Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment America, Inc.
Developer: GAME ARTS Co., Ltd.
Release Date: 12/08/2014
Back in 2012 when this game came out for the Vita, I was completely unprepared for the chalky goodness that was contained within. The puzzles were inventive, the platforming was fun and it had a unique chalk mechanic tied to a power-up option you had to conserve to get the most out of. It was smart, fun and used the touchscreen of the Vita and the other controls really well. It’s still one of my favorite titles on the Vita, and I was happy to hear it had come out on the PC so I had an excuse to play it over from the beginning. Having played it, I’m still mostly happy, but I have a few hang-ups with the PC version that I didn’t with the Vita version. Let’s take a look.
Dokuro is about an undead skeleton living in a castle who’s grown disenchanted with his life working for evil. One day, the dark overlord that rules the castle he lives in steals a princess and brings her back to the castle, and our hero seizes on his chance. Struck by her beauty and situation, Dokuro decides to help her escape, despite the fact she can’t see him at all when he appears as a skeleton. As they make their way through the castle, he gains access to new items that help him along, including a potion that makes him look like a living breathing prince, which we assume is his former self, who the princess can see and interact with. The potion doesn’t last long, so it’s these fleeting moments here and there, trying to get her through the levels, that really hit home. Especially when some of the bosses taunt you about that very fact during the brief cutscenes between some areas and levels. It’s a simple tale of skeleton meets girl and tries to rescue her from evil, and while it’s mostly told with either simple or no dialogue at all, it is very cute and touching.
The developers took an interesting route with the look of Dokuro; everything is designed like it’s made from chalk. Levels, bosses, enemies, Dokuro and the Princess, even the logos when you first launch the game all look like they were created using chalk. Even two of your more interesting abilities involve using two different types of chalk to connect with the world by using the buttons of your mouse to draw on the screen like you were using a piece of chalk. It was definitely a unique look on the Vita, and it’s still something I haven’t seen since, before it was brought over to the PC. While the animations for most things are fairly simple, they do look decent, and the whole game has a cohesive feel to it. There’s a neat little change as well when you pop the ‘Prince’ potion, so the Princess can see you, in Dokuro himself and in the background as it changes color to reflect you as the Prince.
The dialogue in the game isn’t fully voice acted, and while the music is there, you can play without it. It feels kind of “there,” as even if it fits with the chalky theme in the visuals, it didn’t stand out to me. That isn’t to say it’s bad, far from it. It fits with the fairy tale theme they have going on with the game quite well. The characters and enemies communicate, if you can call it that, in short sounds, including the Princess, who lets out a cute ‘huh?’ when Dokuro‘s Prince potion wears off.
One of the biggest changes from the Vita version to the PC version is that they had to redesign the control scheme to work on a PC without the benefit of a touchscreen. Here’s where some of the charm of the game on the Vita wore off as I got further in on the PC. I will say the controls are responsive. That part of it works great. My issue comes in when you make a PC game and don’t give us the option of re-binding keys. Then there’s the other issue where, to use the chalk now, you have to leave the keyboard to use the mouse with one hand, which means you lose the ability to either jump and use something or move left and right. So how is this set-up? Well, the A and D key are your left and right movement. That was pretty standard. So I tried spacebar to jump, but that pauses the game and brings up the menu. So then I went to the help section to look and see what would allow me to jump and interact. The ‘>’ key is your jump and double jump, the ‘<' key is your attack and interaction, and the '?' key is to change into your Prince form or out of it. And then your mouse controls the on screen marker for where you want to place your chalk, pressing the left button lets you draw with your chalk and the right button changes which color chalk you use.
If you look down at your keyboard, you’ll notice that both your left and right hands are basically occupied while you’re playing so to use the chalk you have to abandon movement or attacking and jumping. This is nowhere near ideal. My mouse is an MMO mouse, so aside from the scroll wheel and the left and right click, I have another 12 buttons on it that I could assign to something else. If I could rebind the controls I could actually use just the mouse to play. It’s not an option. Neither is using a controller and a mouse. There is no controller support in this version of the game at all which is a huge bummer. They could have tied in the chalk drawing with one of the analog sticks on a current gen controller for PC. Right now though I will admit the controls work, but the layout is clunky and unnecessarily spread out across the keyboard when you have to use the mouse as well for other functions. It doesn’t feel well thought out and is nowhere near as smooth to play as a result.
