Dandara Review: Black Girl Magic
In a lot of ways, the release of Dandara is, quite frankly, hard to believe. It's a mystical metroidvania that brings new life to the genre. Long Hat House's newest title is a game you should definitely play.
This title represents a lot to me as a videogame fan. Fact is in 2018, we still don't have much black representation in games. Being black myself, I was immediately drawn to this game. Dandara stars a spiritual being born of the stars on a quest to save the world. She is an Afro-Brazilian heroine out to stop evil. She also accessorizes with an awesome yellow scarf and wields magic. She's black, magical (literally), and powerful. The game's story isn't purely fictional, it was inspired by a real world figure -- a warrior who fought against oppression Brazil. Major kudos to Long Hat for being inspired to tell her tale.
A Story Of Freedom
Our narrative beings as our heroine is created by cosmic forces. You're then told you must save the day and the universe totally knows you can do it. You'll meet a number of deities, people, and other NPCs to guide you. The opposing enemy has a lot of bad things up their sleeve. They have spirits, animals, and robots, and the enemy army wants to subjugate the land to obtain salt. Sodium is a very valuable resource that everyone is willing to do anything for. It's both energy and power. So, you have to stop them before the land is run dry.
Why Walk When You Can Fly?
Dandara is a platformer, an exploration title, a shmup and a RPG. Does that all work? Actually yes, it works very well. Now, unlike most games you don't walk throughout the map. You fly/jump to get through stages. The jumping mechanic also gives you a sense of speed and agility. You see she's magical --- therefore she has no need for walking.
The exploration experience is one of my favorite portions of the game. In no way does the game tell you where to go. Being directionless is really appreciated because hand holding is now a game design standard. Nothing is more rewarding than randomly finding power ups while flying around. You'll travel the greenest of forests, old cities, deserts, futuristic fortresses, and much more.
As you'll remember, I mentioned that salt is a precious resource. From a gameplay perspective it's your currency. You'll gain salt from treasure chests, defeated enemies, and find them throughout the world. Salt allows you to upgrade qualities you have such as your life, healing powers, and offensive energy.
As for the game's shmup comparisons? Well, this how I would best describe the combat. You'll need to be on the move constantly while blasting enemies, and it really goes into overdrive during boss fights. Much like arcade shooters, enemy fire can get frantic and enemies can (and will) try to swarm you. This builds high tension moments that requires the utmost attention. Otherwise it's game over.
Of course, as you make progress you'll see yourself become stronger, like a force of nature. You'll gain a variety of upgrades, like super jumping and missiles to name a few.
The Ambiance Of Adventure
From an aesthetics stand point, Dandara is everything you'd want from an indie game. It's pixelated, very vibrant, and the maps are diverse. The art style (by Victor Leão) really does an excellent job of breathing life into everything. Animals, foliage, enemy fire, and so forth are animated so very well. I doubt you'll find yourself saying this game isn't pretty.
Being an audiophile, I assess a game's soundtrack/audio pretty heavily. The music created by Thommaz Kauffmann has been crafted with great detail for this special journey. Songs are ambient, haunting, and experimental. During boss encounters, the music is tense, pulsating, and grandiose. You'll have feelings of solitude, serenity, and peace. That's how you make a solid soundtrack for woman on a mission.
Now there are a few minor criticisms for Dandara. Some players won't really appreciate having no direction. People like being told where to go and what to do. The title also takes around 8 hours or less to complete. Games that are short tend to get a bad rap -- thought it is hardly indicative of their quality. The game is also somewhat difficult. It feels particularly difficult during boss encounters. This may prove too stressful for some.
Playing Dandara is a special experience. It feels trippy and empowering all at once. Its imagery and themes are handled subtly. It never feels as if it's too much. Enemies recognize Dandara as a threat and allies see her as a symbol of hope. The game is smooth and well executed from start to finish. João Brant and Lucas Mattos of Long Hat House really out did themselves.
Now, I want to express this game's significance to me in particular. If I'm ever a parent, I'd want my children to play this. I want them to see a hero that looks like them and play a fantastic game with a powerful black role model. A game that shows them heroes are amazing and unstoppable. I can tell you this game holds a special place in my heart for what it is.
Fans of indie games and metroidvanias can purchase Dandara for PC, Mac, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4.