Dokuro review for PS Vita

Platform: PlayStation Vita
Also On: PSN
Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment
Developer: Game Arts
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

Here’s the thing you need to know about Dokuro: if you’re going to play (and if you own a Vita, you absolutely should), you need to be okay with dying. Like, a lot. In all manners of fashion. You’re going to be crushed by falling crates. You’re going to fall down holes. You’re going to be killed by vengeful demons. You’re going to be roasted by fire. You’re going to get hit by swinging, rotating blades. You’re going to get skewered by giant spikes. Basically, you’re going to die again, and again, and again, and again.

Okay, maybe you can take off one of those “again”s. You might not die as much as me — after all, I tend to approach every game like it’s God of War (or any other similarly over-the-top action game), which means I tend to just run into any situation without thinking things through first. And Dokuro, being a puzzle-platformer (with an emphasis on the puzzles), is most definitely a game that rewards careful planning and execution.

Here’s the thing, though: this is one of those games where you won’t mind dying frequently. While it’s extremely tough, it never comes off as impossible. In general, the difficulty in solving puzzles comes not from figuring out the solution, but from pulling it off. It’s one thing, for example, to realize you need to push a crate off one side of a seesawing board and down into a hole, where you can push the princess standing atop the crate from one side of the hole to the other. It’s another to:

  • dash ahead of the princess and jump up a few platforms;
  • balance the two crates that are on the board (while dodging the intermittent flames that come shooting down);
  • run from one side of the board to the other so you can push the crate so that it’s evenly on the platform next to the board and on the button that’s keeping the gate down that’s blocking the princess from moving forward;
  • jump down, transform into your princely self, and carry the princess back to the start of the level;
  • run back to the crate (dodging the flames as you do) and push it off the ledge;
  • push the crate down into a hole, and pull the princess across as soon as she gets on top of the crate; and
  • jump out of the hole and finish the level.

Oh, as you’re doing those last few steps, you have to avoid the flames that have started shooting down from the bridge over the hole.

It sounds like a lot — just as it would sound like a lot to describe the solutions to any of the other puzzles in the game — but it’s also pretty clear what you have to do almost instantly. Consequently, even as you die for the dozenth time, it’s not hard to shake off the failure and try again. The game may be punishingly hard, but it never feels impossible.

In part, some of this is because the controls are outstanding. Considering how precise most of your movements need to be, it would be a massive failure if the game didn’t have tight controls. It does, and Game Arts deserves praise for everything working so perfectly.

Also deserving of praise: the game’s style. Much like Rayman Origins last year, Dokuro is an excellent reminder that games don’t have to be 3D to be gorgeous. In fact, on this front you could argue that Dokuro’s achievement is even more impressive, seeing as most of the game is black and white, with a few splashes of colour here and there. The game looks like a moving charcoal or chalk drawing, and, quite simply, the effect is stunning.

As much as the game succeeds in those areas, however, I keep coming back to the way it makes being challenged fun. I really can’t emphasize this enough. I’m usually not a person who looks to games to be challenged; given the option, I’ll play a game on easy every time. Here, though, you don’t have the choice — you play it, and either deal with the constant trial and error (and error, and error, and error), or don’t play at all. I love Dokuro enough that I’ve stuck with it even after countless deaths, and I’ll continue to stick with it long after this review gets published (because honestly, I’m nowhere close to the end, even though I’ve already sunk countless hours into it). It’s a joy to play, and if you have a Vita, it’s a must-own game.

Grade: A-