Dokuro is a cute little puzzle game. You help a princess out as she moves forward by raising and lowering platforms with simple switches and pushable blocks (each with circle). As a skeleton, you’re also blessed with the ability to jump incredibly high, so at first it seems like your job is a simple escort mission. Get the princess to the flower at the end of the stage, filling in gaps as you go. If you see a collectable trinket in the stage and grab it, even better.
This is basically the core of the game, and the first few levels are simple.
Jump over a spike-filled gap and push a block into it to allow the princess to cross safely (she’ll stand at the ledge of the pit until you push a block into it). Leap up to a higher level and pull a lever to drop a platform to the princess’s level and then push it the other way to raise her up. Walk to the flower. No problems there.
Then,the game throws some enemies into the mix. If they touch the princess, the game is over, so it’s your job to keep them away from her. As a skeleton, you’re equipped with a bone, which is only capable of knocking your foes backwards (with circle). Fortunately, enemies are often on platforms just above pits and spikes. At one point, I had to solve a puzzle by knocking enemies onto pressure-sensitive switches that dropped a weight that both crushed the switch-activating foe and provided the princess a walkway to move across.
While it’s fun to knock enemies into traps, combat is harder than it sounds. Our little hero is very fragile, and a single hit will crack open his skull before a second destroys him completely. Death will send you back to the beginning of a stage. Adding to the intensity of the puzzling is the fact that Dokuro’s Princess is a time bomb. It’s not that she’ll literally explode (at least as far as I’ve seen), but she will keep moving forward as long as there is something around her foot level for her to step on. This, unfortunately, includes spikes and enemies. At one point, I put a spike-topped box into a pit and the princess walked right into it, making me restart the level. A single mistake like that can cost you because of the princess’s insistence on constantly moving forward.
After a stage or two of dealing with enemies, I was given a piece of chalk. Given the chalky art style, I expected godlike power. Each swipe of my finger would draw a line of chalk on the screen, depleting some of my chalk gauge… but I could only connect broken ropes to boxes directly under them to get them out of the princess’s way.
Fortunately, the next mechanic I was presented was far more interesting. I found a potion on the ground, and with a double-tap on the screen, the hero would drink it and transform from skeleton to prince (eliciting a humorous happy response from the princess). As a prince, I could actually kill enemies with two hits from a sword and pick up the princess to carry her down stairs and put her onto platforms (all of these actions are mapped to circle). Like the skeleton, the prince would take two hits before dying, losing his crown on the first hit.
The prince has two limitations. First of all, the potion only lasts for a little while, draining as long as you’re in the prince form. On top of that, the prince can only jump about half as high as the skeleton (and even less when he’s carrying he princess), so to get through a stage, you’ll have to swap between prince and skeleton to get around. For instance, you might carry the princess down a flight of stairs onto a moving platform, then double-tap the back of the Vita to become the skeleton to jump up to a lever and lift the princess up. You then switch back to the prince to fight off enemies and clear the way to the flower.
My demo concluded with a boss fight. At first, it was just the large boss in a tiny room, so I turned into the prince and started hacking away at the boss. This didn’t do a lot of damage, but it got the boss hopping around, so I switched back to the skeleton and used his giant jumps to dodge. Before long, two boxes fell from holes in the ceiling, one with spikes and one without. While the spikeless box was little more than an extra bit of height to grab a collectable trinket at the top of the screen, given the hoppiness of the boss I was fighting, I was able to use the spiked box as a weapon.
Naturally, as the boss leapt into the air, I just grabbed onto the box and pushed or pulled the box into the right place for him to fall onto it. After he hurt himself on the spikes and destroyed the box, I had a bit of time to rush him as the prince and deal some damage to him with my sword. After repeating this process a few times, the boss was finally defeated.
Dokuro will be released for the PlayStation Vita as a download game in October.