Looks can often be deceiving. Take the grapefruit for example, it looks like such a refreshing fruit when cut open. It wasn’t until I had the first bitter bite that I came to the realisation that it was the exact opposite and no fruit can ever be trusted again.
Another example is Grapple Dog. At first glance, you may think this game is a relaxing and cute title that will be a relatively easy jaunt. The only true statement is how it’s cute (and I mean really cute), but it’s anything but easy and relaxing. However, the important question to ask here is ‘is it a good game’? Well, you can find that out by reading our review, after the break.
Nintendo Switch and PC
Developed by Medallion Games
Published by Medallion Games and Super Rare Games
Released: 10th February 2022
Digital Nintendo Switch copy provided by Super Rare Games
Long ago, a mysterious figure known as The Great Inventor appeared in Partash, a land filled with hunger and hardship. He aided the people by building various devices, including the Four Cosmic Gadgets. When an evil tried to destroy the world as we know it, The Great Inventor scattered the Cosmic Gadgets across Partash so they couldn’t be used to destroy it… he was never heard from again.
Fast forward to the present day, we join a trio of archaeologists: The Professor, Toni and, the star of the show (and goodest boy), Pablo. While investigating one of the islands of Partash, the golden retriever, Pablo, activates a trap, causing him to plummet into an abyss. He awakes to find the discarded head of Nul, a mysterious robot that may not necessarily have your best interests at heart.
You can explore the cave using the left and right directional buttons or the left stick, jumping up and down using B, ground pound with A, and even wall jump by jumping against a wall. With escaping the cave being the high priority on your list, you soon find a chest containing a crucial tool for survival: a grappling hook.
Pressing Y will launch this handy piece of equipment, latching onto any blue object you aim at that’s within reach. You can swing left or right and even climb up and down, offering new possibilities for your platforming adventure ahead. You can either press B to jump off, or whack Y to drop down instead. It’s a heck of a lot of fun using the grappling hook and offers a new way to move around your environment.
You’ll quickly discover the true intentions of Nul once he reattaches himself to his body. He only wants to do what every other evil robot is hell-bent on achieving: to destroy the world as we know it! Nul will need the help of the four Cosmic Gadgets to complete his vision, so it’s up to you and your friends to explore the worlds of Partash to retrieve them first and put a halt to your impending doom.
Similar to other platformers of this nature, each world is split up into several levels that are unlocked proceeding the completion of the previous one. The aim is relatively simple, just reach and ring the bell that’s situated at the end of the course. This is obviously easier said than done as there are plenty of devious traps and malevolent robots distancing you from the main goal.
Once a level has been completed, you’ll unlock the relevant Time Trial mode. This basically allows you to try to complete the course as quickly as you can. Finishing it in a specific amount of time will earn you a bronze, silver, or gold medal to boast about to your friends.
There are a few different collectables to nab as you explore Partash, some of which may take a little platforming prowess to collect. Levels have an abundance of fruit as far as the eye can see, can you collect them all? There are also five purple gems hidden in each course, an additional two are awarded to those who collect enough fruit from the level too. Collect all seven gems and you’ll also be able to give Pablo a well-deserved pat. Like they say, only the goodest doggos get the best pets.
In addition to those collectables, some levels also include a blue token that is used to uncover secret bonus stages. Bonus stages task you with completing an objective before time runs out. These include collecting purple gem shards, defeating enemies, or just reaching the end. As long as you complete the objective on time, you’ll be rewarded with a further three purple gems.
Hopefully, you’ll be keeping those gems safe as you’ll need them to unlock the boss level at the end of the world. Other than one that seemed to drag on longer than I wanted, each boss is unique and a lot of fun to fight. My favourite is DRGN. Toni gives you a ride on their plane during this fight where you’ll have to avoid the attacks from DRGN before grappling across their body for the coup de grace. I’m almost reminded of Fracktail from Super Paper Mario during this fight… probably wasn’t inspired by it though! The final boss was also a lot of fun too, but I’ll let you discover that one yourself.
