Damn it, Dojoran. You had a cute frog as an Xbox Store icon. You were meant to be a relaxed, family-friendly platformer that would act as a break from all the hardcore titles on my gaming backlog. But you’re more punishing than the rest of them combined, you swine.
The 1-bit graphics were probably a clue. Dojoran has opted for a black-and-white palette that recalls our Colecovision days. A few contemporary titles have chosen to do the same, games like Gato Roboto and Minit, and it’s often a shorthand for ‘I’m going to capture something of the good old days’, and that something is to take all of your 10p coins as you experience death after death after death.
Simple though it might be, we’re a fan of how Dojoran looks. Chopping up the TV into a 4:3 ratio and curving just a little to replicate a CRT, it certainly looks the part. But it’s in the animations that Dojoran really won us over. There’s a slick nimbleness to how Dorojan moves around, and it makes you feel more in control. And we particularly loved the head-shaking, ‘I’m disappointed in you’ face they make whenever they die. We know, Dojoran, we know.
There’s no gimmick in Dojoran, which is often the case in Ratalaika budget platformers. This is completely straight up. You get thirty levels, and each level is broken up with a couple of checkpoints. Get your frog from A to B, with B being a giant frog fountain. There are no moves other than a jump and the ability to grip, frog-like, to the walls, making this one of the rawest, purest platformers that we’ve played in recent memory.
A couple of elements spice it up, and were necessary to make sure Dojoran didn’t fall too far into repetition. Apples occasionally appear in levels, and they can be stored in a kind of inventory. They’re a double-jump, except you ditch the apple once you’ve performed it. It might be simple, but it works well: you’re left strategising about whether you use the apple to make a hard jump easier, or save it for a jump that’s actually impossible without it. If you’re like us, you always save it for the latter, and end up never using it. But the fact that you’re deliberating over your double-jump is not something we’ve encountered before.
Similarly item-based is a fly (at least, we think it’s a fly – the graphics aren’t exactly sharp), which acts as your shield. Again, you carry it around with you like the apple, and when you take damage, the fly will buzz off. There’s something effective about these one-slot, inventory-based power-ups that we really like. It’s because there’s only one per level: it makes them like quasi-collectibles, and you desperately want to hold on to them for as long as you can, so they’re not wasted on a trivial part of the level. Because man do they get difficult.
We often lump platformers like Dojoran together into a subgenre called precision platformers. But we’d like to advocate that you can split precision platformers down further than that. One half of them are what I call ‘panic platformers’. There’s a lot going on – enemies on patrol routes, bullet-hell flying about you – and the precision is in the management of these. Often you’re given more health to allow for the sheer amount of damage you’re going to take.
But Dojoran is in the second half of precision platformers. It’s a patient platformer (alliteration for the win). Where a panic platformer rewards your reflexes and gung-ho approach to a level, a patient platformer is best taken slowly. Anticipate your next few moves and then pull them off, then stop and do the same again. That’s the rhythm here, and speed is reserved for speedrunning and if you’re getting impatient. Very rarely are you punished for taking a breather.
Patient platformers like Dojoran have room to create intricate, Saw-like punishment devices that require a lot of ability, because the player isn’t rushing. The levels here are exact and demanding, often requiring pixel-perfect wall grabs and a short sequence of incredibly well-timed jumps. But because it allows for patience and mostly presents them in short, screen-wide stints, it feels fair. Dojoran’s level design is mostly exacting but achievable, and that will be music to the ears of a lot of platform-enthusiasts.
We’ll grab a wheelbarrow and bring in a few of the caveats now. We say that Dojoran mostly presents its challenge in short stints, because occasionally it doesn’t. There is a habit in Dojoran to introduce a bolt-trap or swinging axe at the end of an offscreen jump. Dojoran’s game screen is so constrained that things arrive when you least expect it, and it undoes the ‘patient platformer’ approach. You will feel that you’ve been duped into dying, and checkpoints are far enough apart that it will be painful. Sure, you will remember it for next time and plan for it, but – particularly in the latter levels – it would have been nice to reach the odd checkpoint without dying.
There are a couple of control issues, including Dojoran’s determination to NOT wall-grab blocks when there is only one of them, slipping off them and falling to their doom. But the biggest is that Dojoran gets fatiguing by the end. Each level introduces something new – a new obstacle, a new enemy – but it’s not quite enough to paper over the extremely simple controls and objectives. We weren’t filled with enthusiasm as we crossed the halfway point.
This is Ratalaika, though, so there are concessions in the achievements. As is customary, you get 1000G for your first half hour of play, so you can bug out whenever you feel like it, should Gamerscore be your thing. One medallion appears in each level, and you only need five of them to top-out the achievements, Plus there’s Gamerscore for deaths, which is right up our alley.
Dojoran is a minimalist but hardcore platformer. While it has stripped out a lot, it’s retained the right bits: patient, precise platforming and a frog that will shake its head disapprovingly whenever it dies. The charm can’t quite carry it over the full runtime, but there’s a raw challenge on offer here that we suspect a lot of players will gobble up.
You can buy Dojoran for £4.99 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S