Ratalaika Games are the Skoda of the gaming industry. Some time ago, both companies were notorious for putting out shoddy products, and they got rightly maligned for it. But now, they’re becoming a seal of quality. To give you an idea, three of our favourite games of the year have been published by them – Chefy-Chef, Kansei: The Second Turn HD and now Dandy & Randy DX – and that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. It must be an exciting time to be at Ratalaika.
You are looking to the hits of Nintendo to find Dandy & Randy’s influences. It’s about eighty percent The Legend of Zelda (the first one), but concentrated into an espresso shot. There’s even a sequence where you push an out-of-place gravestone to trigger the next area. The remaining twenty percent is Super Mario Bros 2, with its penchant for picking up turnips and luzzing them at enemies, as well as a Mario-like level select screen.
Dandy & Randy DX is not a game that’s spilling over with new ideas. But it’s not a lazy homage either, as it cherry-picks the best bits of its forebears and has a rather enthralling time mixing them together to create something that’s well worth playing.
The story’s rubbish, and we’re starting to wonder why games like this bother. Dandy and Randy need some cash, and they get convinced to search for a gem that would end their money problems. Considering they scatter their path with the bodies of their enemies, there are some questionable morals on display.
It amounts to six separate worlds to explore, each pulling from The Book of Platforming Biomes. There’s a grass world, a desert world, an ice world and more besides. Imagine each world as a Legend of Zelda dungeon, just on the surface world rather than subterranean, and you’re virtually there: these are top-down screens that you explore, with a new screen cranked in when you pass through an open path.
Combat isn’t a priority in Dandy & Randy DX, but it is there. Instead of being given an axe or bow, you can uproot vegetables, pick up pots and other decor and then chuck them at enemies. They’re all one-hittable, so it’s easy to defend yourself.
The emphasis is instead on a kind of puzzle-skill mix. A room might have some spinning blades or minecarts to avoid, while another will have some box-pushing onto switches. It’s familiar but well done, and there’s a joy in moving from screen to screen, pushing out the boundaries of your supplied map and seeing what lies beyond.
Each world tosses you a new tool to play with. The first is a boomerang, which can be used to stun enemies or – more importantly – toggle faraway switches. Grapples and speed boots follow, stealing from other games like magpies. This brings in a smidge of Metroidvania, as paths lay out of reach until you find the level’s artefact. Keys, too, block your progress, as you dig them up or find them in chests, with four different ones to find per world.
This is all achingly familiar, but it’s done rather well. Each screen has a couple of hazards, a key and a secret, or thereabouts, and that density is part of Dandy & Randy DX’s secret sauce. It’s also rather charming, with an absolute earworm of a soundtrack and a finely crafted spritesheet that smothers the game in colour and detail. It’s refined, and you could have ported these levels into a Gameboy Advance Zelda, and we wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.
Each world comes with at least one boss, and what they lack in challenge they make up with in variety. They’re not hard to solve, but there’s a short, thirty second period of tension when you’re working out their different phases. A Jack-in-the-Box almost had us, but the rest were a cinch.
Which is part of Dandy & Randy DX’s problem. This is not a difficult game, nor is it a long one. There’s about three hours’ worth here, and we only died a few times. If you’re looking for an easy palette cleanser between some harder games, then this might do the trick.
Although, Dandy & Randy DX does have some issues if you do die. It’s almost like the developers didn’t consider what would happen if someone copped it, simply because it doesn’t happen often. Die, and you are returned to the start of the dungeon with all the doors locked back up, the puzzles reset and the enemies replaced. But it’s wildly inconsistent whether this is a problem. In some worlds, there are shortcuts from the opening room to make it a non-issue (you keep the keys you find). In the penultimate world, though, thanks to the quirk of one puzzle, it means having to do the entire world again. If you die at the boss, which is entirely feasible, it’s a pain in the backside.
Luckily, you won’t die often (and do we have to point out that unskippable cutscenes should be left in landfill?), so Dandy & Randy DX’s ugliest side doesn’t get seen that often. It means you can focus on the good bits: the exploration, the puzzles and the lightweight Metroidvania that makes this derivative but fun game sing.
Dandy & Randy DX is like Grandma’s cooking. You’ve tasted it time and time again over the years, and it doesn’t feel like it’s changed, but it tastes so good. There’s not an ounce of innovation on this little Legend of Zelda-alike, but it makes three hours zip by, and that might be precisely the adventure you want right now.
You can buy Dandy & Randy DX from theXbox Store