It is difficult to not immediately think of CatDog when you see PHOGS! This bizarre adventure game takes the silly concept of CatDog and instead makes it a DogDog, and somehow it just works wonderfully. Maybe it is my love for dogs, but this unique title from publisher Coatsink Software and developer Bit Loom Games screams cuteness and charm.
But looks alone do not sell a game, right? Is PHOGS! a good boys(?), or do these doggies need to go to training school to better fine-tune their tricks and obedience? Well, let’s get out our leashes and take these cuties for a walk around this review.
There is not a whole lot of introduction to PHOGS! It just begins. There is no clear story, and you are simply introduced to our adorable heroes as they awkwardly make their way through the tutorial/Home World level.
Luckily, I played mostly with a friend, and it is the experience the game is meant to be. Although PHOGS! has a single player option and it is functional, it lacks the joy, hilarity, and excitement that the co-op experience wonderfully provides. Think of it like The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes on the Nintendo 3DS. Sure, the game is playable alone and can even be cleared without a co-op partner, but the difference between single and multiplayer is so extreme that it almost feels like two different games.
A major similarity to Tri Force Heroes is in the puzzle solving. The amount of time it takes to solve some of the more complex puzzles in PHOGS! alone is halved or less when playing with a friend. A lot of the reason behind this is because of the difficulty of controlling both heads at the same time and how long it takes to set up to solve the puzzles compared to two people controlling one head each.
The puzzles are incredibly abstract and fun, which is something very positive about this game. After a while, though, the uniqueness of the puzzles wears out, and solving them becomes easier and easier with each passing level. Thankfully, PHOGS! does do a great job of mixing things up ever-so-slightly to keep the three main worlds (Food World, Sleep World, and Play World) feeling fresh as you progress through their six stages and “boss” stage, and those “boss” stages are extra special.
In addition to the puzzles that make up each level, PHOGS! has lots of fun collectibles hidden throughout each stage. Finding and collecting golden bones serves as currency that can then be used to purchase adorable hats to decorate your precious doggies, and each world has their own hat store where more hats unlock depending on your progress (10 hats in each world).
There are also some weird-looking guys called Boingles that are hiding in each level. Finding them gives you more hat options in the Home World, and those found Boingles will join you in the Home World to make it more fun and festive when returning from any of the other worlds.
The themed world, Food World, Sleep World, and Play World, have a very similar feel to a Super Mario title, where each place has its own unique puzzle mechanics, oddball characters, and quirky designs. Each world is a pleasure to play through, whether it is Food World and using the doggies as a water hose, Sleep World and putting people to sleep in order to use their dreams as “real” bridges, or Play World and playing wild arcade-like games using your two-headed noodle dog(s).
Each location also does a great job of guiding you and the pups. Indicators are highlighted in just the right way, and side quests are usually identified by speech bubbles containing objects that need to be found and returned.
Another cool thing about each world are the random activities you can join that will add fun things to your Home World, like championship trophies and Picasso-like paintings. It is this kind of interaction that makes exploration in PHOGS! a must, because it gives you more to do in these wonderfully fun worlds and it also adds more pizzazz to your home area.
But not everything in PHOGS! is pawesome. Unfortunately, it is a bit ruff around the edges, and I often found myself barking up the wrong tree… or in my case, in little castle areas, at shrines, getting hit by trains, or extending our little hotdog at inopportune moments. Oh, for PHOGS sake!
There were multiple times while playing the game where one head of the dogs got stuck in a wall or in the floor, and the ultimutt rubberbanding began. In many ways it feels a lot like Goat Simulator where the glitches are par for the course and part of the experience. They can be incredibly funny at times, but they are also infuriating while trying to do complex tasks. Thankfully, you can restart at healthy checkpoints from the paws menu.
Although you can reset to a degree, if you realized you missed a side quest too late, there is no way to go back to the previous checkpoint without restarting the whole level over. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but some times the checkpoints are a bit inconvenient.
Online lag and server issues are also strange, because there were a couple scenarios where things happened differently on both sides. One instance my friend saw a ball go into a hole in a Play World level, but on my side the ball was still in play and being balanced on our noodle doggie. Another situation was when my friend accomplished a gold bone task and collected it without me, which is incredibly strange considering we are… well… quite literally together.
For the most part, though, the online experience is great! Like Coatsink’s previous release, starting an online game and inviting a friend is quick and simple, and there are no hoops to jump through. Simply start an online game with a friend, select that friend from your list, and send them a game invite. Wonderful stuff here, and we need more of it, Nintendo.
Although I highly suggest talking to your online teammate, Bit Loom Games did include a fun barking mechanic to get each other’s attention (But we just barked all the time for fun, as it kind of gives you a jump boost), and there are also fun gestures activated by the D-pad or A/B/Y/X that display sadness, joy, confusion, and special object. It is cute and helps, but I found myself using it more comically than anything else.
Overall, PHOGS! is not the perfect gaming experience, but that is totally fine. You can tell the team behind it was not aiming for a Game of the Year contender, but they clearly made a game that makes them laugh and makes me laugh. The type of joy you get from titles like this are so few and far between that it is without hesitation I throw my recommendation at you.
What you get in the end is over 22 immersive and unique levels with some of the coolest “boss” fights I have ever played. The game takes roughly 10 hours to complete, but there are so many things to do that will keep you coming back to roll around some more to make the price of admission even better.
And most importantly, you get to play as two puppers in one that love to bark and have fun, and what is more pawfect than that? (Okay. The dog puns are finally over, and so is this review.)
Cake Bash Review provided by NintendoLink
Review also available on OpenCritic
Developer: Bit Loom Games
Publisher: Coatsink Software
Release Date: December 3, 2020
Price: $24.99, £22.49, €24.99
Game Size: 5.1 GB
Fun and hilarious co-op
Lots of collectibles
Wonderful world and cute AF doggies
Abstract and unique puzzles
Single player lacks compared to co-op
Glitches are pretty common
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.