To be honest, I have never been the biggest fan of puzzle games. Rather than feeling fun and rewarding, I tend to find them frustrating and annoying. Unfortunately, Dokuro does nothing to change this. Although it has interesting visuals, a charming story, and some genuinely interesting gameplay elements, it ends up being a frustrating escort mission with imbalanced level design, resulting in a game that could have been better than it actually is.
The story behind Dokuro is your average tale of save the princess, rescue her from her evil captor, and live happily ever after. It might not be totally original, but it’s simple, sweet, and liable to charm your pants off with its creative chalk art style and cute, expression filled animated cutscenes. But most importantly, it sets the stage for Dokuro and the princess to systematically make their way through each room in the castle, creating the basis for the rest of the game.
Over the course of 16 stages, players will solve puzzles in classic 2D side-scrolling fashion, with a little bit of platforming thrown into the mix. Each stage is broken up into 10 individual levels that will have players engaging in generic puzzle game mechanics, such as pushing boxes onto buttons and pulling levers, to more intriguing acts, like reversing gravity and carefully maneuvering air balloons. Similarly to the Little Big Planet games, the jumping in Dokuro feels a tad floaty. Fortunately, Dokuro doesn’t require any fast past or accurate platforming, rather it is more focused on puzzle solving, which normally requires you to make jumps that are relatively easy when compared to other platformers
Dokuro boasts an impressive amount of puzzles (approximately 140), and consistently introduces new enemy types, challenges, and puzzle solving techniques over the course of the 16 stage journey. As a small skeleton boy, Dokuro can swat away enemies with his bone, keeping them away from the princess. But through the use of a magic blue serum, Dokuro can transform (for a limited amount of time), into a tall, handsome, rapier wielding prince. When in prince form, Dokuro can more easily dispose of enemies, slashing them into pieces. But the most useful change is gaining the ability to lift up the princess and carry her through a level. At certain points in the game, players will come across colored pieces of chalk (used by swiping the Playstation Vita’s touch screen), which allow players to alter the environment and interact with objects, spurring some of the most inventive and dynamic levels I’ve ever played in a puzzle game.
While Dokuro has its fair share of smart and creative puzzles, it also has a lot of fluff. I often found myself running through levels that felt much too easy and came across as filler. It’s as if the developers felt they needed to stick to a strict 10 level per stage rule, resulting in a game that is much longer than it should have been. Likewise, the levels in each stage had a bit of balancing issue. Where it would make sense to have levels become progressively harder as you move through each one, Dokuro will see you struggling through one of its excruciatingly difficult puzzles one moment and easily breezing through another the next. This inconsistency feels strange and does a bad job of preparing you for increases in difficulty. Every now and then, a stage will end with a boss battle, and while each one feels different from one another, they aren’t exactly challenging. However, they do bring a much needed break from the mind melting madness of the games usual levels. My only real gripe with the game’s boss battles is that each one gets repeated throughout the game, which just makes them feel like extra padding to an already long game. This padding is the core of Dokuro’s issues. Simply, if it were half as long, it would be twice as good.
The fact that Dokuro is one big escort mission is both the essence of its gameplay and one of its most frustrating issues. Sticking to the story necessitates that the princess follows you as you try to escape the castle. However, this element of gameplay places a horribly unwanted burden on the player, instead of creating a satisfying and worthwhile challenge. While she typically does her best to avoid impending doom, I’ll often times find her wandering off of ledges or getting stuck in pits. And she has a tendency to pick and choose whenever she walks off and elevated platform, sometimes going where you want her to, but most of the time not. It’s bad enough that I have to get myself through some of Dokuro’s seemingly impossible puzzles, but having to also worry about her is an annoying hassle, rather than a rewarding challenge.
Dokuro is not a bad game. But it’s not very good, either. Creative visuals, charming story, and sometimes inventive level design cannot make up for what is generally a frustrating and tedious puzzle solver that just isn’t that fun. Its unnecessary length and escort mission style do it a noticeable disservice, and I honestly wouldn’t have finished the game if I wasn’t reviewing it.