Zippin’ all over the place with Dandara: Trials of Fear

(Updated Fri Jun 11 09:10:29 PM UTC 2021)

Salt n Skulls

tldr Ratings

First Time Playing Yup
Play Time 7-8hrs
100% Completion Might as well have
Fun 8 / 10
Collecting Stuff 9 / 10
Jank 3 / 10

I’ll be honest, indie platformers are a dime a dozen these days and even though I LOVE the genre, it just gets so saturated with mid-tier efforts, trying to be “retro” too hard, or just lacks atmosphere. I bought Dandara on whim, I knew nothing about it at all. I searched on GOG “Metroidvania”, went “oh that has some fast paced jank” to myself, and gave it a chance. I also bought this with the “Trials of Fear” DLC already attached, and I’m not really sure what is DLC and what is vanilla so, /shrug.

Some kind of forest camp

Overview

Dandara seems like a very Metroidvania platformer at first. The “gimmick” is you can’t move left and right like you can traditionally in uh, most action platformers, but you can only jump to other platforms around you. Think of it sort of like VVVVVV but with 180 deg of control of where you go when you leave the platform you’re standing. This also comes with the caveat of only landing on salt, which is tldr; any white surface. Of course you get the typical Metroidvania elements like upgrades that let you go to past areas and explore more, or chests with max health upgrades. The game encourages you to fill the map and eventually get to the REAL final boss, just like you expect. There’s also a “souls” element where salt you collect can be used to upgrade 4 main stats, but you lose the salt you’re carrying if you die, but you can regain it if you come back to your floating salt-corpse.

Atmosphere/World

The game is absolutely gorgeous. It runs very smoothly at all times and the calm atmospheric music is just perfect for the situations you get yourself into. The game also supports ultrawide monitors without any config so you can really get zoned into the world. The amount of colors/themes for all the areas and the hand drawn pixel art is all top-tier. You would have no idea this is Long Hat House’s first “released” game.

I didn’t really pay attention to the story (you can read a giant reddit exploration of it here), but all the areas in the game are super expressive. When I found the “chaos” map, it was like a SOTN moment where I went “wait, there’s another WHOLE MAP here?!”. A couple of moments stood out to me:

Golden Wall

Controls

I will warn you right now that even though the PC version says it has “a new Mouse and Keyboard control scheme specifically made for PC”, it is NOT designed for that at all and I quickly abandoned it for a Xbox controller. The right analog stick isn’t used at all, and the controls are very fluid considering how chaotic things get. After a while you get used to zigzagging around the map and you can kind of mash jump while generally pointing in the direction and she’ll 75% of the time get there.

Movement!

Dandara sort of goes for the Super Metroid approach in that the unlockable weapons are on a modifier to your original attack. I found it a bit weird that you have to hold X start your attack and THEN you press right trigger, and THEN let go of X to shoot the special attack. Why can’t I just hold the trigger and press X? I guess they are balancing you NOT being able to just spawn a lot of stuff at once, but it feels slightly unintuative, especially when the game demands you make fast reflex movements mid/end-game.

I guess you could make the same complaints about the healing system, which forces you to sit with no invincibility frames for a second or two until the health/energy refills. This can get HELLA problematic with enemies flying around you and you can’t avoid them easily since most of them can go right through walls. JANK!

Gripes/Jank

Slight spoilers coming, but one of my main gripes of the game is the lack of fast travel. I get why, the game is fast and wants to teach you to move fast/avoid getting hit, and thats fine. But then why do they give you fast travel at the END of the game, when you probably don’t need it at that point. Not only that, but you need it to get into the fortress, since you saw the camp maybe hours earlier in the game. AVGN “How are you supposed to know that?”. The fast travel only works via the room names too, you don’t select the point on the map, and the map doesn’t show you the room names. So you kind of have to learn the names of rooms over again, at the end of the game. Kind of silly, fast travel feels like an afterthought to me.

Near the end-game I think they rely way too much on bosses being regular enemies, to the point where I started damage boosting through them if I could. This is mostly only problematic when there are more than one, since they probably can go through walls, and have different timings than the others. The anxiety ball weapon can KIND OF make short work of these, but it’s not enough to save the experience.

Flygirl

Overall

I loved the game, despite all the gripes. I would even put it in the top 10 Metroidvania games I’ve played. The art style and music is amazing, the controls are addictive to get good at, and the challenge is JUST hard enough to make you not give up. Would totally recommend to people who love games like Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, or Metroidvania games in general.