Just like the already available Madcap Castle, Dogurai is a Brazilian game with Game Boy-style visuals. That, however, is the only thing the title in development by Brasília-based indie studio Hungry Bear has in common with Diel Mormac’s game.
While Madcap Castle is a puzzler with 150 progressively harder single-screen levels, Dogurai is an action platformer similar to the classic 8-bit Mega Man games, which means it’s hard from start to finish. Also, the former is displayed in full screen and supports analog controls, while the latter uses the same aspect ratio of the Game Boy screen and forces you to control the character like in the old days, with the directional pad.
“We developed the first version for a game jam back in 2014. The restrictions were: we could only use four colors at the same time on the screen, which had to be 144 x 160 pixels,” says visual and game designer Thiago Portella, one half of the team. “It was a 2-week game jam, but we finished the game in 7 days or so. And it was hideous,” laughs programmer Matheus Braga Almeida, the other half of Hungry Bear.
Two years later, the team decided to show the game at the Jam Nerd Festival as part of the BRING expo. The game received a lot of positive reactions from the attendees, so the developers set out to improve it and expand it, and that’s what the duo have been doing since then.
Samurai dogs don’t bite, but they can fight
The build I played had five missions, but the final version will have a total of eight. The first one starts immediately when you select Play in the main menu, but once you beat it, the remaining four can be played in any order. As for the ones not available in the build, Portella says it’s actually one single stage split in three acts. The game has three difficulty levels, but the only difference between them is the number of lives and continues available, so you’re basically limiting your level of frustration, not making the challenges any easier or harder.
Each stage has a different theme, with a color palette – consisting mostly of four shades of the same color – that fits them perfectly. The first one uses the same green color scheme of the original Game Boy. It starts in an urban environment and ends in the sewers. The blue stage takes place inside a fortress in the sky, complete with transparent tubes connecting buildings, platforms that move back and forth on rails above bottomless pits, and pipes that automatically transport the character to the next area when he slides into them.
Besides a brownish tint, the cacti, the buried dinosaurs skulls and the sun shining in the background do a great job to create a sense of place in the desert stage, where robots have taken over an old military base. After fighting some enemies outside and inside a warehouse, your timing is put to the test in a jumping sequence while riding a motorcycle. Miss a jump and you die instantaneously, either by falling into the abyss or hitting a wall.
The last two stages are themed around ice and lava, and both have red color schemes. It might seem weird to have two stages based on opposing elements with the same color, but Portella has a very good point to justify his decision. “The volcano stage uses a vibrant shade of red, while in the ice stage the red is pale, almost bordeaux. That’s because the setting is a cryogenic laboratory, so it’s artificially cold, not freezing cold,” he says.
This sense of cold is achieved by slippery patches of ice on the floor in some points of the stage, stalactites the fall on your head when you walk under them, and valves that release a freezing gas, transforming the hero in a block of ice and damaging him. The icy floor can be a pain, especially when you have to use it to gain momentum to be able to jump huge gaps, but the most frustrating thing in the stage is the platform section right before the boss. Not because it’s hard, but because it’s not totally clear you have to use blocks to go upwards – instead of going straight to the right and falling into a pit. “I’ve noticed some confusion from the players in the open parts of the stages. In this one, I tried to guide the player with the pipes that connect the blocks, but maybe it needs to be more obvious,” Portella says.
The (underdog) struggle is real
The lava stage is arguably the hardest one of the build. Even with the ability to double jump and slide through narrow passages, the combination of vanishing platforms over lava pits and flying missiles can make you lose all your lives in the first half if you don’t time your moves well enough. The second part is even harder, with a flowing wall of lava forcing you to move as fast as you can while avoiding hazards, killing enemies and performing precise jumps. Finally reaching the end of the level makes you feel really good about your skills, but this sentiment of satisfaction can be crushed in seconds by the boss.
Dogurai’s combat is pretty basic. Aside from normal sword attacks, the hero can cut enemies bullets in half to avoid getting hit and perform a five-hit combo that uses QTE mechanics. This feature exists since the very first version of the game, but the team wasn’t happy with the result, so they decided to change it. “You could use it against every enemy,” says Almeida. “It was horrible, with too much QTE. But instead of discarding this feature completely, we opted to rework it,” completes Portella. Now, it can only be used against some enemies (including the bosses), and only if you manage to get close enough to them and attack at the right moment.
Although Dogurai wasn’t available at BIG Festival, Portella attended the event to show the game to potential publishers, but he didn’t manage to close any deal. “In general, everybody liked the game, but the most common reaction was, ‘your game is good, but it doesn’t look like a best-seller’,” he says. Looking at the game, you don’t need to be a genius to know in which platform it could become a hit. “The main reason we’re looking for a publisher is to get Dogurai released on the Nintendo Switch. I got some names during BIG, but we still need to contact these companies,” explains Portella. When asked if self-publication is an option, the game designer says that was the original plan before BIG, and that’s probably how the game will be launched if they don’t get a publisher. “The bad part of self-publishing for Switch is how difficult it is to get our hands on a dev kit.”
Dogurai may look simple when compared to some of the games we covered so far, but it’s charming, fun and challenging. Retro gaming fans will definitely have a blast.