Life is hard, but dogs can make it a bit easier. They are companions that are always happy to see us. No matter how badly our day goes, we know that there’s going to be one individual who will always be on our side. There’s no surprise that games of the past have taken advantage of many peoples’ love for these furry friends by having them as NPCs. Phogs takes it a step further by featuring a canine protagonist, and not just any ordinary pup either, but two dogs that share the same stretchy body.
A pair of conjoined dogs slumber amongst the clouds, enjoying a nap. They soon awaken and begin to explore their strange surroundings. Stone architecture and odd fauna surround them. Together, they set out from their comfy bed and explore their surroundings to see what they can find in the wondrous lands that lie nearby.
Surprisingly, other than this small moment at the start of the game, there is no apparent plot to Phogs. You will find no dialogue, written or spoken, throughout the game’s entirety. You won’t even see any tutorials. The game is very much about exploring the worlds it contains and feeling the adventurous spirit the journey stirs up. Not to mention the warm feelings the game’s protagonists, Red and Blue, will give you as they bark and stretch through the title’s adorable environments.
Phogs is a puzzle-platformer, so you spend almost the entire game moving from ledge to ledge as you progress through levels. You control each dog with the left and right analog sticks, one for each dog. In fact, the dogs’ names, Blue and Red, correspond to the joycon colors of the joycons that control them (assuming you own the blue/red joycon version of the Switch, that is). In this way, they move independently, so it’s important to use both sticks to make sure neither side of the dogs drag behind and get caught behind obstacles, or fall off a ledge. You traverse through levels by using each dog to grab or hang onto things as needed to progress. The variety of the levels make these simple mechanics work particularly well, as you’ll use them in many creative ways.
You can control both dogs yourself, or have a second player use one of the joycons to control one of the dogs. It should be noted that trying to control both sides by yourself takes some getting used to. As mentioned, the dogs have a tendency to get stuck quite easily if you aren’t attentive to both sides. The parts of the game where you need to stretch, of which there are many, are also more tricky with the default nature of having to hold the top trigger down while moving. Luckily, you can change this in the settings so you only have to press the button to toggle stretching on and off instead.
Something you might find surprising about the game is that there are no tutorials. In a game as novel as Phogs, this means a lot of time is spent puzzling out how to use the dogs’ abilities to progress. It’s a great way to enhance the adventure aspect of the game, but it presents a tiny bit of a learning curve, although nothing too extreme. Certainly not enough that the experience is ruined for long.
Worlds & Levels
The game is divided into four separate worlds: Play, Food, Sleep, and Home World. Home World is where you start the game and serves as the overall hub for getting to each world. The worlds can be accessed by jumping into the mouth of one of the large reptile creatures in the Home World, which acts as the game’s transit system both between worlds and major areas in levels. Each world has seven levels in total: six regular levels and one boss level. The worlds also have their own hub areas, where you can access each level and visit the hat shop to customize Red and Blue.
Don’t let the fact that how Phogs only has three worlds fool you. Each world has a specific theme that’s all its own, and each level takes that theme in a different direction. You may find yourself bouncing around inside a pinball machine on one level, while helping a giant creature cut vegetables to make a stew in another. There isn’t a moment of creative stagnation in the game.
Red and Blue’s body has a tendency to get stuck very easily, so respawning is a constant reality in Phogs. Should your adventures lead you off a cliff, you reset back to the start of the area that you’re in. If the dogs manage to get their body wrapped behind something that they can’t get free of, you can also select the “respawn” option in the pause menu to manually respawn. As such, there should never be a time while playing the game that you become irreparably stuck.
Though Phogs has puzzles, they aren’t ones in the traditional sense. Instead, they are obstacles in the environment that utilize Red and Blue’s physiology in many different ways. These can be categorized as puzzles mainly because the game does little to explain how to use these mechanics, leaving you to figure it out. Stretching is a key ability that you use in puzzles, namely using one dog to hold onto a post and stretching the other dog out to reach a distant place or object. Many puzzle elements also use both heads in unique ways, such as eating a pepper with one dog and subsequently breathing fire with the other, allowing you to destroy obstacles. No puzzles in the game present much difficulty, ensuring you’ll be able to enjoy the pretty sights.
