How retro is too retro? That isn’t a rhetorical question – the new game from Hungry Bear Games and published by QUByte, which goes by the name of Dogurai, is bringing retro to a whole new dimension.
I seem to have played a lot of this style of games just recently, almost too many in fact, but never before have I seen a game as determinedly retro as this one. I guess the question we need to ask though is whether Dogurai is the dog’s danglies, or is it all a bit ruff? I’ll get my coat.
In regards the presentation first, and if you are a more mature gamer, Dogurai will instantly throw you back to the original Nintendo Game Boy. Leaving aside the question of whether I bought a £500 uber console in the Xbox Series X to play Game Boy titles on, the visual look is challenging to say the least.
The graphics are basic, simple even, and the limited sprite size makes it a challenge to play. The news is the same with the backdrops, as each level that we go into has a different colour palette, with this palette affecting the way it looks. You see, the sprites are more or less just outlines, and the colours of the background affect the way the sprites look. On a desert level, for instance, the main character is almost invisible. It is hard to explain, but the way the game looks seems to depend largely on which level you play.
At least the sound is better, with some pleasingly retro tunes fitting in nicely with the retro look, as do the normal swishes as the hero swipes around with his sword. In answer to my earlier question, so far Dogurai is leaning towards the ruff end of the spectrum.
Now, what is a Dogurai, and why are we in the position we are in? Well, a Dogurai is a Samurai, who happens to be a dog. Yes, really. Glossing over the whole “how does he hold a sword with paws?” question that continues to roll around in my mind, it turns out that our hero, Bones, is not only a Dogurai, but a retired Dogurai.
However, in a dystopian future (is there any other kind?), it appears that both the police and the army have been replaced by robots. And wouldn’t you know it, but the creator of these robots has now decided that what he really wants to do is take over the world. What else can our hero do but come out of retirement and kick all kinds of robot ass in a quest to save the world? Well, nothing as it turns out, as that is exactly where the game opens.
So, we’ve seen that there is a story, and that the presentation is so retro it hurts, but how about the way it plays? Is that also very retro indeed? Well, the short answer is yes, it is. All the usual tropes from platform action games from yesteryear are here – Bones can jump, he can double jump, he can slide and he can hit stuff with his sword. So far, so good but it’s when we get into the different elements of the game, the environment and traversal, which is of most interest.
As I mentioned, Bones has a double jump, and he isn’t afraid to use it. This is a typical platform game, with precision jumping required; that double jump being needed to clear some of the gaps. However, there are a few too many moments where you can’t see where you are meant to go next, and are forced to almost make a leap of faith, usually to an ignominious death. Learning where you need to jump is almost mandatory, and while these deaths feel cheap, it doesn’t get too annoying.
Looking around is worth doing too, as there are things to collect in the levels. What things? Not a clue but they look a bit like crosses or maybe shuriken. But equally, I have no idea what they do – but still, it’s good to pick stuff up. With eight levels to go at, many of which you can choose to tackle in any order, Dogurai may not feel like the biggest game in the world, yet there is a good amount of content on offer.
Combat is another interesting facet. Bones has a neat line in sword swipes and with sufficient practice and timing he can slice the bullets that the enemies fire at him in half in the air. There are also special combos that you can unleash on certain foes, which are indicated by an exclamation mark on the screen. If you hit a foe while it is on the screen, Bones will launch them into the air, and then a direction matching mini game starts. You can hit foes up to five times with this attack, which is very handy for the bosses, as you can imagine.
Other than this, the combat all feels a bit slight, a bit airy – there is no sense that you are actually hitting an enemy with a pointy lump of metal. There is also no real feeling when Bones gets hit – the first sign that something isn’t right is when you notice your health bar has vanished and you have died.
Dogurai is an interesting game, purely from it being a throwback to the games of yesteryear. But it’s not a great fit on Xbox, with the short and sweet levels possibly more suited to something like a Nintendo Switch. Still, if you want to take a trip back in time, Dogurai may be for you.
Dogurai is on the Xbox Store