They say all dogs go to heaven, and Grapple Dog’s Pablo is no exception. However, first, he has to save the world!
The story in Grapple Dog is a search for magical MacGuffins. In ancient times, an inventor created several magical objects. Of course, evil coveted these objects, so the Inventor hid them all across the world.
Pablo and his friends, The Professor (a wise old ostrich historian) and Toni (a mildly nervous bunny who loves electronics) are on a trip to research the Inventor and his gadgets. Chaos ensues when Pablo accidentally falls down a hole and inadvertently restores the evil robot Nul to his body. Despite being only a simple research assistant to The Professor, Pablo decides it’s up to him to stop Nul and save the world. The Professor agrees, especially when Pablo shows her the Inventor’s grappling hook he found: think of the research opportunities!
The characters are all adorable and charismatic, and there is plenty of humour sidled into the story and dialogue.
Grapple Dog is one smooth operator. The controls are fluid and when you manage to jump (B), swing (Y), and ground pound (A) your way through an entire level it feels supremely satisfying. That isn’t to say it’s an easy-breezy walk in the park, quite the contrary: even once you have mastered the controls, the challenges added in each stage keep this dog swinging, ducking, and dodging obstacles and enemies from start to finish.
Pablo can wall jump up tight vertical spaces, and if you press A while on a wall, he will quickly slide down. This type of precise control can, and will, make the difference between life and death when projectiles are propelling towards you from every angle.
The difficulty curve in this game is perfectly balanced. You start out easily by simply learning how to navigate the terrain: jumping, running, grappling and swinging. You learn very quickly the game’s colour code: blue objects are things Pablo can grapple to and green objects are for the ground pound. Eventually, the blue blocks that were simply fixed at the top of a level become moving blue rails, or small blue circles that rotate around the level.
Enemies are cute and clever. At first, it’s small robots simply walking back and forth, Goomba-style, on a small patch of grass; eventually, you’re being chased through the whole level by a flying robot that you cannot touch or kill. These enemies heighten the challenge. While you will likely feel frustrated after another consecutive death, it never feels unfair or impossible.
Whenever Pablo talks to other characters, there are adorable doggy bark and whine sounds. Before each level starts, there is a brief preview of what it has in store. The transition noise to bring this preview both in and out is a gooey sucking sloshy noise that is somehow quite ear-pleasing. The clinks, clanks, boings and bangs are all top notch, and give the game life.
The Nintendo Switch website describes the music as a “funky fresh soundtrack that’s sure to stick in your head”. This is an extremely accurate description of music that is catchy and energising. It is the kind of music you would put on your workout playlist. Grapple Dog’s soundtrack reminded me of the vibe from Jet Set Radio back in the day.
The artwork! This colourful, pixelated 2D goodness is extremely eye-pleasing! Every stage is different, from the lush greens and browns of a simple grassy area at the start, through bright yellow beaches into deep reds of fire and magma. You can see the love that has been put into every pixel, and it alone makes Grapple Dog worth a purchase.
Completionists and speedrunners rejoice: Grapple Dog offers plenty for both. Every level has purple gems and yellow fruits to collect. Purple gems are needed to unlock the boss stage at the end of every level (luckily you do not need to find all of them to meet the required quota). If you do manage to find every purple gem, you can give Pablo pets for being such a good boy!
After you beat a level, you can immediately go back into it and run time trials to see just how quickly you can complete it again. There is also, in some levels, a hidden Bonus token that will unlock extra stages on the overworld. These stages have Pablo racing, killing enemies, or collecting gems with an ever stringent time limit to compete against.
The overworld has players navigating a little boat. Pressing Y will let Pablo enter the boat’s cabin where you can talk to The Professor and Toni, or even go into Pablo’s room and play video games!
Pablo has a little video game called Boomerang Bandit: an 8-bit pixel game where you play as an old-west bandit. Pressing Y throws the boomerang and B to shoot your gun, you can see how long you survive against waves of enemies coming at you from the top of the screen.
All in all, Grapple Dog is 2D platforming action at its finest. With plenty of replayability, and a lot of challenge, you will not regret purchasing this one!
Grapple Dog £11.99
Grapple Dog is everything a good 2D platforming game should be: smooth gameplay, amazing artwork, and a soundtrack easy to groove to. With a cast of cute characters and a quaint story full of comedy, you won’t want to miss this one.