Once you’re able to complete all six levels in a world, the boss level of that world is unlocked. Much like the puzzles, bosses in Phogs aren’t what you might be used to. Bosses are “defeated” by getting to the end of the level. Sometimes this means a bit of platforming is involved, much like a regular level, while other boss levels have their own specific mechanics that you’ll use. However, no actual fighting is involved. Defeating them will yield an important doggie item for Red and Blue’s Home World, like a food bowl.
Collectibles & Customization
Within each level, you can find between 4-5 golden bones. These are either hidden in spots all over, or rewarded by NPCs for giving them an item from somewhere in the level. Bones are the currency needed to buy hats for each dog, which are cosmetic items that add a bit of originality to the dogs other than the color of their collar. Hat shops are located in each world hub, and increase their stock of headwear as you beat that world’s levels. These are quite entertaining to put on the dogs, and fit the cute theme of the game very well.
Little creatures known as boingles are also hidden in each level. These are especially hard to find, often tucked far under or on top of things in the environment. Every boingle that you find will then appear in the Home World hub, so that area will quickly start to become full of them as you find them all throughout the game’s levels. This appears to be the only use they have, but it’s still worth keeping an eye out for them in order to give the Home World area a bit more personality.
If you wish to share the experience with a friend but don’t have one close at hand, you have the option of inviting one from your friends list to control one of the dogs. You can initiate this either from the main menu before loading your game, or from the pause menu while playing. This is particularly useful, as it allows you to start playing whenever you want, adding your friend whenever they’re available. If your partner ends up being unruly and you wish to end the multiplayer session, you have the option of disconnecting them from your game from the pause menu. Considering how easy it would be to grief in this game (refusing to move your dog, moving your dog in the opposite direction, purposefully dragging the dogs off of platforms, etc.), this is an important option to have. Make it easier on yourself and pick your friends wisely.
Phogs uses a wide array of colors in all of its environments. Character models and scenery feature rounded edges, adhering to the game’s cute and wholesome tone. You will likely consider the game’s artistic style to be one of its strong suits. Every level has at least one fantastic vista to take in, whether it be mountains of ice cream or a kingdom of pillows and plushies. There is a strong sense of aesthetic style to be found in the game.
MUSIC & VOICE ACTING
The game’s soundtrack is made up of instrumental music. The beats of the songs match the levels and worlds they are featured in. Dark and dreamy settings have slower songs, and brighter areas likewise have more upbeat rhythms. Every track you hear in Phogs will complement the gameplay and visuals especially well. While the game does not feature voice acting, NPCs will mutter when you approach them, reminiscent of the way Minions talk in the Despicable Me movies. Red and Blue also bark when you press a button, so you can have some bark sessions should you desire.
When all levels are completed, you can always go back and replay the levels just for fun. There is so much variety in the gameplay in each level that this alone could easily be enough of a draw to replay the game. There are also bones and boingles to find all across the game, should you want to maximize your wardrobe of hats for Red and Blue to wear. Clear times for each level are also logged in the pause menu, so you can choose to optimize your times in each level as well.
Phogs is a great game for many reasons. It’s cute, kids can play it with no issue, it’s good for relaxing, and its gameplay is just plain fun. The puzzles aren’t too tricky, so you’re able to enjoy the game’s environments and adorable protagonists. It could be argued that even a bit of plot could make the game that much better, but its absence lends the game a particularly adventurous vibe. Due to the zany nature of the dogs’ wiggly frame, they may get stuck on things a bit too much for one’s taste, but the game provides a way to quickly get back on track. Overall, Phogs will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy with its endearing looks and engaged with its novel gameplay. In a holiday season bogged down with serious and moody titles, Phogs is a cuddly feel-good breath of fresh air that is much needed.
Final Rating: 8/10.