Dokuro is not your typical fairy tale hero. He's not some knight in shining armor or a smooth-talking lady's man; he's just a schlubby skeleton who has the misfortune of working for the great and powerful Dark Lord. Little does he know, but his life will change forever when he decides to free an enchanting princess and help her escape the creepy castle. And so begins the year's most unconventional love story.
Freeing the princess was the easy part; after all, Dokuro had the key. What he wasn't anticipating was the young woman's careless ways. She barrels forward with reckless abandon, automatically moving forward until she reaches an obstacle she cannot cross. Dokuro will need to work overtime to move objects, defeat enemies and clear the path for the princess, allowing her to get from point A to B. Tragically, Dokuro is invisible to the fairest maiden in the land. No matter how hard he works, she doesn't seem to notice.
But Dokuro has a plan for that. Earlier that day, he caught wind of a special potion that can turn anybody into the type of manly hero no princess could resist. It's genius! There's just one problem: Our hero can only remain as the Prince Charming-like character for a short amount of time. After the potion runs out he gets transformed back into the short, forgettable skeleton he's always been.
The potion conundrum can wait, because first and foremost we need to make sure the princess is able to make it out of the treacherous castle alive. Through 150 stages, Dokuro will solve puzzles to help the young lady make it through the castle. This will involve switching between your two personas, drawing with chalk, battling bad guys and even taking on the occasional boss.
As a skeleton, Dokuro is able to double jump and knock enemies around with a spare bone. As the brave knight, his jumping is limited. However, this stronger persona is able to pick up the princess and use a sword to cut foes into tiny pieces. The good news is that he has a few tricks up his sleeve. Dokuro harnesses the power of chalk, allowing him to draw objects on the screen to complete puzzles. There's also red chalk, which allows you to draw a fuse from fire to explosive objects.
The princess has a one-track mind, which usually involves walking forward. To good news is that she won't fall into spikes or down a bottomless pit. She'll simply stop and wait whenever she gets to an object she can't move or stairs she is unable to climb. Usually you'll need to move boxes, rearrange platforms and trigger elevators to get her across, though sometimes the Prince Charming persona will need to carry her to safety.
The levels are short; mostly around two or three minutes long. There are a few that are much longer, including one or two that took me a good ten minutes of scratching my head. On the other hand, I completed one stage in a mere thirteen seconds. On top of solving a puzzle, each level has its own gold coin to collect. You can use these coins to skip stages, assuming you get stuck on an especially tough brain-teaser.
Dokuro manages to stay fresh through its 150 puzzles by constantly adding new concepts and obstacles. Just when you think you've seen it all, you'll be introduced to a new gameplay mechanic, a different type of bad guy and more deadly obstacles to avoid. In one section you'll need to worry about moving platforms. Another stage is all about large wind-producing fans. In yet wrinkle, you'll run into an enemy that whiteouts the entire stage, forcing the player to wipe down the touchscreen in order to gain back visibility. Some of the late game additions are inspired and worth the trip.
The puzzles run the gamut from instantly obvious to bafflingly difficult. Yet even at its most difficult, I never felt frustrated or discouraged. The simple elegant design reminded me of some of my favorite portable puzzlers, including Boxxle, Exit and Crush. Even the boss stages, which are usually the worst part of a puzzle game, end up being an awesome change of pace from moving boxes around. It all comes together to create an emotional new experience for the PS Vita.
The game's graphics are delightful. Everything is dark and creepy, but in a morbidly endearing sort of way. I imagine that this is what a Tim Burton movie would look like if it was animated entirely using chalk. Because so much of the game is shrouded in darkness, color ends up being used very effectively. The enemies are colorful, making them stand out from the rest of the stage. Your life bar (stuck to his skeletal chest Iron Man-style) changes color to signify health. It's a neat effect that is used perfectly in Dokuro.
I'm not sure why I was so impressed with this 2D puzzler. After all, Dokuro was developed by Game Arts, the makers of the Grandia trilogy, Lunar, Rise of the Dragon and Silpheed. These quirky imports make up some of my favorite memoires of the 1990s. Dokuro suggests that the company hasn't missed a beat.
With 150 puzzles to solve, Dokuro is going to take players a long time to get through. The twenty dollar asking price may seem steep, but you're getting an impressive amount of content. What's more, that money will buy this year's greatest love story. Dokuro may look like nothing more than a pile of bones, but this PS Vita exclusive is here to show you why it is something special.