reasons to bring her up, as many articles I read seemed to be more about the lack of information on her than facts with many blaming historians due to her gender. There’s just not much information available about the original character.
The reason I bring all that up is that I’m not sure how much factual information or even legends there are about Dandara. She’s a Brazilian hero, so admittedly she might be far more popular in Brazil, where the developers are from. But what little I read confused me more about the game, rather than helping me understand the story.
For the most part, it seems that Dandara the game is based on a unique world where there’s no gravity. Dandara the hero in the game is created and brought to “The Salt” to fight against a corrupting force. As I mentioned, the bosses feel like imperialist designs. Dandara explores the legend in a number of different ways, even getting the ability to dream, and use special powers.
A problem is that there feels like a lack of story is at the core of Dandara. I really love the character in Dandara but I want to know more about her or her travels. Instead, we find out that this version of Dandara is just created out of the Crib of Creation and is just sent to fight enemies. It could be so much more, and while I’m sure there’s much that can be deeply analyzed about the game in comparison to the lore, I felt like the game could have used a little more direct story rather than making connections that potentially were unintentional.
There’s small tidbits to the story after the beginning but not much.
The experience in Dandara is good, it’s just that the game leaves much of the story alone while focusing more on the experience, and while each location is wonderful the backstory of the character, and the story of the world feels like it’s ignored, where those pieces are the parts of Dandara that I was genuinely interested in, and wish there was more about the character I was playing as.
Dandara as a game is strange, to say the least. The first thing you’ll learn when you play the game is that players aren’t able to move around the world as they might expect. There’s no movement to the left or right, and players are limited to a single action to move. Players are able to jump from their current position to the floor, wall, or ceiling where it’s marked in white. There’s a limit to the distance the player can leap but it’s a fluid motion.
This movement is very strange, but it’s a perfect example of how Dandara approaches most of its gameplay. The basic attack Dandara uses is similarly odd as the player has to hold the attack button to charge it up and unleash it at the targets.
The game can be quite disorientating.
Part of this might be because Dandara was designed for smartphones or touchscreens, which is possible, but, while playing the game on a controller, I found it a little hard to believe as the game does play extremely well on the controller. It’s just that the player is going to take a decent amount of time to get used to the way the game’s controls are set up.
The first third or maybe even half of Dandara felt odd as if I was confused about what I was doing. Movement based on these leaps could be precise but moving through a level quickly will be difficult at first. Attacking enemies also is strange, especially when the player has to get into the right position to even strike enemies as their attack has limited range.
But once the player gets used to the controls, rooms that could take minutes trying to move through, take seconds. I returned to the beginning areas after beating the game and was amazed at how quickly I was able to move through the world and how many enemies didn’t offer me a challenge once I understood how to approach them.
That first section of the game is strange and unique in every good, but also bad, ways for a game. Dandara is one of the hardest games to really approach and it is the controls that get in the way. Although at the same time, Dandara is worth playing because it does something so new with those controls and it feels unique in a sea of platformers and adventure games that all control the same.
Once players pull themselves up to that steep learning curve of the opening of the game, they’ll start to see how the game is designed and get comfortable with the controls and gameplay, Dandara feels really good, it’s just those opening hours will be very frustrating.
Dandara doesn’t really help themselves in making the game approachable, as it adopts a couple of Dark Souls style systems. I don’t mean this to say Dandara is Dark Souls, but Dandara like many games has the player drop all their experience on death, and if that corpse isn’t recovered, those experience points are lost forever. The player’s experience is a currency called salt and can be used to upgrade and expand Dandara’s powers. There are only four repeatable upgrades to purchases, but each one feels useful.
There’s not much to buy, but each upgrade is substancial.
Another Dark Soul comparison has to be made with the Essences of Salt that work similarly to Estus Flasks. Players are able to use an Essence of Salt and it takes a moment to activate but cures damage taken, and will fully get replenished at camps. The camps are also where Dandara can upgrade her powers.
Yes, that’s the same word for the Essence of Salt, as is the word for the experience points, Salt. But to make matters worse, the energy version is called the Infusion of Salt, and the world itself is called Salt. It’s a strange piece that… like many things don’t get enough explanation in Dandara and just leads to confusion.
Though unlike Dark Souls, about halfway through the game, the player starts to master the controls, and the game seems to lighten up and produce a really fun and enjoyable game with limited challenges. There are still a number of annoying enemies and dangers in the game, but the challenge is mostly from how odd and unique the control scheme is, rather than gameplay.
Much of Dandara’s gameplay is using your life and energy to help explore the world and along the way, the player will meet a number of characters and gain new powers. Dandara is a Metroidvania at heart where the player will be stuck in certain areas until Dandara gets some ability to progress through it, whether it be a far jump, turning on music boxes to move the platform or some other ability.
Attacking mostly revolves around being in the right place and having the right angle.
Though unlike most Metroidvanias, much of these powers come from meeting people and having them provide assistance rather than finding relics. It’s a minor but nice change to the formula of most of the Metroidvanias which leave the player alone. While many energy abilities and a couple of upgrades are found, talking to people is an important part of Dandara and it feels a little different, than what I was used to in games.
Most enemies in Dandara are rather interesting and it’s through the combinations of attacks that the player has to learn to deal with groups. Though I will say there’s a Scythe wielding enemy that gave no end to the trouble it would create, and by the end of the game, I was doing everything I could to rush through areas that contained them rather than fight them directly as I didn’t have ways to beat them efficiently without trading hits.
Otherwise, Dandara became a pleasure by the end and even going back now brings a smile to my face as the uniqueness of the gameplay, and the world that the developer created for Dandara to explore is wonderful.
Dandara isn’t for everyone. It’s a unique game, with a unique control scheme focused on lore that it doesn’t really spend that much time with and a beautiful world. But while it can produce a firm challenge, it’s also a very rewarding game. Each enemy you understand, each room you pass through and each piece of the game you beat feels like a major accomplishment.
I enjoyed so much of Dandara, and I find it hard to do anything but recommend it. While it does take a lot of time to get used to, Dandara is also one of the most interesting and enjoyable Metroidvanias because rather than just take a blueprint of what a Metroidvania must be, it throws that blueprint out the window and shows what a video game can be.
This might not change the course of gaming. But Dandara is a good game not because of any specific part of the game because of how unique and fresh the game is with almost every concept it puts forward, as well as how it feels as you play it.
I give Dandara a
Final thoughts: A unique but strange game. Great character and art design really make this something special, though the control scheme is truly unique as well.
Stats: 9 hours played 9/20 achievements earned.