Grappling and swinging mechanics aren’t new in the world of video games, but this is the first time that I’ve ever performed them as a dog. If the name doesn’t give it away, Grapple Dog puts players in the role of an anthropomorphic canine who swings through a variety of 2D levels with a grappling hook. His ultimate goal? To save the world, of course.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
Grapple Dog stars Pablo, an adventuring dog who finds himself on a mysterious island when trying to uncover the creations of a heroic fella known as The Inventor. After accidentally falling down a hole, Pablo actually discovers one of these creations: a grappling hook that he can use to navigate his surroundings with ease. He also just so happens to awaken an evil robot known as Nul, who brings forth his forces to destroy the world. This is why you should NEVER help strangers you find in strange holes in a video game…
With his new grappling hook in hand, Pablo embarks on an adventure to bring down Nul, with his trusty pals Toni and the Professor helping him out along the way. It makes for a charming little journey too, with plenty of well-written character interactions and snippets of lore fleshing out the narrative and giving the escapade a bit more oomph.
“I found that the jumping mechanics of Grapple Dog lacked the accuracy seen in similar 2D platformers, especially when you’re working with smaller targets or trying to do something simple like jumping on an enemy’s head.”
When it comes to gameplay, Grapple Dog is in many ways your typical 2D platformer. There are levels to complete full of platforming challenges, enemies to bop, destroyable platforms to ground slam, and collectibles to find, with secrets hidden across levels through hard-to-reach areas or behind invisible walls. However, the big hook (literally) comes with Pablo’s new grappling hook, which allows him to attach himself to and swing from any blue obstacle in the world. There’ll be plenty of moments throughout the game where you’ll have to swing back and forth between objects, use the momentum of your swing to launch yourself vertically, or simply grab at a hard to access launcher to boost yourself across the level – it’s a well implemented system that feels fluid and encourages satisfying fast-paced motions from the player.
There are five worlds to play through across the game’s main campaign, with each bringing with them a different aesthetic across levels as well as an ever-increasing difficulty. I wouldn’t exactly call Grapple Dog a HARD game because it’s quite forgiving with its checkpoints, unlimited lives, and health system, but there are plenty of moments in levels where you’ll have to pull off jumps with pinpoint accuracy or land the perfect swing in order to progress, so you can expect a few hurdles along the way (especially in the later worlds).
This is where the game’s main issue rears its head. I found that the jumping mechanics of Grapple Dog lacked the accuracy seen in similar 2D platformers, especially when you’re working with smaller targets or trying to do something simple like jumping on an enemy’s head. I’d either move too much or too little, with it hard to judge the perfect balance when using the control stick. I did get used to it the longer I played, but I felt it was something that I had to adjust to as opposed to feeling like a natural response. It just never felt as accurate as the controls seen in other high profile 2D platformers and I suffered a few deaths and misplaced landings because of a problem that didn’t always feel like my fault.
“The levels are well designed and fun to traverse through, whilst the dependence on collecting purple gems to progress encourages players to explore and find them.”
There were some hefty load times when playing too, with some occurring when simply starting a level and others when I was re-loading a checkpoint after dying. These weren’t consistent and once you’re in a level you’re fine, so it’s hard to complain about them too much – they were noticeable though, with some load screens easily lasting as long as fifteen to twenty seconds. There were some peculiar frame rate stutters during gameplay too, and whilst these didn’t occur on a regular basis, it was hard to predict when they’d happen. Luckily, I never had any during some big platforming or grappling sequence, so they felt more like a weird occurrence as opposed to a massive problem.
Whilst it has its flaws, I did actually really enjoy my time with Grapple Dog. The levels are well designed and fun to traverse through, whilst the dependence on collecting purple gems to progress encourages players to explore and find them. There are five to find scattered across a level and two to earn by grabbing enough of the other collectibles (I think they’re oranges), so those who explore every nook and cranny of levels or swing their way to tough to reach areas will certainly reap the rewards. Some levels also have special tokens to collect which open up additional bonus levels, which give players a special challenge to earn more purple gems; these were especially fun to complete and gave a different type of obstacle for players to tackle. There are also some cool boss battles at the end of each world that bring with them some creative set pieces, adding a cherry on top to all of the satisfying platforming action.
I’ve also got to give a lot of praise to the game’s presentation, with the chunky 2D sprites and lovely locales all packed to the brim with vibrant colour and charm. It’s clear that a lot of effort went into making Grapple Dog look as pretty as possible and it has really paid off, with the game’s levels all having real feel-good vibes that made them all the more enjoyable to explore. Oh, and the overworld with the fancy 3D ship? I loved it.
Grapple Dog Review
Grapple Dog is a charming and well-designed 2D platforming adventure that’s only let down by some imprecise controls and technical hiccups. I loved exploring its creative levels, uncovering its collectibles, being a part of the vibrant world, and grappling everywhere, but having to deal with some clunky jumps and long loading times could be a little frustrating.
Fortunately, the quality of the adventure still makes Grapple Dog a game that’s worth checking out and there’s certainly plenty of fun to be had toppling the evil robot Nul. Just expect a few frustrations along the way as you get used to the finicky controls.
Developer: Medallion Games
Publisher: Super Rare Originals
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC