Following on from my preview of the first world, Grapple Dog is now released and I have all the details you need to know about Super Rare Games first digital only release. I was a little confused that a company that prides itself on releasing physical indie games would take this route. However, the fact that this will likely lead to more indie titles making their way to consoles can only be a good thing. And although it is a crowded market, Super Rare Games have stated that they ‘only pitch for games we truly, personally love and want to play.’
Grapple Dog is a pixel-art title from developer Joseph Gribbin. It is a classic platformer with a twist, or maybe that should be a swing? You play as Pedro, a dog who must save the world after awakening an ancient enemy. Pedro joins up with is friends to find some ancient artifacts that they will need to stop the evil. The story does not develop much from there but that is fine for this type of game. The characters are adorable and the light humour compliments the gameplay. It has a real Banjo-Kazooie feel with the characters having digs at each other during the cutscenes.
The game starts with a basic training level. Learn to jump and attack blocks as well as the all important grapple mechanic. It feels a little odd at first but once you work out the physics you soon see how excellent it has been implemented. What could have been a gimmick ends up adding a lot to the gameplay. To uncover all the level secrets, of which there are many, you will need to master the grapple. Those familiar with the Worms Ninja Rope will feel right at home. It is rewarding using the skill to find hidden gems spread throughout the levels. And these gems are pivotal to progression as you cannot unlock the next world without enough of them.
There are six worlds with six levels and a boss stage. I loved that the boss levels had some platforming action before you reached them. It felt very old school and gave me a sense of accomplishment. It effectively gives you an extra level to each world as well. On top of this are several bonus rounds per world unlocked by collecting a token. They range from simple collecting to speed running. I really enjoyed the bonus rounds. They broke up the standard platforming levels and add some variety to the gameplay. Prepare for some controller throwing inducing fun on the difficult speed runs rounds.
Grapple Dog is tough to complete 100%. While I was able to get most of the gems, there were a few that seemed out of reach or beyond my skill. I know I will need to keep practicing to see it all. Grapple Dog also requires a lot of tracking back and retrying of levels. This is a good sign for an indie title as so many before allow you to steamroll through without much difficulty. Although the initial world is quite easy, the levels start to get tougher from the second world. Many levels would take a few lives or several attempts to grab a gem. And the enemies, although looking cute, can be challenging.
Some of the fish enemies need to be avoided as there was no way to take them out. And several ground enemies take a few hits to defeat. But there is no need to worry as Pedro has all the moves you would want in a modern platformer. A Mario style butt slam, a spinning jump like Sonic, a double jump and of course the grapple hook. You never feel out of control, the developer has taken great care to get this right. Platformers live and die on their control and Grapple Dog is almost perfect. If I was to be hyper critical I did notice a few collision detection issues but nothing that spoils the fun.
Grapple Dog takes a modern approach to its presentation but also does a lot to keep the old school, tough platform look. The sprite work is appealing and bold without being garish. The good use of colour is mixed throughout but each world has a distinct look. The usual tropes of forest, fire and water but also some unique levels featuring caverns and mountains. The platforms, springs and spike pits are well defined as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the look of Grapple Dog. Although, I was not so keen on all the characters, they do have their charm.
The music and sound effects in Grapple Dog are decent but I would not say outstanding. I did enjoy the fast tempo tune used during the speed run bonus stages though. As for the rest, I feel it pays homage to the games 2D platforming roots and certainly fits the game style and overall feel. It is clear what the development team were going for and it is always difficult to get the balance right on platform game soundtracks. You need the player to be concentrating but also for the music to be entertaining without distracting. Another positive is the thrilling boss music that really helps create the set piece feel.
Lastly, Grapple Dog has a few little Easter eggs to discover. On top of the usual secret rooms expected in a platform game there is a mini arcade game shooter to uncover and some other little bits that bring a smile. I always enjoy these little touches as they show the developer has gone the extra mile. It would have been fine to just release the game without anything extra but I enjoyed them. The added accessibility options also allow those who are struggling to make the game a little easier, perfect for any youngsters that love Pedro and friends.
Overall Grapple Dog is a fine platformer with an interesting mechanic. The difficulty grows with your skills and there are many satisfying moments. The graphics and sound are enjoyable and there is just enough length for the price. The fact you will need to replay levels again to fins all the gems and secrets also means there is lots to come back to. Some levels do feel a little repetitive but there is enough variety in the design t make this a worthy purchase. A must for classic platform fans and also something a little different for modern players.