Brazil of the Games: Dandara is a cultural metroid

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Catherine Le Nevez
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[Ilyadescoinsdumondeoùlascènedudéveloppementdejeuxvidéon'estpasaussibienmiseenlumièrequed'autresetc'estdommageIlyatellementdetrucssympasquisontdiffusésdansl'universàpartird'endroitsvraimentinattendusdontnousn'entendonspasassezparlerMembredelacommunauté [Therearesomecornersoftheworldwherethevideogamedevelopmentsceneisn'tspotlightedquiteaswellasothersandthat'sashameThere'ssomuchcoolstuffbeingputoutintotheuniversefromreallyunexpectedplacesthatwedon'thearaboutnearlyenoughCommunitymember Nior is here to tell us about a game called Dandara, which was created in their home country of Brazil, and why it means so much to them to see their culture represented in this industry. – Kevin]

The Brazilian gaming industry has made a lot of progress over the past ten years. This stems in part from the rise of a new generation that grew up playing video games who have now become developers themselves, and in part from Steam and other online distribution methods, our games were finally allowed to reach a much wider audience. A side effect of this upbringing is that the majority of games originating from these lands are nostalgia-fueled rides.



That's not necessarily a bad thing, because without that nostalgia we wouldn't have titles like Horizon Chase, Blazing Chrome, or Knights of Pen & Paper. Fantastic games sure, but to me they lack that cultural flair that just screams “this was made in Brazil”. Kind of like how you can look at STALKER and say it was made by a team of Slavs using TI-84s. Still, sometimes I get my wish and a developer comes along to explore some facet of my culture, whether it's the Amazon rainforest, local folklore, or just crude humor, to put it lightly (yeah, I save the Bad Rats for a distant future, don't pressure me). Today's game falls into the latter category. It's a beautiful little gem called Dandara.


Before we even talk about the game, we need a brief history lesson. Between the 300th and XNUMXth centuries, Brazil had a special relationship with slavery. Namely, there was a fucking ton of it. It went on far too long, and it only really ended because Britain wanted a bigger consumer base and pressured the Brazilian government to shut it all down. For more than XNUMX years, millions of Africans have been enslaved, removed from their lands and forced to become the engine of every economic activity, be it sugar cane plantations or cattle farms.


I hardly need to explain to you why this is screwed up, and the consequences are still being felt to this day. During this time, revolts were not uncommon, which led to the creation of colonies formed by African slaves who escaped from their prisons called "quilombos". It wasn't the only way a quilombo could form, but for the purposes of this lesson, it's the one that matters. These communities have become a symbol of their resistance, a means of reconnecting with their culture and their families. By far the most famous of these was Palmares, located in what is now the Alagoas region.

This leads us to Dandara the woman. His life is still an enigma to this day. The only things we know for certain are that she was the wife of Palmares' most notorious chief – Zumbi – she was a mother of three, actively fought against slavery, and in February 1694, when Palmares was subjugated after almost 100 years. of existence, she chose to throw herself out of a quarry instead of being captured and made a slave.


Everything else in Dandara is open to speculation and debate. We don't even know his face (although interpretations exist). He's an extremely fascinating person: truly real and a symbol of freedom but shrouded in enough mystery to make him look like a legend. A trait its video game counterpart wholeheartedly shares, and it finally brings us back to the Dandara game. True to the woman, the world created by the developers of Long Hat House is a world that comes straight out of the pages of a fairy tale, but with one big difference: the whole thing is steeped in Brazilian culture.


Freaking duh, I know, but the reason I feel the need to mention this is that Dandara is pretty much everything I want to see in the Brazilian gaming industry. It's a product that embraces its cultural roots to create something uniquely its own. Something that is reflective of the people who made it and the culture around them, while being innovative in its own right. For example, this is a metroidvania with a unique twist: the titular Dandara cannot move, at least in the traditional sense. Dandara can only jump between predetermined points, in this case, surfaces containing salt. But this world is also a world where gravity does not exist, so up, down and all around is just a matter of perspective.

This means that just reaching the other end of a room is much more of an active task than in other games, requiring you to aim your jumps all the time. And thanks to some pretty generous autocorrect, you just need to be accurate in boss encounters (more on that in a bit). It also makes any upgrades you come across much more interesting. Since Dandara herself already moves like she does the Maximum Spider, the buffs you'll get instead are more focused on combat or opening up areas of the map.


