Dokuro is a game about a skeleton who’s in love with a princess who cannot see him. He wants to help the princess escape the clutches of the Demon King, and can only do so by clearing the princess a safe, foot-level path to cross.
Fortunately, he’s blessed with a double jump and the fact that the Demon King’s castle is full of levers, cannons, blocks, and other things that he can use to help the princess escape. Eventually, he finds a potion which can turn him into a (visible) prince, and in this form he can defeat nearly any demon that comes this way and carry the princess (although his jump distance he can fall with her are limited when he does this). These two forms are the crux of the game, and it’s vital to change forms in practically every puzzle in the game.
Like our hero’s two forms, I have two emotional responses to the puzzles in Dokuro. The first is unbridled frustration. It’s a slow burn. It might start by looking out over a puzzle and thinking “Oh god, no” as I survey a landscape of switches, boxes, and spikes. Like this:
(Keep in mind that there are spikes still out of frame and the blocks of death in the middle of the screen move)
Or it might simply be a case of repeated unlucky timing in areas with moving instant-kill deathtraps. Death is frequent and frustrating in Dokuro, but it’s also a teacher.
This feeling of hopeless frustration generally happens in situations like this:
Now you might be saying “that doesn’t look so bad! The princess is probably safe if she stays in that spot, right? She’s can’t walk into the fire, and all you need to do is hop up to the other platform to balance that out, so she can move across, right?”
Well, that’s true, (and you’re remarkably astute, considering that you haven’t even played the game yet) but there are a number of barriers in the way. First of all, you may notice that the flame (which will kill either the skeleton or the princess instantly) is a bit higher on the right side. As soon as the scales are flush with the platform, the princess will start moving forward, which means that you have to basically match her timing or jump as soon as she touches the unmoving platform. Now, jumping can be dangerous too, because you may have deduced that as soon as the princess moves to the right scale, you’re going to want to be on the left so that she doesn’t die a fiery death.
Well perfect, I’ll just use my jump to get over to the left scale and BAM. DEAD. You hit those spikes above the scale, you idiot. Do the whole puzzle over again. And don’t forget to pick up that coin perched precariously over the undying flame (in the screenshot, you can still see the sparkling from where I picked it up), and be sure that you don’t somehow kill the princess in the process. While I’m not typically that bitter after a single death, this little segment is the last third of a puzzle that I’ve already gotten myself and the princess killed multiple times in. Some of the deaths came from going after that extra collectable coin, but damn it, those coins are shiny! On the bright side, being taken back to the beginning of the puzzle is pretty much immediate…
However, countering the frustration is the state of childlike glee I’m thrown into when I complete a puzzle quickly and effectively. It’s kind of like this.
The game introduces new mechanics at a pretty frequent pace, but while one puzzle might be focused around something new (moving walkways, for instance), the next one might have absolutely nothing to do with them, falling into the typical switch based puzzling. Then a few levels later, a that new mechanic might be reintroduced in a new form (the moving walkways might be shifted from a means to transport the princess more quickly to an obstacle course filled with crushing weights).
In this way, the game is constantly keeping you on your toes, and I can’t think of a puzzle that more perfectly embodies that than this one.
The stage is set up so you and the princess are on two separate levels. You need to lead flame to the explosive barrels to destroy the barriers blocking the princess, and you do so by using red chalk and drawing a line from flame to barrel on the touch screen. You may notice that the candles are not lit (the red background is a side-effect of being in prince form). While the princess will be safe as long as none of the fire enemies hop down, you’re not. You’ve got two flaming demons hopping around and a living statue with very long reach who can kill you very quickly if you’re unlucky.
The flaming enemies typically can ignite the barrels, but they don’t do a thing to the candles in the background as they jump by. It seems like there’s no way to get the candles aflame. You turn into the prince to kill the flaming demons just to get them out of your way.
“But.. but when I need to blow up a barrel the game’s always provided at least one source of fire before…” you think. While you’re starting to feel hopeless, a new fire demon is created from the swirling vortex above you. Then you try something desperate. You try tracing a line from the leaping, flaming enemy to the barrel and it works. The chalk acts as a fuse, burning from the demon to the barrel. The game didn’t tell you about this or make you do it before, but it’s a natural extension of the mechanics.
Your new source of fire also allows you to neutralize the statue since he won’t move if there’s a lit candle near him (you learn about that quirk a few puzzles beforehand). Having a lit candle also allows you to kill the fire demon for a bit more safety as you clear the princess’s path below you.
While I have to admit my feelings of frustration might have been more frequent than the feelings of joy, the level of excitement upon completing a puzzle quickly and effectively completely overshadows the annoyance (trust me, you will replay some puzzles to get a better time on them). Dokuro’s simple mechanics made sinister, cute story, and endless zeal for player death (the game includes trophies for over a hundred deaths for both the protagonist and the princess) remind me of Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis games I played when I was younger, and that’s refreshing.
Food for Thought:
1. I thought it was a bit strange that I couldn’t use the D-pad to move my character, I got used to the analog stick after a while.
2. I highly recommend changing the input for transformation from skeleton to prince from double-tapping the front or rear touchpad to R. It’s faster and you won’t accidentally use your chalk.
3. Dokuro’s jumps don’t work in quite the way you’d expect. You don’t have to be on solid ground to do your first jump. This means you can walk off an edge, then double jump as a skeleton, gaining a lot of horizontal airtime. This can also be very helpful when recovering from attempts at near-suicidal coins and if you’re knocked off a platform while fighting a demon as a prince and need to get back on.
4. As charming as I find the game’s art direction, the gray and black colors start to get a bit dull after a while.