I play my games late at night after chores, work, and school are done. Once in bed, I massage my wife’s feet as she falls asleep and I unwind with an iOS game (it’s very important that I be able to play these one-handed). Inevitably, the game ends (since most of my purchases are story-driven… and when it does I best have some new games in my “wish list” for purchase or I will be browsing long into the night.
At that hour, everything looks bedazzled and if there are only a few reviews, in my sleep-deprived mind, that simply means it’s an unturned stone; a hidden gem.
You see the App Store is my infomercial with all the retroactive humiliation that comes with it. No where is this more evident than in my purchase of Dokuro.
Dokuro, much like an infomercial product, is something I impulsively bought in a delirious state and it only took a few minutes to realize I had wasted my money. As with many products as-seen-on-TV, I tried to rationalize the purchase by playing it whimsically, trying desperately to have fun just to get some mileage out of the product; like the friend who purchased the Ginsu knife and jokingly pulls it out to dice cans and lop off the top of his shoe, but at the end of the day, he now needs to buy a new shoe and sure could’ve used the $60 to do it.
See the problems with Dokuro are manifold and there’s still a part of me that wants to rationalize it away, like perhaps the walking and jumping animations of their protagonist are incomplete because they were on a tight deadline, but then my brain pulls my eyelids open the way a cartoon rabbit might do with blinds in a window to see the oncoming wrecking ball.
First of all, the game is not art, but is trying so badly to emulate it (a la Thierry Guetta). The game goes for an untapped art style, chalk, but the chalk is only loosely incorporated into the art design as though the creative team thought it was a brilliant idea (what with Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Limbo’s old reel of film) but had no idea how to factor it into the designs or gameplay.
This becomes increasingly evident as the cut scenes and game itself is meant to look like a grainy silent film — once again, another game going with the wordless narrative approach. This theme is further carried out in the little film reels at the bottom of the screen (a la Viewtiful Joe).
Are you getting the “too many cooks in the kitchen” vibe? Good. Onwards to the story.
You play as the skeletal minion (Dokuro, apparently) of some evil skeleton king who has kidnapped a princess (flesh, not skeletal) to be his bride. But because the king is a skeleton, he cannot marry her, so he has his sorcerer minion concoct a potion that will turn him into a burly man. This potion succeeds, but wears off so the king considers it a failure. Then Dokuro takes the potion and falls in love with the princess, making it his mission to save her.
Oh! And the skeletons are invisible to the princess, did I mention that? So the potion not only makes them human for a limited time, but also visible. So the little minion busts the princess out and you travel through various parts of the castle solving puzzles to progress.
I got to the third “world” before calling it quits.
On the surface, the objective is obvious enough. You play through various sections of the castle, each with a theme: Kitchen, Dungeon, etc. And each of these sections has ten levels. The levels vary between puzzle-centric and battle-centric courses. Regardless, you must lead the princess through the area without letting her or you die. Then she blooms a flower at the end of the level.
Anyway, while simple enough to understand, the gameplay is all over the place.
You can be the skeletal Dokuro who can double jump (practically float), knock enemies back with a bone and drag boxes. But then, you can also transform into the human Dokuro who can jump once, be unaffected by water, kill bad guys and carry the princess — but forego the aforementioned jump. And lastly, you can use your finger to drag chalk lines to attach certain blocks or change the chalk to element (like fire) to light boxes on fire.
Any one of these things (on its own) is a fine premise for a game, but altogether it’s a mess. Add this to the silent narrative and you’ve got me on the third world still receiving tutorial pictograms for what I can do.
To make matters worse there’s no consistency in gameplay between the skeleton Dokuro and the human form — and this is where the frustration comes in. The skeleton is barely affected by gravity, but the human version is very weighted. In another game, that mechanic might be fun, but in Dokuro it’s a huge pain in the ass when you need to kill a bad guy, switch to the skeleton to jump up to a lever and then switch back to the human to stop the princess from walking into a saw blade.
Did I mention the princess will continue walking forward unless there’s a gap or staircase in her way? In other words, you always need to reverse engineer puzzles lest the princess becomes an obstacle for you. How many times was the princess’ head crushed because she walked beneath a crate I was in the process of lowering?
All this ties into the broken game design because ultimately the game doesn’t know what it wants to be. With the mixture of mechanics and ideas, this game is all over the map and it’s reflected in the extremely poor level design. Some levels feel cramped, making the clunky controls more evident, but some are expansive and require the use of chalk, but you cannot even see what two objects are supposed to go together within the screen.
I equate Dokuro to an infomercial product because of how I felt returning to it for several nights. My wife’s feet still needed to be massaged so I continued hammering my way through Infinite Jest (2/3 through!) until she fell asleep and I could use both hands for Dokuro. Problem was, I was never excited to return, instead I felt that guilty obligation to get my money’s worth and when that sole motivating factor dawned on me, I realized the sad truth: Dokuro is not fun.
I don’t hate Dokuro in the way I hate 100 Rogues, partially because I was not in the right state-of-mind when I purchased it, but also because developer Game Arts has no shortage of ideas; I’m not against the company, I just loathe the game. The problem is they need to stick with one idea and do it all-the-way — not half-ass the lot of ’em.
Additionally, they’d do well to drop the artsy vibe. Unless a silent narrative, grainy filter, or chalky background enhances the experience, it’s not worth your time… and it’s apparent Game Arts spent a lot more time on the aesthetics of a silent film than they did on the animations or game design.
For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive