Ratalaika Games tend to have a bit of a spotty reputation with their catalogue. I appreciate that they strive to publish as much as they can, with titles spanning wildly different genres, but the result of that is that a lot of the games tend to hover around the average mark in terms of quality. Whilst I have enjoyed many of the games that I’ve played to some degree, very few blew me away or left me wanting to come back.
Not only does Dojoran buck that trend, but it may be one of the best Splatformers I have ever played.
RIBBIT WITHOUT A CAUSE
For those unfamiliar with the phrase, a ‘Splatformer’ is essentially a platforming game focused around tough challenges in bitesize chunks. This could be because the levels are short, like in Super Meat Boy or due to having frequent checkpoints … like Super Meat Boy Forever. This game opts for the latter, with reasonably short levels that are scattered with checkpoints throughout.
Set over 28 levels, Dojoran puts you in the webbed-feet of a frog who realises that the world out there is a dangerous one. He puts his skills to the test with his ninja training to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. It’s a very basic setup for a story, offering very little in the way of narrative motivation, but all that will be quickly forgotten once the game gets going.
Artistically, the game opts for a monochromatic look, much akin to Gato Roboto, and a few chiptunes that feel appropriately Ninja-esque. The art style keeps everything simple and easy to see, as the use of white makes both your character and obstacles very easy to see. The only real exception are the spikes, which are a combination of white and black; they look pretty, but they can also blend into the background when there aren’t many of them. Checkpoints are usually quite generous (until the latter stages, at least) and there are infinite lives, so moments like these never prove too frustrating.
So, what is it that makes your amphibian fella a Ninja? Well, not only can he stick to walls like a magnet, but he can bounce off the top of enemies and apples; the latter of which can be swallowed and spat out to simulate an additional jump. It’s quite an interesting mechanic as the spit itself will give you some extra distance, but you’ll need to control your jump to actually bounce off the apple if you want some extra height. The controls are super tight too, which is exactly how a game like this should be. Any mistakes made are your fault, which is what will keep you retrying until you succeed.
Whilst 28 bite sized levels may not seem like much, each one will test your skills to the limit. The first level starts easy enough, but the difficulty picks up fast. As with other great games in the genre, you’ll be introduced to a new mechanic in a relatively safe environment, only for it to test your skills afterwards with a real challenge. From spike launchers to stone fists, there are a lot of traps that impede your progress; later, as they combine together, you’ll be pulling off some amazing feats. You’re rarely placed in an impossible situation where you don’t know how best to approach a challenge … but it does happen. Notably there is one part that sees you dropping an apple on the spikes, moving back to safety to allow another to respawn. This will allow you to bounce off the first apple, and then use your second one to proceed further. This section had me scratching my head, but it’s also the exception to the rule – usually the game does a decent job guiding you through. The most important thing though is that the challenges are fun and (mostly) fair throughout the whole game – barring some autoscrolling / moving platform sections towards the end of the game.
Whilst things may be tricky, the game offers you a lifeline in the form of checkpoints and flies. The latter of which acts as a shield, providing you protection for one hit and a brief period of invulnerability afterwards. These are extremely useful as they can often help you get past a particularly hard section and reach the next checkpoint. If you can pick it up and not use it, the game will mark it on the level showing how skilled you are. There’s also a special mark for the hard to reach talismans too, which are there for those who have the skills to collect it and reach safe ground – at which point it will be banked forever, even if you die thereafter. These marks contribute towards the ending you will receive, which is a nice touch but not enough to encourage replayability. Not that it needs it, since this €5 game will probably take you around 5 hours to beat anyway – plenty of bang for your buck!
If you are into Splatformers, Dojoran will make a fine addition to your collection. Not only is it cheap, but it offers tight gameplay with a unique mechanic that will keep you engaged all the way through. It may be too tough for some, but if you are up to the challenge then pick this one up and add it to your Switch collection!