According to Wikipedia, Dandara was an Afro-Brazillian warrior who helped her settlement free themselves from enslavement. As a master of an Afro-Brazillian martial art called capoeira, she fought many battles with both men and women to defend Palmares. Sadly, she was arrested in 1694, where she committed suicide instead of returning to a life of slavery. The story of Dandara is an interesting one and one fitting of a videogame adventure. I wanted to mention this because the game itself doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Aside from the words “Dandara’s actions will not be forgotten” on the game’s start-up, the story here is told in the subtlest of ways. The game is inspired by a remarkable story, but you can complete the game and never know who the real Dandara was or what she fought for, so I felt it was worth mentioning. So now you know that Dandara is based on a real-life hero, but is it any fun and worth your time?
The video game version of Dandara lives in a truly bizarre universe. Our hero is awoken to reshape the world and save the oppressed from the brink of oblivion. This story is told without cutscenes and with only the occasional piece of text with the characters you encounter. It felt less like an actual story and more like a theme, and that’s okay. However, I’m glad I did some research, as Dandara’s back story kept me invested as the game got more difficult.
Developer Long Hat House managed to create a classic Metroidvania sidescroller that looks familiar but feels truly different due to the movement. Dandara doesn’t run, jump, or even walk. Instead, she vaults from place to place completely free from the laws of gravity. The catch is that she has to land on a patch of salt. Admittedly, I don’t completely understand why she can only stand on salt, but it manages to make an old – and packed – genre feel fresh. It’s also exhilarating once you get the hang of it. It’s slightly reminiscent of Bionic Comando’s grappling hook but way faster. In that way, it’s like teleporting around in a VR game. You can zip to the ceiling, the wall, or a spot on the floor, as long as there is a patch of salt. It doesn’t take long to adapt to this mechanic, but I still haven’t mastered it. It’s amazing how much it changes each aspect of the game. Darting around the screen during combat, especially the bosses, is such a treat, that it was worth the steep learning curve. And it is a bit steep. This mechanic alone killed me many times, and the infrequent save spots can make playing Dandara, especially early, very frustrating.
Thankfully, they’ve added a few options to lessen the difficulty. The first option is to add more campsites (save spots), which I decided to shamelessly use quite early in my playthrough. The last two options, the game labels as “cheats” and suggest that you won’t get the intended game experience, and your save file will be labeled as such. These are infinite energy, and the ability to respawn in the room where you died. This one is especially useful as the game utilizes the much-replicated formula of losing the salt you collect when you die. You have one chance to return to the scene of the crime to require your lost bounty, but if you die on your way back, that salt and all of your hard work are lost forever. You can see how respawning in the room where you died makes this mechanic irrelevant. Which, I suppose is why they are called “cheats”.
Besides the unique movement, it’s a Metroidvainia title, so you know the drill. You’ll be scrolling left and right, slowly unlocking a world and all of its secrets, whether they are tucked away in hidden areas or locked inside strategically placed treasure chests. Of course, this includes plenty of backtracking as you won’t have access to certain areas until you collect the right item’s later in the game. This can be annoying and frustrating, but it’s baked into the DNA of any Metroidvania worth its salt (sorry), so you should have known this coming in.
The combat basically consists of bouncing around the environment while firing what I think are multiple arrows at the same time. This is, of course, upgradable as you collect more goodies throughout the game. I sometimes got the arrow that lets you know which direction you’re about to leap to, confused with the direction I was aiming my weapon, but I eventually got used to it. Sometimes in the heat of battle, I would revert and leap directly into an enemy I was trying to shoot, but that happens when a game changes something as fundamental as the way in which we move around.
Dandara first released as a mobile game a few years back, and The Trial of Fears version features the original game plus the large DLC that nearly doubles the game’s length to over ten hours. The new bosses are just as difficult as the base-game bosses and require a real grasp of the unique movement method.
If you love the old side-scrolling Metroidvania games than you shouldn’t miss Dandara. You won’t be instantly good at it, but if you learn and appreciate that unique movement method, it can be a real treat to play. The severe lack of save points in the original version made it feel like a cheap way to extend the game length, but the ability to add more (plus the two optional cheats you can select from the menu) make Dandara accessible to just about anyone. The classic pixel heavy graphics look fantastic and it was a real joy to fly around this world. It isn’t easy to innovate, especially in a genre as old as this one, but developer Long Hat House and distributor Raw Fury have done exactly that.
Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition PS4 Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8/10
How Dandara managed to pull off something this unique in such a crowded and old genre is nothing short of remarkable. It doesn’t have the depth or the gripping story of my favorites in the genre, but Dandara is a welcomed addition to the club. Metroidvania fans owe it to themselves to spend some time in this world.
- The mode of traversing this world is fun to do but tough to master
- The level design, with the movement in mind, is fantastic
- The artwork is beautiful
- Despite being based on a fascinating real-life hero, it is shallow
- Steep learning curve and unforgiving save system (minus the “cheats”)
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Slim.