Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment, Inc.
Platform: PlayStation Vita
My initial reaction to Dokuro was, “Oh cool, 2D Ico with some dark Burton-esque art.” Really though, there’s more to it than that. Dokuro is a difficult puzzle-platformer that is oddly satisfying. When I died, it was due to my impatience and I knew it. It’s not just impatience that’ll kill you though, you’re going to die a few times just trying to figure out how to progress in each level.
I wish that was an exaggeration.
Unless there is an obstacle blocking the princess’ path, she will walk into hazards with no concern for her life (with the exception of pits, she’ll stare down into those). It is up to you, Dokuro (“skull” in Japanese), to protect the princess and ensure that she makes it through every level unscathed. This is easier said than done, as you’ll have to spend a couple of deaths (or restarts) on working out the proper solution to getting the princess a clear path across the level.
Puzzle solutions are very trial and error, especially later in the game. Also, the princess will only move on level ground, so you have to find ways to manipulate the level to satisfy this restriction. This includes “making floor” by dropping and moving crates, breaking down walls, and flipping switches to make platforms fill in gaps.
In your normal skeleton form you are able to double-jump (to reach high up places and clear obstacles) and whack enemies with your bone club, which does no damage. Thankfully, you can kill enemies by knocking them into bottomless pits or traps. When Dokuro transforms into the prince, he sacrifices his mobility (double-jumps) for the opportunity to kill things with his sword. This is in addition to being able to pick up the princess, during which time you cannot jump at all, so think ahead.
As you progress through the game you gain access to chalk sticks that allow you to draw fuses to detonate explosives and ropes to connect objects. There is also a potion that grants you the aforementioned ability to transform into the prince. Dokuro’s transformation is limited but he is able to manipulate the princess directly; carrying her down to levels where she wouldn’t normally go on her own. You must be careful when doing this as the princess will take damage if she falls more than a single level.
The sound isn’t the focus of the game. The sound effects are minimal and the music is basically the same track looping. Really though, it works perfectly. It would be distracting if I were paying attention to the music while trying to time my jumps. The sound effects are also minimal, each character uttering a noise only when they die or get hit (or picked up in the Princess’ case).
As far as story goes, I haven’t seen too much of one. At the beginning you’re dropped into the game and taught how to play. There was no explanation for how you ended up in that situation, where the princess came from, or who you are. As you play through the game though, you’re given bits of information as to your role and why you’re leading the princess around. Dokuro is a lowly servant of the Dark Lord who brings home a princess in a cage one day. Dokuro instantly falls in love and makes it his duty to free her and keep her safe. And she doesn’t even notice him.
For me, the art is the most charming part of Dokuro. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself. Even though Dokuro usually looks mean (he is a skull guard, after all), the idle animations show a goofier Dokuro dancing to the background music. This game was inspired by children’s books, so it’s not surprising that the art is softer in appearance. Why, the Princess even resembles a princess from a well-established franchise who shares a name with a certain fruit.
Even though I liked the game, I couldn’t find myself playing for more than 20 minutes or so at a time. Restarting the puzzles over and over in order to get the coins was incredibly tedious and left me feeling tired after each session. This is a great game to have for Vita owners who don’t mind a good challenge and who can comfortably bear restarting levels. For the price of $19.99, there really is a good deal of value.. especially if you’re like me and must collect everything.