I’ve been on a bit of a platformer kick recently, and it started with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. If you haven’t had the opportunity to play it, you’re missing out—it’s a real classic, although a bit dated at this point. If you have, well, then you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say that its creative use of time as a mechanic singlehandedly makes the game so enduringly interesting. My enjoyment of Prince of Persia aside, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for a review of the just released Daggerhood (Free).
Daggerhood is a challenging retro platformer with stages that regularly take under thirty seconds to complete. The catch? It’s hard to grab the collectables and finish under the time limit, so it is not uncommon to attempt the same stage three, five, ten times, or perhaps even more before finally pulling it off. This can be frustrating, at times, but the sense of accomplishment after finally, finally figuring out how to grab that fairy in under six seconds and finish under sixteen is well worth the effort. Daggerhood also utilizes a really interesting mechanic where you’re able to toss a dagger out in front of your character and then teleport yourself to the location of the dagger. The majority of the game is built around mastering this teleporting mechanic.
Getting from point A to point B is only part of the goal, however. To completely finish a level players must finish the stage under the time limit, collect all five treasures, and capture an errant fairy. Of the three, finishing on time and grabbing the fairy are by far the most difficult. Fairies tend to be just far enough out of the way that it isn’t possible to just grab them en route to the door. Moreover, fairies don’t hang around all day—they have places to be and treasure to lay! So, some creative thinking is required in order to find the fastest path possible to make it to the fairy, grab all the treasure, and make it to the door on time.
Timing is essential in Daggerhood, and only partly because the clock’s ticking. Navigating the variety of hazards present in a stage requires impeccable timing with both jumps and dagger throws. Between the two, simply jumping from platform to platform is far easier, however it is quite slow. It is usually faster to throw a dagger and teleport to it, but also more difficult: Wait too long and the dagger will reach its maximum range; teleport too early and you’ll probably find yourself sleeping in a bed of rusty spikes.
Speed and timing isn’t much of an issue when stages are as easy as walking forward and stepping through a door, though. Without competent stage design, a game that should be a mighty challenge is reduced to no more than a relaxing stroll. Fortunately, Daggerhood has excellent stage design and no end of creative twists. Each of the five worlds introduces a new mechanic, and each stage forces players to approach that mechanic differently. For example, world two stage one introduces mushrooms which, when you jump on them, provide a much greater bounce than usual. That’s it. Initially, it’s presented in fairly mundane ways—jump on this mushroom to get over this spiky hill, jump on this mushroom so you can reach this ledge—but, as you progress through the world, the uses become somewhat more nuanced—jump on this mushroom to get into position to throw your dagger, or to get the power up, or avoid the incoming hazard. Figuring out how to work with, or around, the various mechanics is part of the fun, though.
In each world there is, in addition to the unique mechanics, a single boss level. These levels are much more akin to “fights” than they are to the frenzied speedrunning of the other nineteen stages. They require a more calculated approach, if only because the bosses tend to be giant moving hazards. Personally, though, I actually tend to find them a bit easier than the regular stages. The bosses follow an exact pattern every time, and since they have (in comparison to the other monsters) complex attack patterns, the stage itself tends to be simpler. Or, if the boss is simple, the stage is complex. Either way, it’s easier to focus on one aspect at a time and master it individually and having either simple hazards or simple platforming makes working around the other much easier.
When buying a game, you are trading money for time, measured in hours, spent enjoying that game. As such, it is perfectly reasonable to wonder how long the game will last. Like most things, that kind of depends. On the one hand, there are one hundred unique stages, each with a time limit, fairy, and treasure to collect. It is quite difficult to grab all the collectibles and get to the door in time, let alone ace it in a single try. On the other hand, after each level has been played it can be pretty repetitive to go back and play the collectible game. Personally, I’d like to see some achievements or optional UI elements for total deaths or total time taken. It would offer a more compelling reason to return, make the high-score seekers happy, and satisfy my curiosity.
Daggerhood is a good game. In fact, I would go so far as to call it a very good game. It is challenging, quick, and easy to pick up and play. It easy to learn, but takes a fair bit of practice to really become proficient. There’s a wealth of content, always a faster route or something that could be done slightly better, wonderful graphics and a charming soundtrack, and it just got partial MFi support! While it isn’t perfect, and while I would not recommend it to casual players or folks who do not handle frustration well, those looking for a more hardcore experience will certainly find it in Daggerhood.
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