Title: Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition
Developer: Long Hat House
Publisher: Raw Fury Games
Genre: 2D Action-platformer, Metroidvania
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, iOS, Android
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Official Site: Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition
Release Date: March 26th, 2020
The world of Dandara is one of beauty and oppression. Malevolent forces have broken citizens away from friends and loved ones. But a hero is born to put an end to these forces and return peace to the land. This is her journey.
A World on the Brink
The game doesn’t give much information on the world of Salt at the onset. Outside of a short cutscene, various bits of information can be gathered by finding certain objects throughout the many areas. Books, letters, picture frames; each of these is a puzzle piece of what happened. You’ll also meet survivors who will give you a glimpse into the larger story. The plot is nowhere near the most important aspect of the game. But piecing together the mystery hooks you into wanting to continue. Dandara herself was inspired by a Brazilian folk hero of the same name. And this fact strengthens her battle to free the oppressed citizens of this world.
The world itself is also fascinating. Every area is a distinct environment, from a flourishing forest to a treacherous desert. And the art direction is what makes it succeed. Wonderfully colored 16-bit landscapes and fantastical creature designs abound. The environments felt similarly designed as those in Celeste. Remnants of a once-thriving society litter each area, though destruction at the hands of monsters has made it near uninhabitable. The game is also coupled with a synth-heavy, atmospheric soundtrack. And it perfectly sets the mood for a world on the brink of collapse. Unfortunately, exploring the world of Salt becomes tedious and frustrating for a number of reasons.
Not Your Typical Traversal
What differentiates Dandara from other Metroidvanias is how players traverse the environments. You can’t simply walk or jump your way through. Instead, Dandara dashes between various white spots on the ground, walls, and ceilings. Moving the joystick in a given direction will show where she’ll end up when pressing the dash button. The direction doesn’t have to be exact; if you’re pointing her in the general direction of one of these spots, that’s where she’ll end up. And that’s a good thing considering how many things want to kill you on any given screen. Just like dashing around obstacles in Celeste, this feels incredibly satisfying and appropriately weighty.
However, this method of movement comes with significant downsides. First, there’s the map. For starters, there’s no indicator for Dandara on it. There are icons for other important facets, like the flags that act as checkpoints. But the screen will often be flipped sideways since you’re typically clinging to ceilings or walls. The map is always right-side-up. But with no icon for the player, it can cause confusion as to where exactly in the room you are and in which direction you need to go. I found myself opening the map every time I entered a different room just to make sure I was going the direction I meant to.
There’s also a significant amount of backtracking. This isn’t anything new to Metroidvanias. But whereas most of them allow the player to venture off their path to find secrets and upgrades, Dandara forces it on them. Since your only form of movement is dashing to certain spots, you can’t correct mistakes without working your way through previous areas. For example, some platforms move when you stand on their button. If you go through a door, realize it was the wrong one, and go back, the platform will have moved back to its starting position. And since you can’t just walk back over to it, you must tediously backtrack to the necessary spot and try again.
Dandara’s main form of attack is the Charge Shot. You can find other abilities later, such as the rockets. But she mainly uses a spread shot to damage enemies. It’s powerful and extremely effective… if the enemy is close to you. But most of the time, they won’t be. And while enemy projectiles can travel the length of the screen, Dandara’s attack only goes about a third of the way. The player must get in close, making themselves more vulnerable, if they want to do damage. The rockets can travel much farther, but they use an energy meter.
Even if this normal attack could hit faraway enemies, charging in general leaves you vulnerable. If tapping the button produced a weaker shot, so you didn’t have to stand there, it would help. It doesn’t take long to charge the attack, of course. But with some screens being filled with enemies on all sides, most of which can shoot you, it definitely matters. Especially since the game’s method of traversal means you can’t simply dodge or jump out of the way. Dashing to another spot will most likely put you in the path of another projectile.
Dandara does let you upgrade your abilities and character. While flags act as checkpoints, campsites allow you to spend crystal bits on upgrades. However, there are even downsides here. Each upgrade costs the same amount, which increases every time you upgrade something,, no matter how low the upgradeable ability is. For instance, if you’ve upgraded your health bar three times, but never your energy bar, it’ll cost the same amount to do either. It’s a bit unbalanced.
Speaking of these crystals, there’s no way to save or store them at a campsite. If you die, you lose all that you have on you. You can go back to the place you died, where a “spirit” form represents them and recollect them, but that’s just more backtracking. If you’re able to shoot the spirit and free your money, but can’t get to them if hazards surround them, they’ll disappear within a few seconds. It all makes upgrading abilities more of a chore than it needs to be.
Dandara originally released in 2018. And luckily for players who played it back then, the Trials of Fear update is completely free. It comes with three new areas to explore, a new boss fight, new abilities, more music, and more abilities. It also adds more lore, which absolutely helps to flesh out its engaging world.
Verdict: The world found in Dandara engages the player through excellent art direction, atmospheric music, and a satisfying dash mechanic. Unfortunately, it’s weighed down by a frustrating map layout, weak attacks, a problematic upgrade system, and forced backtracking that makes it unfun to play.
- Snyth-heavy, atmospheric score
- Great Art Direction, Environmental and Creature Design
- Interesting World
- Dash Mechanic Feels Great
- Forced Backtracking
- Weak Attacks
- Flawed Upgrade System
- No Character Icon on Map
Nintendo fanatic, comics enthusiast, and fantasy novel reader. I write about the things that make me passionate and binge the shows that hold on tight and don’t let go. Also a writer for WatchMojo.