Unrequited love is a theme you don’t see much in videogames. Far too often games will deal with a sappy romance, or no romance at all. Admittedly, it’s tough to really capture that feeling, but some games can pull it off with grace.
Enter Dokuro ($1.99) — a game about a former skeletal minion that has a change of heart, and decides that he wants to break a captured princess out of her cell. It’s a game that certaintly has a lot going for it based on the premise alone, but there are a few holdups along the way.
Dokuro is an action platformer through and through. The titular character can jump, move left or right, and attack with his bone mace at the touch of a button. Despite the fact that all of the contextual actions are done with a virtual pad, it all works quite well, as split-second decisions aren’t necessarily the most important part of the game.
But this dark little adventure is a puzzle game as well, as you’re tasked with leading the princess through a set of intertwined levels from left to right. She’ll follow you slowly across bridges and terrain, so long as she has floor to stand on. Sometimes that might mean lowering a platform or two or clearing out a few enemies, but either way, the gameplay is generally the same throughout. Boss fights and other arena-like confrontations also help break up the action, although those portions are few and far between, sadly.
One of my favorite things about the game is that progress is basically seamless. As you complete each stage, the next will immediately start in sequence — eliminating a lengthy “end of level" placard. It keeps the pacing on point, and the added ability to skip 10 stages in total through the campaign is a cool feature. You’ll slowly grow to really appreciate these features too, because the game’s 150 levels can feel like a slog.
Dokuro runs the risk of dragging on in the beginning, but once you get the potion that can morph you into a handsome prince, it picks up a bit. At the touch of a button our hero can transform from skeleton to dashing young man, both with their own advantages (the human form can pick up the princess and fight with grace, and the skeleton can double jump, and is generally more nimble). It’s a really cool mechanic that not only feels unique gameplay wise, but it also adds to the story and the overall theme of the game, as the princess swoons over the prince, and quickly forgets the tiny little skeleton — because she literally can’t see him.
Beyond these conventions, chalk comes into play throughout the game in three varities — white, which can connect certain objects in the environment — red, which can ignite flames — and blue, a chalk type that grants the ability to create water. Like the core levels before each new chalk concept, these three mechanics can far overstay their welcome, as there are too many stages that rely far too heavily on them. Rather than mix things up every set or so, Dokuro will instead throw the same repetitive concepts at you over and over — making this the perfect game to take a break from every so often. It doesn’t help that the chalk controls in particular need exact precision to pull off, even on a mobile screen.
Everything has to go right in Dokuro‘s puzzles, with nary a checkpoint in sight. Having to work through almost 30 minutes for a stage that involves 30 moving pieces, only to have it all apart at the last second is infuriating. It’s tough, because so many of the game’s concepts work as intended — but for every awesome “eureka" moment, there’s a moment of pure disgrace and frustration involving one tiny nuanced or broken puzzle.
Dokuro is occasionally dry and occasionally frustrating, but it has an endearing art style and plenty of bright spots. Given the obtuse nature of some of the puzzles, it’s perfect for “stop and go" play, and thus, suits the nature of the mobile platform quite well. If you enjoy getting stumped to the tune of action platformers, Dokuro is your huckleberry.