Review: Dokuro

The PS Vita is home to an expansive library of niche releases such as Gravity Rush or Lumines: Electronic Symphony–however, they come at varying degrees of quality. Dokuro, the latest platformer to hit the PlayStation Network, falls at the negative end of the “fun’ spectrum. While the game possesses an intriguing chalk artwork aesthetic, it’s just not very entertaining. With its irritating logic puzzles and uninspired platforming, it feels much more like a game that would have been released five or six years ago rather than an inspiring new adventure.

This visually arresting adventure is yet another “rescue the princess” tale that unfolds across level after level of a menacing castle from which you’ll need to guide the simpering waif of a fair maiden to safety–even though she doesn’t seem all that into you. It’s touching for sure, but tedious problem-solving and a frustratingly obtuse AI companion wreck a promising setup. Without these trying problems, Dokuro could have otherwise blossomed into a satisfying platformer to add to your growing Vita library.

Dokuro is a demonic prince (read: skeleton) who has fallen in love with the coquettish princess his Dark Lord has stolen away. Throughout 150 puzzle-platforming stages, you must guide the flaxen-haired damsel in distress to safety, eventually escaping from the chaotic bowels of the Dark Lord’s domicile to the free world, where the pair will presumably live happily ever after.

Not to burst anyone’s bubble here, but if you’re looking for a saccharine bedtime story about a prince’s dogged determination to rescue his one true love, you’ve got the wrong game. Dokuro’s princess causes more problems than players will feel the urge to solve, resulting in a never-ending waltz of level restarts and aggravated sighs. In true gentlemanly fashion, Dokuro guides the princess through each level by way of taking control of her surroundings. This may involve felling enemies to ensure she takes no damage, or repositioning items so that she doesn’t walk straight into a pit of spikes (which she will do, often). She’ll advance when a path is cleared, much like a Lemming, so long as there are no obstacles in her way.

This erratic behavior makes planning for her mental insufficiencies a royal pain. It’s incredibly difficult to predict how she’ll react to fatal situations, such as an oncoming enemy or even open flames. Will she stumble headfirst into her own destruction, or will she make an attempt to protect herself? Rationality seems to have been thrown out the window with the princess’ inconsistencies and indecipherable actions, which makes her an adorable liability.

Fortunately, Dokuro is equipped with his own magical arsenal to balance out the princess’ many failings. Unfortunately, the ability to turn into a handsome prince from a run-of-the-mill skeleton isn’t as impressive as one would think. With the aid of a magical potion, Dokuro transforms into a hunky humanoid prince armed with a sword (which the princess digs). The weapon aids in and dealing a considerable amount of damage to enemies. Normally, Dokuro is forced to dispatch them by means of spike traps, so it’s a formidable upgrade. As the prince, he can actually lift the princess and carry her to safety. As a trade-off, he can’t seem to jump with the princess in his arms.

Swapping between Dokuro’s more conventionally attractive self and au naturale skeletal appearance changes how the determined suitor can interact with the environment. As a skeleton, he can double-jump, but his offensive capabilities are greatly weakened. You’ll need to incorporate all of Dokuro’s abilities to effectively navigate the deathtraps that lie in wait. It’s a give-and-take that doesn’t exactly ameliorate the process of leading the dimwitted princess to safety–there simply aren’t enough opportunities to maximize the benefits of the magical potion.

As you progress, you’ll unlock special chalk powers that allow Dokuro to light the fuses of bombs, repair ropes on which he may swing across pits, and other useful actions that greatly improve your princess’ rate of survival. These augmentations are controlled via touch and work surprisingly well, even though the Vita’s touch capabilities aren’t exactly pushed to their limits here. They’re a cool addition to the soft pastels of the chalk world, but that’s about it.

The act of escorting the princess to safety would be a much more engaging process if the logic-based puzzles and series of mind-numbing quandaries weren’t such a pain. It’s simple enough to coast along through the first few levels, but once you hit your first brick wall, you’ll come crashing down hard. Make a mistake? There’s no rewind or redo button to keep you afloat. You’re reduced to replaying the level to make things right–and that rarely ever equates to any kind of fun.

Between the rampant frustration, the princess’ flat-out stupidity, and the extremely difficult puzzles, there’s little to keep you pushing ahead in Dokuro save from the allure of catching the heart of fictional royalty. If you’re still keen on chasing after a fleeting affair with a fickle princess, one of the countless other princess-saving simulators available will end up being much more fulfilling.

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