Time to go all Portal review mode, as we here at RGG take a hot new indie IP for a spin…
Meet Duke Dashington, Gentleman and Scholar! A new puzzle-platformer from indie developer Adventure Island (Jussi Simpanen) for those lucky enough to be running iOS (I tested on both iPad 3rd Gen and iPhone 5c). As is typical round these parts of the Portal, there’s bound to be some sort of retro catch, eh? Of course! If you don’t get tingly just by checking out that trailer and/or piccies, then you be cray-cray.
Now, you may see the term “puzzle-platformer” coupled with “indie” and immediately jump to your own conclusions. Trust and stick with me here when I say: don’t! Granted, the genre may well be a tad oversaturated these days, but as we all know, the peaks of a given genres popularity can drop off at any moment and it’d be like saying that simply because of the over saturation good cannot come of it, like cream rising to the top. The latter is what we have at hand for you today, retrobates.
What immediately drew me to Duke Dashington was the overall character design and presentation. It made me think Rick Dangerous and when you make me think of that? It’s like having me at hello. Duke is (a gentleman and scholar obviously, but also) a bumbling adventurer/archaeologist who just loves him some treasure, no matter the odds. Ultimately this leads him to traitorous terrains in the form of caves (or ancient ruins, per description) that literally collapse around him as he speeds towards his goal. His choice of career and clear lust for danger (and gold) isn’t particularly safe – which is where you, the player, come in. It could have all been avoided if he, you know, didn’t set off a trap. But where’s the fun in that!?
The game utilises well employed one touch/swipe controls as opposed to the on screen button mapping standard that is common with retro-styled platformers in the App Store. It’s as simple as swiping Duke in the direction you wish him to, well, dash. Thankfully these particular controls are very, very responsive. Sharp responsiveness is obviously the key thing any player wishes for when firing up any title on their touch device (or any other console, etc. for that matter). While I was personally hesitant at first, it’s quick to get the hang of and you’ll be dashing with the best in no time. Cannot commend Adventure Island enough for crafting something so simple yet versatile with said control scheme, clearly taking the Nichols Hunt route with playability being the order of the day. Nice one, chaps!
Just to note: the original Duke Dashington incarnation was a flash game as a result of a Ludum Dare entry, playable online. This version that is being reviewed is the expanded mobile port. There is 100 levels in the form of single screen areas/rooms over the course of 4 worlds, that all differ in terms of presentation and hazards. You only have 10 seconds in each room to dash to the exit which instantly puts you in a rather intense state for what you’d initially consider a casual game. It’s that kind of arcade throwback vibe to the gameplay that always gets me going, if honest and if you want something instantly comparable just look in the direction of either Jack N Jill, or more classically speaking, check out Nuts & Milk (as tried out by our very own Champion Gamer 5NATCH in a recent Let’s Try video *plug*).
There’s no time at all between levels, so you don’t have to be worrying about pesky loading times, all you’ll be worrying about is kicking your brain into gear quickly enough before you have a mini-stroke by hitting some spikes or any number of other traps set out to prevent Duke’s exit. It is that balance of frustration and fun that just makes any retro gem work, with the controls very rarely (if ever) being at fault, but at times with the timer being so small may get you to want to chuck your phone at the wall. Don’t do that though. Even if you have insurance it’d be an awkward convo with the folks in the phone shop!
How the puzzle element factors in to this whole shebang, is the avoidance of traps and the key to selecting the correct lines to get Duke dashing through the room and to the exit in time. If you’re younger than your average retro gaming stereotype, you shouldn’t have too much problem kicking your muscle memory into gear when revisiting levels, but for first timers you may become stuck fairly early, yet it’s one of those ‘practice makes perfect’ situations, for realz. So stick with it and the payoff is immense gratification of your own mad skills. Which is all us old folk need, y’all.
Graphically (tying into the presentation) I absolutely adore. To pin it to a particular system is fairly easy, too. Why? It realistically looks like it could be running on a Super Nintendo during its 90’s height of popularity. Visual authenticity is always something to get the nostalgia engine burning and Duke Dashington does so with such grace it makes it look easy. The main sprite design of Duke himself is perfect for a mascot character, with his (aforementioned) Rick Dangerousness mixed with Wario (which easily ties into that love of gold) nature. From his monocle, to his red nose, Duke is immediately memorable and an absolutely lovable little rogue. The four main worlds that he inhabits are equally tremendous pixel work, instantly sending you back to the days of being sat in front of a CRT with controller in hand, mesmerised by the sprites on screen like a living breathing other world. All round, Duke Dashington is absolutely top notch and I raise my glass to it for its visually stunning and SNES-like appeal.
Sticking with the SNES, you also get that Super Nintendo vibe musically, as well. The soundtrack is wonderful, to say the least. It has that Sony chip sound absolutely spot-on, which just adds to that overall feeling of presented new retro perfection. After very short amount of internet sleuthing (erm, JOURNALISM~!) I found some more work by the retrobate behind Duke’s awesome OST is a chap named KungFuFurby who has a whole host of amazing SNES-based work to his name, which shows what a perfect fit it is for this original work. Props to both them and Adventure Islands. You done good! Gotta love them sweet, sweet chiptunes!
With so many rooms from the off (and who knows…more to come in future? We’ll see…) and the occasionally steep difficulty curve (despite it’s easy to learn style of play) the lastability is mostly equalled through bang for your buck. Like a Blaster Master (or at an extreme end, Kid Chameleon), you certainly wont be speed running everything on a first try. If you do, congrats, as you’re better than I’ll ever be, but I see it as unlikely. So there is always a room waiting for you to try again and again in however many long or short bursts you intend to roll with. Portable/mobile devices outside the arcade are where games like Duke Dashington thrive these days for that quick fix as and when you need. A quick fix you could be wasting on many inferior App Store titles to this one.
An indie developer with presence on our own forum here at RetroGameGeeks stated “Duke Dashington is the next big thing”…And you know what? He may well be right…
Overall 8.5 out of 10
Verdict:- Overall, Duke Dashington is the perfect indie/app game for anyone in need of a quick arcade fix without the need of complicated controls, but with added authenticity in style and presentation. A fantastic title that comes highly recommended from me.
A game you may well end up pining for a release on the actual Super Nintendo due to its naturally fitting feel, so perhaps all the retrobates worldwide need to start a petition? I dunno, jus’ sayin’.
But in terms of what we have here to review is a great game, a must play and if you own an iOS device – what should be an instant download. Get it before it’s the biggest thing ever and be the hipster-like envy of your mates!
What are you waiting for!? GO!
Second Opinion:- Another superb example of how the indie scene is keeping the old school ways firmly alive. This looks, controls and feels like it's straight outta the early 1990's and considering that means giving that feeling on a mobile phone then that's a seriously big recommendation, Cause mobile phone games usually suck the big one!
Transbot normally no like games on this format, touch screen gaming is for throwing angry birds around or pointing troops to some base to destroy. This game however makes Transbot change mind. Great job!
Transbot Scores:- 8 out of 10