Regarding some consoles, certain genres tend to be overwhelmingly associated with them. For instance, the Original Xbox was the place for first-person shooters, the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast were the place for 2D fighting games, and the Turbografx-16 was the place for shoot-em-ups. One of the genres that the Game Boy particularly excelled at was 2D platformers. 2D platformers are so strongly associated with the Game Boy that new ones are still being made for it over three decades later.
Dango Dash is another game developed in GB Studio, a freeware program designed to make development on the Gameboy architecture as easy as it is for developing on a modern machine. It’s a program that I think has infinite potential and one that I’m happy to see get supported. Dango Dash is a super cutesy 2D platformer with lots of creative obstacles and challenges to overcome.
Dango Dash is a Game Boy Color game sold by Incube8 Games for $59.99, and is playable on anything that can play Game Boy Color cartridges, including the Game Boy Color, and the original and SP models of the Game Boy Advance. It is also playable through the GameCube via the Game Boy Player, the Nintendo 64 via the Super Wide Boy or Pokémon Stadium 2 Rom injection, the Retron 5, and any other Game Boy hardware clone one can think of. Or Incube8 sells a digital Rom file for $9.99.
Story: Sad Dumpling Man
In the aftermath of a vague, unspecified apocalyptic event, humanity lives on a series of islands floating on the clouds. It is here where our protagonist Dango lives. He’s a lazy bum whose mother desperately wants to find him a purpose in life. Dango is roped into being a delivery boy for his uncle’s dumpling restaurant, and he must use his agility to navigate the islands’ various hazards. While on a routine delivery, Dango stumbles across a mysterious ninja sneaking around the island. Following in pursuit, he finds a magical scroll, that reveals that Dango alone is capable of saving the island from disaster. He must foil the plots of an evil ninja clan who wants to steal the island’s energy for themselves.
The story is very low stakes, and the ninjas don’t really amount to anything until the endgame. You spend most of your time helping people with their personal problems. I don’t have a problem with this, it helps give the game it’s own unique identity. A lot of the smaller character stories are fairly interesting, and there are many tiny details in the world that I appreciated. Still, I think more big ninja sections in the game’s midpoint would have served the game’s narrative well.
Gameplay: Red, White, and Green
The first flavor is the core platforming action, which is solid. Dango controls well and has great physics, and there are a lot of unique obstacles to contend with. There are trampolines, bounding tornadoes, swimming, teleporter mazes, and more. There’s nothing incredibly original, but there’s at least lots of variety. Each person even offers you different mission types, with some offering races or collections, and Saniko’s missions even force you to do tag team actions with her to proceed.
Second is a strong focus on community. The island serves as your hub for the entire game, and you’ll get to know a lot about its inhabitants as the game goes on. They have a tangled web of personal relationships and conflicts, and it’s up to Dango to resolve them. I think it’s kinda neat how the game builds on one setting like this. It provides a lot of unique opportunities to foreshadow. The farthest right corner of the map is a cave that’s blocked off for the whole game, and I legitimately felt kinda excited when I was finally allowed to explore it in as the final level.
Third has to do with exploration. When outside, the game is buttery smooth 2D platforming, but indoors, it becomes top-down exploration with simple, Zelda-esque block puzzles. This flavor is one I don’t really think adds to the game much. The puzzles are dead simple, and it never evolves beyond the most basic block-pushing puzzles. There are only two sections of this as well, one at the beginning and one at the end. I would not have minded at all if they just scrapped this mechanic and turned all these sections into regular platforming sections.
Needs more spice.
As for what I think the game needed, I think it needs lots of spicy stuff. You can’t have dumplings unless they’re hotter than the surface of the sun. The spice in this extremely contrived analogy refers to power-ups, the game needs more power-ups. There are exactly two. The first is your bog standard health recovery, which the game is extremely stingy with. You get three hit points, and there’s maybe one health powerup per stage, two if you’re lucky. The second is a transformation item that gives Dango a double jump ability. It’s not a bad thing to have, but having it be the only one is disappointing. I’d have preferred more transformation items, I think they’d be another great opportunity to add variety.
Regarding wanting the ninjas to play a more active role in the plot, that would add more opportunities for boss fights. As there were only two puzzle sections, there are also only two boss fights. The first is an absolute joke, and the second is completely miserable. Having one or two more in between would be nice for a more gradual difficulty curve, it would also help flesh out the villains more.
Graphics and Sound: Red, White, and Green
This is nominally a Game Boy Color game, but it more closely resembles a colorized Super Game Boy game. Tying into the game’s tenuous and kinda forced Dango theme, the game uses a palette of white, pink, and green, and it’s not that the color scheme is bad. It’s just that this palette is used very poorly. The game uses mostly gray with occasional highlights of pink and green, and the colorization process leaves a lot to be desired, with blotches around colored objects. If this was a monochromatic original Gameboy game, I wouldn’t care, but here, it makes the game look bleak, and I doubt that that was the developer’s intention. I believe some more splashes of color would serve the game well and make it look less depressing.
At the very least, the rest of the game’s visuals are solid. I like the super-deformed look of all the sprites, and the environments are appealing. There’s a lot of tiny details in the stages that I appreciate. The flowing waterfalls, the Japanese-inspired architecture, and the cute-looking monsters make the sky islands look like very appealing places to live.
The music, composed by one Scott Semanski, also fits the game’s aesthetic very well. It has this nice, pseudo-oriental style, and I think it sounds great. It sounds quite unlike any other Game Boy soundtrack I’ve heard, and I know a lot of Game Boy soundtracks.
Dango Dash was played on a Game Boy Advance SP, using a copy provided by publisher Incube8 Games.