I could’ve sworn this game came out ages ago, but apparently not. It looks to have flown under the radar a bit, which truly is a shame, and I’ll get into why that is throughout this review.
Normally I would begin a review by speaking about the premise of a game, but Phogs doesn’t really have one, the absurdity is the premise. You play as a two-headed dog, seeking to retrieve a new food bowl, ball and bed. These are scattered across three worlds each themed after each of the canine essentials – eat, sleep and play. So off you go, explore. That is literally it, and that is totally okay. I don’t want a game such as this to bog me down with story or even give me an explanation as to how a dog with two heads can survive, so this decision is a welcome one.
It is worth noting also that this is clearly a game geared towards cooperative play, although solo play is possible, it clearly isn’t the intention of the developers. Due to the deadly disease ravaging the planet, this may not be possible for some, this is made easier by the fact that online play is available. However, my partner and I were fortunate enough to be together for the entire year and sink a few hours into Phogs which was some much needed escapism.
The visual design of Phogs is what one could only describe as “aggressively adorable”. This is evident right from the very start, I don’t believe there is a single muted colour to be found throughout the entire adventure. I fear that if you turned the contrast up too high, it may blind you. Once again, it is adorable and fits the dream-like atmosphere perfectly.
After a simple introduction level to run you through the main mechanics you’ll be exploring you are thrust into a level hub – not dissimilar to those found in Crash Bandicoot 2 and 3. The great thing here is that each of the three worlds can be tackled in any order, giving a great sense of freedom and encouraging you to just get out there and play. This also means that rather than one difficulty curve, there are actually three. Each world ramps up the challenge surrounding the mechanics found here, once that is completed, you then start again with much easier challenges in the next world. These difficulty “waves” really helped with the pacing in my opinion, as my partner and I overcame a trickier stage, we knew there were more relaxed times just ahead.
Each world contains 7 levels which take around 15-20 minutes to complete – making it pretty lengthy for a co-op centric title. We managed to get through our first playthrough with a respectable number of collectibles in about 9/10 hours.
To me, to you
The gameplay of Phogs is pretty simple, but that simplicity is a non-issue when the level design is this good. Each level introduces a gimmick which is then explored in multiple ways, this could be watering plants to grow bouncy pumpkins, or shrinking and enlarging the two heads of your dog independently to solve puzzles. It is truly awesome how much variety that the developers have been able to cram into a game which literally uses two buttons. One buttons barks/bites, the other stretches the stomach of the dog to make it more like a leviathan than man’s best friend. Oh, and yes, the bark is the cutest thing ever.
The phogs also have a connected stomach which is explored in a variety of ways (that sounded gross). This primarily allows for more light puzzle solving whereby one head can bite onto a running tap and the water will travel through your innards and be expelled from the opposite head. This is presented in numerous ways, with different objects, needless to say, it won’t just be watering plants you’ll be doing with this ability. Once again, this is kind of cute, and brings up numerous biological questions.
I don’t want to spoil any of the level gimmicks, but there are a load of whacky scenarios that our protagonists find themselves in.
I was worried about purchasing this title and playing through it after the frustration-riddled mess that was Human Fall Flat, I was scared that Phogs would take the easy way out – “look how weird it is, it’s even funnier that it is impossible to control”. Thankfully, this is not the case. The levels are forgiving enough that moments of frustration are rare and checkpoints are generous, all of it makes for an easy and laid back experience, just what I was looking for. The only minor gripe I have with the controls would have to be how slippery the phogs feel, I guess this comes from not having legs but it can be a bit daunting having to cross narrow beams whilst not feeling entirely in control. Phogs doesn’t have to rely on crumby controls to create humour, it does that with the world that it has built. Having a solid core allows for you to appreciate the bright colours and quirky characters even more, it allows your to lose yourself in the dreamscape without smashing your controller into a thousand pieces. While there are certainly moments of wonky physics and strange clipping situations, this is easily overlooked when you see just how wholesome the rest of the game is.
Like a dog with a bone
Littered throughout the many levels in the game are two main collectibles – bones and Boingles. Bones are the most prevalent, usually having 3-5 available per stage. You pick these up by searching for hidden areas and helping out some of the locals. One resident might want you to pick them up some broccoli from a nearby farm, others may want their toast buttering – there is bunch to see here. There are certainly some bizarre situations which lead to these bones, for example, an eating contest. Boingles on the other hand are exclusively found in difficult to reach places, there isn’t much more to say about these, each level has one, and I don’t even know what they do..
So, what is the reward for hunting down these bones you ask? Well, the answer is simple – hats. Much like grappling hooks, I struggle to find a game that is made worse by the inclusion of customisable hats. As you beat more levels, you can spend your hard-earned bones of a variety of headwear for your prized pooch. These range from a chef’s hat, to a pirate hat and even a slice of pizza. It is all super cute and it is always exciting to discover a new favourite hat and make your dog look fly as heck. Best of all, the two phog heads are independently customisable, meaning that my partner and I didn’t have to settle on a compromise, I could wear the chef’s hat as much as I liked and she could rock whatever she fancied too.
Is it puppy love?
Overall, Phogs was just what I needed over the festive period. Having some days off work allowed me to slow down, have a drink on a weeknight and play a couple of levels with my partner before indulging in the final season of Dark to break my brain in two. I aren’t sure I’d recommend this as a solo adventure, that is missing the point., but if you have someone to play with, this is a brilliant choice for a laid-back, fun experience. You are unlikely to be truly challenged, but it is a whole load of fun nonetheless.
Whilst may initially look to be a bit on the pricey side, I feel like we got our money’s worth and I would recommend picking it up. If it comes down in price, which I imagine it will, I wouldn’t hesitate to grab it for a tenner.