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Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Review: Dandara

Review: Dandara

Zip around at lightning speeds in this Metroidvania adventure by Long Hat House.

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Long Hat House | Nintendo Switch | Digital Only
1 Player
Reviewed by: Curtis Chapman | 6th February 2018

Developers Commentary by: João Brant and Lucas Mattos - Long Hat House

* Review Code Provided by: Long Hat House / Raw Fury *

Nintendo Play is joined by João and Lucas at Long Hat House for the included Developers Commentary.

Developed for the Switch by the four man team at Long Hat House, Dandara goes on sale today on the eShop priced at a respectable £13.49. While this gravity defying Metroidvania title may have you wondering which way is up, the more important question is will it have you wondering if it’s worth picking up?

Dandara takes place in the Salt, a once beautiful world that thrived on freedom and equality, its citizens using the utopia to maintain a peaceful and perfect balance across the land. That is, until a “golden ideal” took control, causing fear and isolation, oppressing the once free people to a life of servitude. All hope is lost until Dandara is awoken from creation itself to bring hope to a world devoid of any.

A quick Google search of Dandara will point you to pictures of a woman sharing a striking resemblance to the titular character of the game, Dandara dos Palmares, a 17th century Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter, who it turns out, the main protagonist is loosely inspired by, which is apt considering the games central theme of liberating the oppressed.

Developers Commentary
João and Lucas: Well, for this I have to explain the whole story. After we got our initial prototype working, we started working on what should be the story of the game. Our first thought was making something like Contra, you were a dude fighting these baddies with a machine gun or something. Then we thought that kind of story wasn't like us at all. It's just a retelling of other games. We wanted to bring the story to something closer to us, to make something different than what's being repeated all the time. That was where we thought about the Brazilian Slavery, and we came to Dandara dos Palmares. That's when we came up with the character.

Some time after that, we thought that the mechanics wouldn't make justice to this subject at all. Also, to treat it with the respect it deserves, we would be needing to do a very thorough research. At the beginning, we were just two guys, and our main goal was to do a quality experience first and foremost. We decided then to change the subject of the game to something different and closer to us, but the main character survived that transition. Still, she brought a lot of inspiration to what the game tells, and the name brings a lot of meaning and symbolism to the game's universe.

Dandara Review 1

The game begins by placing you in a void-like starting room and a good job is made of walking you through the most basic of the game's mechanics. Dandara has the ability to leap between platforms at a superfast speed, though only on specific highlighted sections of surfaces. Dandara also (for some unknown reason) does not possess the ability to walk, at all. Our protagonist is able to dispatch of enemies using her “Arrows of Freedom”, requiring a brief charge before splaying out several projectiles in a 45-degree arc, in whichever direction she is currently being pointed toward.

Developers Commentary
João and Lucas: Well, we did build the mechanics before we had a story defined, but the game's universe grew around it. Because of the way you move, we knew we couldn't have a realistic environment in this game, so we came up with a more "abstract" idea, an oneiric setting full of allusions. In Dandara our real physics have no role and they are substituted by new rules, and the creatures and their behaviours are also limited by different rules. Not only Dandara can only jump, she also shoots energy arrows, she is born from the Void, fully formed (like most of the other beings you find). I won't say that this design came from the story, but we have possible interpretations of why she moves like that, why she is limited in reach, why she can only jump in areas where Salt is visible.. but we'll try not to give too much away!

Once you have left the starting area you are well and truly on your own, forced to use trial and error to determine the next direction to take in the room-by-room open world environment. The game does do a good job of gently prodding you, either by throwing powerful enemies your way or by gating you progress with obstacles that, unbeknownst to you, must be found elsewhere before you can progress. A map is also available, letting you know where in the world you have been and which doors you have yet to open. All of these things are staples in Metroidvania styled games and there isn’t much the game could do to improve on them.

Unlike others in the sub-genre, the game adopts a system of checkpoints, experience, and consumables more akin to the Dark Souls series of games. When Dandara locates a tent she can rest, allowing her to upgrade her health, stamina and the potency of her consumables using the “pleas of salt”, the games experience currency obtained when defeating enemies. Resting will also cause all of her current consumables to recharge fully and the enemies to respawn in the game world. Dying around the world will take Dandara back to the last tent she visited minus all of her previously unspent pleas, returning to the scene of death without perishing again and you will be able to collect all of your missing currency. This is a welcome addition and when the stakes are high, does a good job of intentionally slowing down the pace to ensure silly mistakes don’t cost the player a large amount of experience.

Developers Commentary
João and Lucas: That is true! Throughout the development we were all playing Dark Souls and we got a lot of inspiration from it! But for sure there's more, some not so obvious.. like there's even some Zelda, Killer 7 and Resident Evil in there! The rhythm of battles encounters, and tension too.

Dandara Review 2

The game's graphics are handled beautifully, with fluid character animations and amazing hand-drawn weapon and environmental effects. The pixel-art graphics look great in both Docked and Handheld mode with no noticeable difference in speed or performance between the two. The music does a wonderful job of engrossing the player, with each area featuring different tracks. The camera in-game is also implemented very well, rotating the world when entering rooms at points in an attempt to keep the player grounded and helping them remember which way is up.

Your trip across the Salt sadly does not last forever though, with playtimes ranging between 5 - 7 hours to conclude the games main storyline. What leaves a worse taste is that it appears that no effort has been placed in maintaining the player afterwards in the form of any endgame, or newgame+ content. We were enjoying the title so much that we were ready to restart the title immediately in an expected harder difficulty but were left deflated to find that was not the case. Of course that doesn’t stop the player from implementing self-imposed rules, no upgrades play-through anyone?

Developers Commentary
João and Lucas: We've been thinking on doing something like that for a possible update, but no promises yet! We had many ideas during development, but we always had to choose between priorities, and focus on what we thought would have a better impact on the experience. Also we believe a lot in the replay value for speedrun and, like you said, other self-imposed rules.

Dandara Review 3

It’s quite obvious from the get go that Dandara will quickly be adopted by gaming’s ever growing speed-running community. Metroidvania titles are already a fairly popular with the lightning fast gamers, but the games length, coupled with the games feeling of speed, quick reactions required and the ability to tackle each room in a multitude of ways will make Dandara’s fastest playthroughs one of the most contested achievements for the foreseeable future.

Developers Commentary
João and Lucas: Yes! We chose not to make a replay system like a new game+, but always had in mind the replay value of the game! As soon as we discovered how fun it was to play fast, we made a lot of conscious choices for speedrunning when designing mechanics and levels. There are a few things like resource management and sequence breaking that was thought to give competing for speed more flair.

They say one of the most important rules of show business is to leave them wanting more and that’s certainly what Long Hat House have managed to do with Dandara. An enthralling and engaging trip across the surreal world of the Salt was only dampened by the fact that it came to a close all too soon. We hope to see a whole lot more of Dandara in the future, so if you’re partial to a Metroidvania you’d be absolutely bonkers not to pick this up.

Many thanks to João and Lucas for their discussion during this review.


+ Fresh Game Mechanics
+ Beautiful pixel art
+ Perfect for Speedrunners
+ Large Metroidvania style map

- No End Game Content or New Game+

Verdict: For the Win - Essential
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