Chalk art graphics. In all the games that I've reviewed over the years, I can't recall offhand if I've ever played a game featuring graphics inspired by chalk art drawings. After playing Dokuro, that seems somewhat surprising to me. The chalk art graphics give the game a unique look and an endearing kind of charm, and they are a great fit for a 2D side-scrolling puzzle game. Hopefully we'll see more of this style in the future, but if not, it will make Dokuro feel all the more special.
The story at the heart of Dokuro is essentially the well-worn tale of the rescue of a kidnapped princess, but it's told in a way that you wouldn't expect. The Dark Lord has captured a princess and locked her in his fortress with the intention of making her his bride. Deep down in the dank dungeons she captures the eye of one of the Dark Lord's minions, a lowly little skeleton by the name of Dokuro. The smitten minion releases her from her cell but before she can be free of the Dark Lord she needs to make her way out of his castle; no easy feat considering the number of traps and other deadly obstacles that lie between the dungeons and freedom. Luckily for her, Dokuro is there to escort her the entire way, ensuring that she stays safe from harm. This journey is the heart of the game, as you face a series of puzzles in which the goal is to get the princess from one end of an area to the other without her (or yourself) meeting her demise. Part of the challenge is that while the princess may be beautiful and innocent she's not very bright, and in her relentless quest to escape the dungeon she'll carelessly walk right into a fatal situation unless Dokuro can find a way to impede or redirect her path until the way ahead has been made safe for her.
The game's puzzles employ a variety of elements, from moving crates and flipping switches to more complex puzzle mechanics that draw upon the game world's chalk-like nature. For example, white chalk can be used to draw ropes and reattach broken chains while red can draw lit fuses. Also, Dokuro can use a potion that restores him to his former human form for a limited time, and as it so happens that former form was that of a prince. As a prince, Dokuro wields a sword with which he can attack enemies and he is also able to scoop the princess up in his arms to whisk her quickly through a dangerous stretch of the dungeon.
The real genius in Dokuro lies in its puzzle design. The puzzles are challenging, but never in a cheap way. You'll have to think creatively to make it past the puzzles because they never fall into a pattern or rut. In fact, they're challenging enough that they could prove frustrating for some gamers, so if you count yourself among the easily frustrated then consider yourself warned.
Dokuro is far from a pure puzzle game, though, and in many ways it could also be considered to be a platform game. You'll have to contend with timed jumps, moving traps, enemies to dispatch, and even boss fights as you make your way through the game. The boss fights occur every ten levels and can themselves be a bit challenging until you figure out the trick you'll need to defeat each one. I found the boss fights to be enjoyable, but I suppose at this point I should warn you puzzle gamer types that you'll need some reflex skills to make it through the game.
Luckily for me, I enjoy both puzzle and platform games and had a blast with Dokuro. It looks great and provides an amazing amount of challenging and enjoyable gameplay for a portable title. It's a great reason to spend more time with your Vita.
Final Rating: 90%. Part puzzle game, part platform game, and all fun.