The whole game has a surreal air to it.

Speaking of exploration, thanks to its unique movement mechanics, Dandara's level design presents some interesting challenges, mostly involving movement-based puzzles. It's really impressive how it never gets stale or gimmicky. There are platforms that rotate on an axis. Some move using inertia from your main attack, some spinning walls do one-way jumps, and that doesn't even account for which ones you'll need key items to interact with. There are rooms where just getting from point A to point B is a headache in itself, and getting to the final area of ​​the game will require a revelation that made me go "Okay, it's pretty smart. »


I mentioned the attack before, so this is a good hook to talk about the game's combat. Dandara only has one attack, an energy blast that shoots multiple arrows at a set distance from her. Interestingly, this requires you to charge for just a second before you can fire (the charge itself can also act as propulsion to move certain platforms). This ensures that the fight doesn't turn into a crazy festival of spam attacks and reckless jumps. It's a bit more methodical than that, and to compensate, enemy projectiles are all slow, giving you valuable time to get out of dodging.

You can find secondary attacks by exploring the map (only one of which is required to complete the game) that work on a limited resource (Salt Essence), but the advantage is that they add some versatility to your arsenal . For example, the purple ball of death lightning can bounce off walls, be very effective in enclosed spaces, or hitting enemies at odd angles. That's double true for bosses, and damn it, it's a show!

Easily the highlight of the game, these encounters will test all of your skills, and their presentation is just… How do I make one of these chef's kisses as text? You know the sound, imagine it in your head. The fights are memorable, with multiple phases, dynamic backdrops, and amazing music. There aren't many bosses, but I still remember every one of them. A case of quality over quantity. Symphony of the night it is not.

A blatant reference to this painting here.

Now that I've summoned the game that's pretty much everyone's benchmark for metroidvanias, let me just say that Dandara isn't a very long game. My first playthrough took me about four hours, then about an additional hour looking for the true ending. Although I would have liked to play more, I found it to be the perfect length. It made every region memorable in one way or another, and none of them overstayed their welcome.

From the familiar locations depicted in the Artists' Village to the Golden Fortress where you'll find the final boss – which aptly reminded me of Bioshock of all things – every area of ​​Dandara has something to offer in the presentation department. A lot of that is because this game is undeniably Brazilian. The pixel art may conjure up memories of the SNES era, but the art direction will take you on a mini-tour through our culture.

The aforementioned village takes a lot of inspiration from the real city of Belo Horizonte, where the developers are from. This means a plethora of familiar street signs, graffiti and buildings. Some rooms are named after real places, TV shows, or musical groups, and some characters are blatant references to famous Brazilian painters, right down to the name. There's even this endgame location that reminded me of a surreal painting from my old art class.

The antagonists are an oppressive military force, and the first boss has a uniform that closely resembles that of the Brazilian military dictatorship that took place between 64 and 85. All of this and more is accompanied by a soundtrack that i lacks a bit of vocabulary to describe. Like the rest of the game, it's a distinctly Brazilian sound, with acoustic instruments accompanied by flutes, pianos, and percussion that sometimes closely resemble traditional African drums. I really wish I could do justice with words alone, so I'll just shut up and let the music do the talking.

Dandara is a great game on its own, but its themes and ideas make it so special to me. While its story may be vague and doesn't address literal themes of slavery (something the developers didn't believe they were qualified to explore and a decision I can respect), symbolically it represents a fight for freedom. . One who is no stranger to Brazilian history. It's something our ancestors fought for, even died for. Whether it's the African slave trade or the dictatorship, this pursuit is something that has marked the history of Brazil, and seeing it here, even if it's just an allegory, just makes me smile.

Dandara herself is treated as this legendary figure who arrives in times of dire need, to free those who have been imprisoned or oppressed, and I doubt it's a coincidence that most of the named characters in the game are artists, the most oppressed group of people. during the time of the dictatorship. This game has a charm all its own, a product that could only be made here in these lands. A piece of ourselves for the world. A solution that may not be perfect, but is as authentic as possible.

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