Dokuro is a 2D puzzle platform game which oozes charm and has almost a nostalgic feel. A PS Vita exclusive developed by Game Arts and published by GungHo, Dokuro features a protagonist who has fallen madly in love with a princess, who in turn has been captured by an evil monster. Where have we seen that before? Anyway, that's where the similarities to that particular game series end because Dokuro has a unique style and is a rewarding and challenging game but rarely frustrating.
The story in Dokuro is decidedly simple. Our skeleton hero Dokuro serves a chap known only as the Dark Lord, and has captured a princess who he intends to make his bride. Dokuro, who is infatuated with said princess as mentioned, frees her and helps her escape from the castle. This castle is full of pitfalls and traps which Dokuro has to guide the princess through in order to achieve this goal. The levels are divided into stages and each stage is made up of ten parts. These parts aren't very big and scarcely go above five minutes in length but you will die -- quite a lot. Dokuro is a challenging game, no question about it. There are no checkpoints in the levels either and one little mistake can mean restarting a level.
Dokuro can interact with the environment in numerous ways. He can push blocks, pull levers and jump on platforms, amongst other things. The controls are very simple, the left analog stick moves Dokuro, X is jump and pressing it twice does a double jump. Circle is interact (so when you want to push/pull a block or pull a lever, you press this button) and Square is attack. The Vita's touchscreen is also implemented too in the form of chalk. Dokuro can use the chalk to create ropes to attach to blocks to lift them up or with the red chalk, light candles and even explosives, which blow away pillars blocking the path and enemies too if they are caught in the blast and with blue chalk, raise or lower the water level. Each level also has a coin to collect, which is kind of hidden but can be found easily; it's just a case of finding a way to get it. While these items do nothing in-game, you do earn PSN Trophies for collecting them so there is a reason to pick them up if you wish.
The overall goal in Dokuro is to get the princess from one side of the level to the other without having her crushed, burned or impaled (stop it!) to name a few. However, this princess is a little, how should I put it, naive. The princess just moves forward without any thought until she reaches an edge and waits for Dokuro to make a path. This is fine unless the girder which creates the path is being heated up by fire underneath, which causes it to light up. The princess tends to just ignore this and walk on regardless and then get burned to death.
There are other monsters too which Dokuro has to take out using his trusty bone club, which can't actually kill but can knock enemies into spike pits. The princess is actually useful here in a way, as early on in the game she gives Dokuro the ability to turn into a prince. This lets you use a sword which can kill enemies permanently though there's only one combo (Square, Square, Square), and Dokuro takes damage if you get too close to your opponent. As the prince, you can pick the princess up and carry her forward faster than she otherwise would herself though you can't jump while doing so. Another offset to this is that the double jump ability is gone when not carrying the princess as well, so quite often you will find you have to switch between prince and skeleton modes on regular occasions. This ability has a time limit represented by a vial in the top right corner of the screen which depletes over time, so time management is important. With the default controls this is done by double-tapping either the touchscreen or rear touchpad though you can change it to the R button in the options, which I would personally recommend as I found myself changing mode by accident with the touch controls.
The prince mode also illuminates the background, giving colour to an otherwise black and white stage. The graphics are great on the Vita's screen and colour is used very well for enemies and objects which can be interacted with. This aesthetic is unique to Dokuro and gives the game real charm.
With well over 100 levels in total and plenty of Trophies to earn, including a Platinum, Dokuro will have you coming back time after time in order to complete it. Furthermore, as each level doesn't feel long winded you will keep on plugging away for hours until you get the low battery message on your Vita. However, don't expect to complete levels quickly first time round, but you will be thinking 'Just. One. More. Go.'
-The Final Word-
Dokuro is a charming platform title featuring a unique aesthetic, challenging levels and strong replay value. Just be prepared to die a lot.