Can a representative of the undead ever find love and gain the affection of a radiant human princess in a gothic setting? That's the question Game Arts and GungHo poses in its upcoming 2D puzzle-laden platformer, Dokuro.
You play the title character, a diminutive undead skeleton, who has to lead a princess captured by the Dark Lord to her freedom. Players will need to go through the different sections of the impossibly-large castle, as they tax their brains with all sorts of puzzles.
Luckily, the skeleton has a few tricks of his own to guide the princess from point A to B. You can make the skeleton double-jump to reach high places, and move like the wind to trigger switches. He also has a club he can use to stun and knock enemies away, but doesn't hurt them in the slightest.
The puzzles we saw involved moving targets In one stage, we needed to light up a powder keg by using a nearby fire demon. Because it was jumping around, we had to time our swing so that it landed close to the keg.
The skeleton needs more than just a calcium-crafted club for defense; that's where the hero form comes into play. With either a double-tap on the front or rear touchpad, Dokuro transforms into a prince that can not only slash enemies to their deaths, but also carry the princess to bypass small ledges or other manageable obstacles. The potion meter on the right side of the screen displays how long you've got until you revert back to your bony form.
In addition, you have access with chalk powers; by selecting the color type of chalk with the left trigger, you can draw lines on the touch screen to alter the environment. Using a white chalk line connects severed ropes onto heavy objects so that they stay suspended, while using a red chalk lets you light up fuses to blow up powder kegs.
We played through five stages in our demo, with each stage consisting of ten segments and its own brain teasers. While the first stage was a tutorial about the game's controls and mechanics, we ran into a bit of trouble with some of the puzzles on the third stage and beyond. Some require you to lay out a makeshift bridge of boxes while clearing a path of beasties, while others required us to fly across the area using a blimp while capping off fire traps using crates.
One puzzle forced us to use metal casings as platforms, and when combined with fire traps the metal platforms eventually became dangerously hot. In another instance we needed to shoot the princess out of a cannon and adjust its trajectory so that she didn't smash her face through a spiked barrier. Dokuro's puzzles require a bit of thinking, as well as speedy platforming and navigation, especially those with timers.
Restarting a puzzle was quick and painless should our previous efforts have failed. In fact, you have the option to skip up to ten puzzles if your brain can't handle particular conundrums. To earn back a skip option, you need only head back to the puzzle that stumped you and complete it.
The game also throws in a boss fight or two for good measure. We came across one creative one and one that felt anticlimactic given Dokuro's puzzle-encrusted motive. The first boss, the Guardian, jumps around on three highlighted spots on the ground while attempting to pound you. While you can heap on the damage in hero form, we found it easier to wait until it did a stomp bringing down a crate with spikes on top of it, then drag it to one of the landing spots; dealing heavy damage and stunning it momentarily for you to land a few hits.
The other boss, the Chef, is a spider-like demon who will throw fish bones at you from a distance. Hitting the nearby bell will bring the Chef's platform closer so you can inflict prince power on him. You just have to time your dodges from its powder attack and cleaver swings. Hopefully the remaining boss fights are just as creative as the rest of the game because the fight with the Chef is as dry as our protagonist's complexion.
Dokuro's art style is unique to say the least; relying on chalk scribbling and 2D animations. It isn't entirely black and white, but the game's look is what you would get if The Nightmare Before Christmas was hand-drawn on a black board frame by frame. The monsters are more cartoony than horrifying, and the main protagonist is adorable to a point of sadness that his default form isn't noticeable by the object of his affection.
While the drive of the game is to see how the narrative ends, the puzzles and decor are obvious highlights. We definitely enjoyed our stay in the gothic and complex chalkboard world, and we're eager to see more on how the story plays out.
Look for Dokuro's 2D action on the PS Vita right now as it just launched on July 5 with both Japanese and English subtitles. A North American and European release has yet to be announced.