Review – Dandara

I always get a bit excited when I see a Brazilian game being announced for modern platforms. Call it blatant patriotism, or whatever you will, but it’s a good feeling when a good game from my country is released for consoles (like 99Vidas), and not so much when a mediocre one is released (like Get Over Here). Dandara was a title I was looking forward to a lot. A brand new metroidvania with gravity-based gameplay and its entire setting being based around Brazilian art, folklore, and music. Day one purchase for sure! The result was very unique, but I won’t deny, this game disappointed me a bit.

That’s a nod to Abaporu. You’re welcome.

My favorite aspect of Dandara is the vast amounts of Brazilian influences put into the game. The title character herself is based on a real-life Afro-Brazilian warrior who lived in 17th century colonial Brazil. Some characters are based on famous local paintings, such as the NPC Tarsila, itself a representation of the oil on canvas painting “Abaporu” by the late Tarsila do Amaral. Places such as The Corner’s Club are a homage to the Beatles-inspired “Clube da Esquina” musical movement from the 1970’s. I am very aware that the vast majority of those nods to Brazilian culture will be completely ignored by most people who’ll play this game, but I won’t deny how happy I was to see so many references hidden everywhere in this pleasantly-designed pixel art game. Dandara is a love letter to Brazilian culture, but there’s more to it than just beautiful visuals and cultural nods. Sadly, not all of those additional elements are actually good.

What’s up, mutant M. Bison?

The most notable aspect about Dandara‘s gameplay is the way you control your character. You see, your character doesn’t move around like your typical 2D platformer avatar. Dandara can only hop and land on special white platforms in a pseudo Gravity Rush style of movement. You aim the direction you want to go with the control stick and then jump into it, be it the ceiling, the wall or the ground. That makes for some interesting movement, but it also severely limits where you can go. Moving around the map is quite cumbersome at times not only due to the limitations imposed by the wall-hopping mechanic, but also due to constant camera angle rotations and a very unhelpful world map. While the game constantly rotates its camera, the overworld map remains static, turning the simple act of figuring out where you are in the map into an exhaustive task.

Things get worse when you add the combat system into the mix, as it uses the same concept. You use the same aiming reticle for your ranged attacks, but you always need to charge your strikes first. And there lies the problem. Given the fact you use the same reticle to shoot and move, you can’t do both things at once. Add in the fact your life bar is minuscule, that enemies are everywhere, and that they are fast and fearless, and combat becomes something that transcends the barrier of challenging. It reaches the annoying territory of being unfair and frustrating. The fact that Dandara features a Dark Souls-esque checkpoint system only adds insult to injury. Tents (this game’s bonfires) are very scarce and extremely far from one another. The simple act of going back to a tent in order to level up becomes a chore due to the game’s labyrinthine design and wall-hopping movement system.

They see me wall-hopping, they hatin’…

I wanted to like Dandara more than I actually did. Not only are its art style and themes awesome, full of references to Brazilian history and older pop culture, but the game actually boasted very original gameplay elements as well. Sadly, those gameplay elements, coupled with the game’s labyrinthine design and a severly punishing difficulty level, make Dandara an occasionally frustrating experience. It’s a decent game, but it can be really infuriating at times.

Graphics: 8.0

Beautiful art style, full of nods to Brazilian history and pop culture, all wrapped up in a very good pixel art coat of paint.

Gameplay: 6.0

The wall-hopping mechanic is unique, but it also results in getting lost frequently. The combat mechanics are cumbersome.

Sound: 6.5

The soundtrack is decent but no track was memorable enough during my playthrough. There isn’t much to say about the simple sound effects.

Fun Factor: 6.0

Despite the innovative gameplay mechanics and amazing themes, Dandara was a very confusing and unforgiving experience at many points.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Reviewed on Switch.
Also available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC