The rotating octopus character may not have his own name, but he comes to you bearing some impeccable indie credentials instead. Dakko Dakko’s PSP mini has been created by ex-PixelJunk designer Rhodri Broadbent, and it’s decked out with Army of Trolls artwork and challenge mode target times provided by a founding member of the Media Molecule team. As a result, the game’s so rife with quirk and personality that it even apologises for the mandatory quick save text that appears each time you load it up. Far more important, however, is the fact that, beyond the enviable credit list and pleasant self-deprecation, lies a clever, energetic, and wonderfully infuriating platformer.
File this one under deceptively simple. Dakko Dakko’s debut is a twitchy two-button affair in which you control a spinning octopus as he rolls around a series of increasingly wily environments. Sure, there are baby octopode to collect in order to complete each level, but the challenge quickly evolves into something far more satisfying than a mere treasure hunt. With dozens of enemies to dodge and tricky terrain to navigate, this is one of those games where mastery can transform the overall experience, revealing nuance and intricacy lurking beneath some seemingly basic objectives.
Wringing not just sustained enjoyment but a noticeable learning curve from such simple controls – one trigger changes your direction, the other provides a jump – represents the design equivalent of a high-wire act, and Dakko Dakko rarely wobbles or shows any kind of strain. The rotating octopus will roll along any surface he comes into contact with, and a lot of your early energy will be spent just keeping this perpetual motion machine away from the game’s enemies. Beyond that, subsequent playthroughs – or a blast into the inevitable challenge mode – will require you to find the hidden racing line slung through each level: the invisible thread waiting to tug you from one collectable to the next with no waiting in between. Whichever game type you ultimately prefer, the clock is always ticking, and once you’ve got to grips with your arsenal of jumps and spins – switching direction repeatedly will provide you with an unstable period of stasis if you have the nerve for it – it swiftly becomes a raw compulsion to shave seconds off each of your completions.
The levels themselves take a while to come into focus, but once you’re through with the balmy parklands and London streets, you’ll find yourself in a world of rich, often claustrophobic, challenges. From its limited vocabulary of breakables, physics objects and differing enemy types, you’re faced with a seek-and-destroy mission one moment, and pure bullet hell the next, and the chummy chaos is complemented beautifully by Samuel Baker’s bouncy chiptune soundtrack. There are a handful of delightful moments where the game riffs on the classics, but the best stages go much deeper, combining in-game furniture and collection spawns with a pulsing elegance, creating a fusion that can actually feel more like a rhythm action game than a puzzle-platformer.
It’s easy, at first, to become frustrated by the lack of a mid-world save, but even this eventually turns out to be another smart design choice. It encourages you to see each mission as a variation on a wider theme, and provides management of your remaining lives with a real sting. Besides, while the worlds themselves are lengthy, most of their challenges are snug enough to encourage repeated play, and the end result is always a level mastered and a few new tricks learned for the next encounter.
Forget the artful placeholder nature of the title, then: the rotating octopus character moves through a meticulous game built with a rare sense of poise. Life in its pixelated playgrounds can be cruel – and even frustrating – at times, but every leap or about turn carries with it the promise of hilarious unspooling disaster, and a chance for hectic, last-second escapes.