Super Rare Games has always had a good nose for sniffing out successful indie titles to create physical editions for fans. With excited puppy energy going strong they’ve now branched out into publishing games directly and the first tail through the door is Grapple Dog. Is it a swing and a miss or does it nail the target and ring the bell?
Sometimes when you’re playing a game all you’ll thinking about is something else. It could be playing Quake thinking of Doom, Super Meat Boy thinking of Mario Bros, with Grapple Dog I couldn’t stop thinking about Celeste. There’s a lot of similarities between the two, Grapple Dog has a visually distant 2D pixel art style, snappy platforming and a drive to progress and keep pushing through to see the ending. There are little nods to other franchises throughout, the Zelda-like finding of items, the Sonic 2 Sky Chase moments and many more. These flashes are nice references with a unique Grapple Dog flair.
Grapple Dog for all its new tricks really feels like an older game than it looks. The inertia based gameplay that encourages you to swing and jump and dash as fast as possible feels like the best 2D Sonic games of the day. Exploring each stage for secrets and coins to progress to further stages feels like Metroid. The overworld between stages allowing you to jump ahead with enough coins just like Super Mario World. There’s a lot of classic video game names that kept popping up in your mind while playing Grapple Dog and it is great regardless of the association.
There is a visual flare to Grapple Dog that helps you easily interact with the environment and given how quickly you’ll be dashing through, you’ll be very thankful it communicates the interactable items so well. Everything has big bold outlines and it is very colour focused (with blue meaning typically hook-able objects) but there are texture designs to the different items as to not rely on this feature alone. The characters are charming as are the npcs you’ll speak to along the way.
Pablo is a hero character who is simplistic but in the best way. Although he’s a little dumb, he is also incredibly charming and the more the story progresses the more you’ll root for the bouncing ball of joy. The story doesn’t have any big twists and is by the numbers but with the focus being on the gameplay akin to 10 Second Ninja it’s just there as fancy set dressing for the fun. The interactions with the Professor are enjoyable and the relationship with Toni is simply adorable.
The more I played Grapple Dog the more I wanted to see. The level design is some of the best in platforming and although you will get incredibly frustrated and die a bunch of times the game doesn’t punish you for it. Checkpoints only reset everything past them so if you die collecting berries you don’t need to reset back to the start of the level. Enemies drop health constantly and when you do die it will likely be because you weren’t paying attention. Everything controls in a fantastic way and you’ll typically fail due to a lapse in concentration, the only exception to this is the boss battles.
Grapple Dog’s greatest flaw is the bosses. They look amazing but these large fantastical robots boil down into long slow memory trails, health bars that can feel cheap and frustrating endurances to clear. Once you get the pattern down it’s easy enough to beat them but after a few slips regardless of their phase you’re right back to the start. It’s especially frustrating given how each Boss has a level prior to fighting it and these are fantastic examples of what a boss battle should be. These stages test your skills and knowledge of the past levels unique items and hazards. Every platformer could do with learning from these sections as Grapple Dog really nails these run ups incredibly well.
Sound in Grapple Dog is a blessing and a curse. Sound effects are great blips and bops and everything is nice enough. The music is absolutely great, incredible and such really good well made retro feeling cracking fantasticness… the first time you hear it. There just isn’t enough of it. For each world there’s 1 song, it will play and loop as you progress through the levels and the boss will have it’s own music. Every track overstays its welcome just a little too long and because the music makes such an impact it starts to get really ruff. It’s so frustrating how little there is for a game this big as what’s here is amazing. There’s just not enough of it to go around.
Grapple Dog must have been digging for years because there’s an incredible amount of content to be had here. Each world has 5 levels and a unique boss level and encounter. Every level has 5 coins to find, 2 coins to earn based on how many of the 250 berries you collected and a Bonus stage to find. Once you’ve completed it there’s a time trial version of the stage to complete with 3 rankings based on your time. After the story there are extra challenge levels and it really feels like a game that has so much to offer that guide writers are going to have their paws full. There’s even a bonus shooter minigame in the boat to play as an optional extra.
There’s a lot to love about Grapple Dog but there are a couple of caveats to be had. It’s a lot like Celeste and the punishing difficulty can be alleviated with the accessibility settings and it’s a lot like Sonic Mania, having great levels but frustrating boss battles. When you get into the groove you’ll be swinging through levels like pro and this is definitely a game you’ll want to see pro players at GDQ playthrough. An ultimutt platformer with loads of charm, Grapple Dog is a barking good time and deserves pets.
8/10 – Nul-thing to grapple with here, this is a good dog!
Grapple Dog launches tomorrow, 10th Feb 2022 on Switch and Steam/PC !
*Review code provided by Super Rare Games! Check out their games here!*