Review: Dokuro (Sony PlayStation Vita)

Publisher: GungHo
Developer: Game Arts
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 10/16/2012

Dokuro is a platforming title that I’d heard absolutely nothing about until my editor asked for someone to review it. I went in blind not knowing what to expect, but the chalky goodness that is this puzzle and platformer has won me over. Let’s take a look.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” This quote from Ambrose Redmoon is part of the inspiration behind Dokuro. It’s a game about a skeleton who works for an evil lord who captures a princess and drags her back to his castle. Dokuro is struck by her beauty and situation and decides to help her escape, despite the fact she can’t see him 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 prince, what we assume is his former self, who the princess can see and interact with. The potion doesn’t last long, so it’s 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.

Game Arts 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 your finger to draw on the screen like you were using a piece of chalk. It’s a unique look to be sure and looks great on the Vita’s screen. 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 “ËœPrince’ 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 sound in the game isn’t fully voice acted, the music is there but you can play without it. It feels kind of there, 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 brief sounds, including the Princess who gives out a cute little “Ëœhuh?’ when Dokuro‘s Prince potion wears out.

The game’s default controls use the left analog stick to move around and push, pull, and turn objects, X to jump and double jump, Square to attack, Circle to interact with objects, and the front touch screen handles chalk drawing as well as double-tapping to drink the Prince potion, while the back touch pad handles the double-tap to end the potion effects early. Everything is very responsive on this end of things and I think my only complaint would be that sometimes the front screen might be a little too sensitive when I go to draw with the chalk and it thinks I’m double-tapping for “ËœPrince’ mode when I’m really just repositioning my finger for a better spot to draw my chalk line. This never happens at critical moments and is probably more me and my ginormous fingers of doom than anything else, but I thought it was worth noting.

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 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.

There’s a trophy set up where you don’t platinum for just getting through the game which is cool. There are coins in each area you have to get and you get trophies 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. I’ve seen some people balking at the $20 price tag on this, and 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 a steal.

While there are other platformers out there and puzzle games out there, this one does some interesting things with the setting and the main character as well as the chalk design and how the Vita controls interact, which is pretty cool. I’ve seen this compared to Little Big Planet and while both are platformers with puzzles, that’s pretty much where that comparison can stop. There are elements here from other games and genres, but I have to say Dokuro feels pretty unique even with those elements and it’s a fun new IP.

I can easily sink an hour playing this game even when I don’t really have an hour to spare. 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 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 keeps you engaged and that’s a good thing. It’s also a game for the Vita, which we haven’t had too many of before this month when we’ve received a glut of them. While you won’t find it in stores in a game cartridge, it is decently priced on the PSN and it’s getting good word of mouth and rightfully so. It’s well done and anyone can pick it up to play.

There was only the double-tap problem I mentioned earlier that I had with this game and like I said I’m not sure it’s the game itself or my big fingers that are the issue. It’s a solid, fun title that is more than welcome to sit prettily on my memory card in my Vita. I can honestly say that it will probably be there two or even three years from now after I’ve taken other titles off. It’s a blast and I would recommend this one to anyone who like platforming, puzzle, or just unique games with an interesting twist to them.

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Great
Sound: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Amazing
Originality: Very Good
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Amazing

Short Attention Span Summary
Dokuro is a fun platformer with some interesting mechanics that play a little bit into the Vita’s touchscreen and some definitely challenging puzzles. While I think people might be disappointed that it’s a download only title, its smallish size on the memory card is welcome however the playtime of about 10-20 hours for the price is even more welcome. This won’t be a system seller, but for those who own a Vita and like platforming or puzzle titles, Dokuro should definitely be on your radar or already on your memory card ready to go.



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