SAN FRANCISCO – The beautiful thing about indie games is that they take bizarre risks that would make a big-budget developer blanch.
Take Dandara, for instance: it's a new Metroidvania-style side-scroller from Long Hat House. Dandara throws traditional movement straight out the window, forcing its protagonist to traverse the world in gravity-defying diagonal maneuvers. However, the game is fantastically intuitive and seems to preserve everything players love about the exploration genre.
I went hands-on with Dandara at GDC 2017, and despite the game’s unusual controls, it took me about two minutes before I was zipping around the world like a pro. Dandara, the game’s titular heroine, can only move from place to place by jumping along diagonal lines onto specially marked surfaces. As such, your path through any level will be a long zigzag, broken up by directional changes, enemy encounters and roadblocks that require special items.
After a short tutorial, my demo began in an empty, pixelated world with a bizarre color palette and no firm feelings on gravity. Like Dandara, enemies can appear on almost any surface, and not all of them are vulnerable to Dandara’s ray gun. Although she has the capacity to defend herself, Dandara’s weapon (at least to start) takes a moment to charge, and can’t defeat most enemies in one hit. As such, while combat is sometimes necessary to clear your path, it’s not as integral to the game as the platforming.
Even though setting up your exact trajectory takes a second, I found myself blasting through the stages like a pro within minutes, narrowly avoiding enemy fire, dodging moving traps and never staying in one place too long (some environmental hazards can take you out if you do). Dandara doesn’t have much health (at least at the beginning), so staying in one place is a bad idea. Dying in-game isn’t catastrophic; you’ll go back to your last checkpoint with any new progress intact, but you will lose a little currency.
Treasures can also enhance your combat and exploration chops. The first item I found let me restore a little health; the second helped light up darkened switches, allowing me to explore new areas. Making it to the end of Dandara (and exploring every last corner of the world) will be largely dependent on treasures like the latter.
I finished up the demo after a boss fight against a rolling tank that shot lasers in every direction. The fight wasn’t too tough, as I had plenty of room to dodge the blasts and lots of time to return fire. I imagine that later bosses will be in tougher, more constrictive environments.
Dandara isn’t like any other Metroidvania I’ve ever played, and that ultimately works to its advantage. Its melancholy world and its innovative control scheme make it well worth a look for fans of the genre. The game will be out “soon” on the Nintendo Switch, although Long Hat has not yet announced a price.