Gameplay is similar to a standard platformer, but with a much heavier emphasis on puzzles and getting around them than just running through a level and jumping over things. There are 15 stages with about 10 areas in each one, some that end in a boss fight and some that don’t. While the areas are all interconnected within each stage, letting you go right from one to the next, you can exit out and jump right in on that stage or go back to another one to try and better your time or go for that coin that’s placed in each level you may have missed. The goal is to get the Princess through each area. She will simply walk along until she gets to a drop, an enemy, or trap she can see and then stop. You job is to carry her down to the next level or through the area and around the monsters or obstacles. You can do this a number of ways and each area has a different challenge. There are boxes to move in some, wrecking balls to create using your white chalk, candles or explosive barrels to light using your red chalk, monsters to kill, cannons to fire, air vents to kick on or off as needed, and at the end of each area, a flower to gather around for the Princess and you to record your completion time and move on.
Other than monsters there are flame traps, spike traps, pitfalls that drop to nowhere, evil floor critters that don’t move up but will devour you if you drop on them. Most levels at the start are pretty straight-forward in how to get around, some get trickier than others, but almost all of them relate in some way to a special ability you may have just learned or a combination of the ones you have already. One of the levels you have to actually put the Princess in harm’s way by putting her in a giant air flow that’s pushing her towards giant spikes so she can set off the button as she’s moving along to lower the platform so you can get the button and drop the spike trap so she can get through. There’s an issue of timing on that one and a few others, but for the most part you can go through and clear it before you have to put the Princess in harm’s way.
The developers did include Steam Achievements with this version of the game. I didn’t double-check to see if they match up with what we got with the Vita version. There are coins in each area you have to get and you get achievements based on how many coins as well as for getting all of them. Areas are timed and it lets you know your best score so you can go back and try to beat them on levels you know you could do better. Being able to just pick a specific area within a stage is a very nice option that I’m glad they included. They also added a skip option for levels you’re stuck on or just simply can’t get past. You are limited to only 10 of these, however, so it’s definitely recommended to keep trying to figure out a way to get around the problems of the level instead of skipping ahead every time. The levels do get far more complicated as you go, but they spice things up a bit so they’re not always about taking forever to get through and while some will be shorter, like 30 seconds or so to get around one that just has smashing arms on a speeding conveyor, it’s still a matter of timing it out just right so you or the Princess aren’t ground to a pulp. Considering this game was released a couple of years ago on a mobile platform, the $10 price tag on this is more than fair. It is cheaper than when it first released on the Vita. Playing through without looking up walkthroughs for each level will take you some time. I’m talking 10-20 hours at least, and considering the $60 price tag for an action game that lasts about the same, this is definitely a steal, even with the somewhat off control scheme
While there are other platformers and puzzle games out there, this one does some interesting things with the setting and the main character as well as the chalk design as well as using chalk to solve your problems, which was and still is pretty cool. I had seen this compared to Little Big Planet around when it first launch on Vita and while both are platformers with puzzles, that’s pretty much where that comparison stops. There are elements here from other games and genres, but I have to say Dokuro feels pretty unique even with those elements and even after two years it’s still a fun experience despite my issues with it.
I do have to say with the handheld version of this game I could easily sink an hour playing the game even when I didn’t really have it to spare. While I still enjoy it, this isn’t a game I normally would sit and play at my PC. It’s a different kind of experience and while I enjoy it still it’s not nearly as engaging this time around. While you are engaged with it each level may only take a few minutes to beat but you’ll have spent 10 or more working out how to get the Princess through it and then another five with failed attempts before you finally get it right. I still love the simplicity of it and that the challenge comes through with using your brain to get around the level instead of just forcing your way through everything. It is something different to play even with the recent deluge of games on the Steam service. It’s well done and anyone can pick it up to play with ease.
My only real gripe with the PC version is the way they laid out the controls and the fact we don’t’ have controller support for it at all coupled with no way to assign different keys to the game commands. If they had included even rebinding options it’d make the game much more accessible. As it is I can see a lot of people getting frustrated with the layout they chose. Other than that it’s still a solid, fun title that is more than welcome to frequent my last played list and my downloaded game library on Steam. I was right about keeping the Vita release on my memory stick even while I made room for other titles on the memory card and do still revisit that one. I’ll still fire up the PC version when I have a chance, but I wish we’d gotten a few more options to make it easier for each person to play. I would still recommend this one to anyone who likes platforming, puzzle, or just unique games with an interesting twist to them.
Short Attention Span Summary
Dokuro ws a fun platformer with some interesting mechanics that played a little bit into the Vita’s touchscreen and some definitely challenging puzzles. The PC version of the game suffers from some issues with control layout on the keyboard and no controller support but still keeps the charm it had when it first released back in 2012. While I think people might be disappointed by the control issues, its smallish size on your hard drive is welcome however the playtime of about 10-20 hours for the even lower price of the Steam version is even more welcome. This was an amazing title on the Vita, but for those who don’t own a Vita and like platforming or puzzle titles, Dokuro should definitely be on your Steam wishlist or already on your hard drive and ready to go even with the issues with the control scheme.