Something I love about the courses is how, for the most part, each one adds new mechanics into the fray. These include platforming elements such as bouncy mushrooms that slowly wither away and grapple conveyer belts, and new hazards like a robotic snake that stalks you throughout the level (these guys are creepy and annoying). This helps to make each level feel fresh and unique, it also sets you up for future courses that start to combine these mechanics together.
What is a little disappointing however, is how your moveset doesn’t really change throughout the level. It would’ve been cool if each Cosmic Gadget would introduce a new ability once collected. Perhaps it’s something to consider in a possible sequel; yes, I want more Grapple Dog in my life!
The first world can be fairly easy to complete but the difficulty definitely starts to ramp up from there. This is actually a refreshing change from most platformers I’m used to that generally have very little scaling of difficulty. By the time I got to the fifth and final main world, I could definitely start to feel the burn in my thumbs as I gripped my controller in rage.
Though I did die, a lot, the game can be pretty forgiving to make up for the death of the poor pupper. You’ll come across checkpoint flags for each section of the level, so if you lose all four paw beans representing your health, you’ll respawn at the last flag you activated. They’re pretty common, so I rarely felt having to re-attempt a section was tedious. As a bonus, you have an infinite amount of lives, so there won’t be a point where you’re forced to restart a level from scratch unless you quit out.
The game does require very precise platforming at times, even outside of getting hard to reach collectables. The green ball-like platform (which I absolutely hate) is a perfect example of this. Jumping on it will just make you fall through it, instead, you’ll have to do a ground pound to bounce off of it. Additionally, if you tilt your stick while ground-pounding, you’ll bounce off in that general direction.
Luckily, Grapple Dog does come with some nifty accessibility options for those who may find certain platforming sections a little too difficult. You can enable options for infinite health and/or infinite jumping at any point from the pause menu, both of which are pretty self-explanatory. Enabling or disabling either won’t affect your progress or collection percentage, so it is a great way to get through a section more easily if you’re starting to get fed up. There’s also a background setting that lets you change between a dynamic background, static image, or solid colours, perfect for those who may have issues with a busy backdrop.
Grapple Dog runs fairly smoothly for a good majority, though I couldn’t help but notice several frame rate dips in the later levels (even after the day one patch). As this is a game that requires precise manoeuvrability, it was disappointing when it decides to give a little FPS throttling, causing me to completely miss my mark. This doesn’t happen too often thankfully, but it has happened enough to have affected my gameplay a few times. I am unsure if this is exclusive to the Switch port, but hopefully this can be addressed in a future update.
The visuals are fairly crisp and vibrant; I would definitely recommend playing this handheld on the OLED if you have one handy as it looks fantastic on that screen, not to mention it brings back memories of all those GameBoy platformers being in handheld mode! The music is also a wonderful jam. Though they may be simple tunes, they are catchy and effective, I just adore the theme to the fourth world, especially with the squishy polar bears jamming along to it.
Speaking of polar bears, there’s a range of different NPCs that help liven up the world a little, some of which you can exchange quirky pleasantries with. Some of them may offer titbits of advice and can even be used as bouncy platforms!
It took me about eight or so hours to complete Grapple Dog start to finish. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a completionist, but the game’s collectables had that alluring scent to keep me going… I only gave up trying to collect everything part way through so that I could actually write this review!
If you’re looking for a sweet little devil of a platformer, then Grapple Dog is sure to have you hooked. It may be a little ruff round the edges, but this good doggo is a solid game with some pretty fun mechanics, gameplay, and bosses. The title also presents a decent challenge without becoming too tedious or outright stressful with accessibility options to alleviate sections you may find a little too difficult; remember, you’re the boss! I really hope to see more from this good boy in the future.
Final rating – 4 out of 5
I am a huge Nintendo fan, hence why NintyBuzz exists. I especially love all things Zelda and Metroid. NintyBuzz was started by me back in the Summer of 2014, it started out mainly as a hobby, though the site has gradually grown, and I hope it grows for many years to come!
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