When video games were still in their infancy one of the most popular genres was the side-scrolling platformer. From Mario to Sonic the genre was everywhere, but as 3D slowly came into prominence the style fell out of favour. Most games adapted over time, with various results, but the AAA all slowly walked away. However, indie games have taken up the mantle.
Grapple Dog is one of these games, and it has taken a lot of lessons from its predecessors. The game is simple enough in concept, as is the case with all side-scrollers. The player will run to the left and avoid or destroy enemies while exploring the levels to find secrets. The formula is tried and tested, but what makes a game stand out is the other things they bring to the table.
First and foremost is the plot, at least what there is of one. These kinds of games don’t usually have the deepest plot in the world. Their function is to give the player a reason to continue pushing to the right. Grapple Dog follows the adventures of Pablo the dog as he works to save the world from the evil robot Null. Pablo is joined on his adventure by the rest of his crew Toni and the Professor. The story is simple enough and it does a good job of keeping the player interested but there’s nothing really new here to speak of. I will say, there are some moments of genuine humour, but it’s probably more focused on kids.
For the sake of ease, let's look at the gameplay in two parts. Firstly we’ll look at the basics that are a staple of the 2d side-scroller. The jumping is responsive and moving around the map is simple and easy to understand. The controls are responsive and controlling Pablo is a treasure. While there aren’t many options for what you can do, everything works as it should do. This may seem like a simple compliment, but in reality, these are the kinds of things that can ruin a game.
Enemies aren’t exactly interesting and fighting really isn’t a part of the experience that anyone should dwell on. One important thing the game does get right is that it makes sure to show the threats to the player before they actually encounter them. Let me explain, say for instance Pablo is running across the map and suddenly spots a platform. This particular platform is suspended above normal ground but looks slightly different. The player doesn’t really think much of it so jumps on it as normal, but then the block disappears. However, there isn’t any threat to the player, unlike when they encounter the blocks later.
The second part of the gameplay we need to look at is the grapple itself. Every indie game like this needs to have a gimmick to help separate itself from the rest of the pack, and there are few things as good as a grappling hook. If you read my Halo review then you’ll know that I love me some grapple hooks and this one doesn’t disappoint. Essentially it adds another dimension to the world and allows for more vertical platforming while also allowing for motion and inertia to have an effect. It isn’t the most amazing innovation, but sometimes simple is better.
Graphically the game is simple, and I do mean simple. It reminds me oddly of games from Miniclip or Newgrounds, which is certainly a dated reference. The graphics are simple, but the designs are cute and varied enough that it never becomes repetitive. The worlds are all different enough and the challenge ramps up enough that you won’t be bored. I will say that the main cast all have their own character and that is brought across almost perfectly in the art and dialogue.
Overall, Grapple Dog is certainly nothing ground-breaking, but really that’s okay. This kind of game isn’t something for you to impress your arty mates with. This is a game to play on a long car ride or when stuck on the train. This is a comfort game, like having a Labrador resting its head on your lap while you have a cup of tea and watch the rain outside. It’s simple, has enough challenge to remain interesting without being frustrating, and is a great way to pass the time.
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