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Grapple Dog

9 February, 2022 - 4:00 pm by
About 11 mins to read
Reviewed on:

As a member of gaming media you often track the progress of a lot of projects that you like the look of, hoping to one day see the finished article on your screen at home. Sadly, many of these titles never make it to release, with passion projects being killed off by other commitments, or time and money simply running out for some companies. I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the adorable platformer Grapple Dog since I returned to VGamingNews, and was overjoyed when developer Joseph Gribbin announced that it had been picked up by stellar British producers Super Rare Games, and was due for release in only a few weeks! 

I’d seen a lot of snippets of the game on social media and was hyped to finally get my hands on it – the only question remaining was “is this going to live up to my expectations…?” 

At A Glance

Scores 
Visuals7 /10
Sound7 /10
Gameplay8 /10
Overall7.5 /10
  
Positives  

+ Tight, dependable controls and mechanics
+ Classic platforming action with a fresh coat of paint
+ Adorable art style and funky soundtrack

Negatives  

– Music risks becoming a little repetitive
– Some lags and crashes
– Cute art style might turn some players away

  
Price (When Reviewed)£11.99
Our Playtime11 hours 40 mins
Available OnNintendo Switch, PC, Xbox Series X|S

…the answer to that is an unequivocal ‘yes’.

Grapple Dog is a 2D pixel art platformer that pays homage to some of the all-time greats while also doing its own thing. You play as Pablo, a fun loving, happy-go-lucky pup who works as a research assistant to the Professor – a wisened mother hen who is investigating the history of The Great Inventor. While out doing field research into the four Cosmic Gadgets – powerful items hidden by The Great Inventor to keep them from falling into evil hands – Pablo accidentally awakens an ancient threat and must overcome a host of robotic baddies in order to save the world. Also helping Pablo out is engineer Toni, a clever bunny who drives their research ship and who Pablo may or may not have a crush on. <3

In order to stave off the robotic threat of Nul – a bitter hunk of junk who has a great dislike for The Great Inventor – and gather the Cosmic Gadgets for the side of good, Pablo has to traverse the world with his newly found grappling hook and collect a horde of scattered purple gems. These gems interfere with the electronics of Nul and his minions and there are seven to collect in each level – five are stashed away in sneaky or hard to reach areas, and a further two can be earned by collecting enough fruits along the way, encouraging you to thoroughly explore each level and enter some of the risky areas to get them. Once you’ve gathered enough gemstones in each world you can unlock the boss level and do battle with one of Nul’s feared techno-henchmen, moving on to the next environment once you’ve defeated them. The boss battles are all really individual and use various mechanics introduced from throughout the game, keeping each of them fresh and exciting. 

The gameplay mechanics in Grapple Dog are simple enough to learn but are tricky to master, as is the way in the best videogames. The controls are tight and responsive and I was incredibly impressed with the grapple mechanics, which have a history of being rather ropey in other videogames using a similar premise. Medallion Games have created a system that handles momentum, speed, and angles incredibly well, and once I got the hang of swinging and leaping around, I always felt like I could rely on the game to give me a consistent result and not arbitrarily fling me into a pit or an enemy. My only minor gripe with the controls is that the grapple hook can only be aimed in three analogue directions: up-left, up, or up-right, and it can be frustrating to miss your target by a few millimetres when a full aiming arc could have been implemented instead. That said, I appreciate that this decision was likely made to support mouse and keyboard play on PC along with controller play on console, but it did stick out as a bit of an annoyance.

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As you progress through the world of Grapple Dog, various new obstacles and enemies are introduced, along with a gentle increase in difficulty to keep up with the players skill improvement – that is until the last world which felt like a bit of a spike in the challenges set in each level. Something that I particularly loved is that there’s very little hand holding when it comes to new mechanics. You’re introduced to something new early in each level and then asked to gradually use the features in different ways as you go through the level, and the thought process and progression with each new item feels really organic. Most of the obstacles in the game are really well environmentally signposted too, with all items you can latch onto with your grappling hook coloured in blue, and other items that Pablo is required to touch coloured in red – it sounds so very simple, but when you’re flying about at the end of a rope it really helps that your brain can identify these things without requiring any thinking!

I did run into some performance issues whilst playing the game, namely some sporadic lag that meant some of the finely timed button presses went astray, along with a few crashes as well. I’m hoping that some of these hiccups are as a result of playing the game pre-release and that they’ll be happily patched out by the time the game reaches publication – especially the bug that kicked me out of the game once I’d finished the last level and boss, meaning I had to do the whole thing again in order to see the ending!

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There were moments in Grapple Dog where I was immediately transported back to some of my favourite platformers of old, with the Donkey Kong Country series seeming to be a clear inspiration for the gameplay style. Within just a few short levels you’ll have Pablo wall jumping, swinging from moving hinges, blasting from cannons, dodging electrified platforms and a tonne of other obstacles reminiscent of games gone by. The standard enemies in Grapple Dog have super simple attack patterns but are so well interspersed into the environmental challenges that they become a genuine nuisance to your progress. With the humble platformer being one of the oldest genres in gaming you’ll have seen a lot of the ideas in Grapple Dog used elsewhere, but at no point does it feel like a rehash of something better – this definitely feels like a slew of traditional mechanics that have been pulled together into a wonderful new package. 

And speaking of the package, it’s a rather pretty one too, with Grapple Dog sporting a beautiful children’s TV show-like art style that’s lovely to look at. The characters are simple and chunky with bright colour schemes, and the level backgrounds are cheery and characterful too. Each character is incredibly expressive and with the game boasting a cheeky and endearing script, it’s easy to fall in love with the cast of characters – even the grumpy Nul. There will inevitably be some players put off by the ultra cute visuals in Grapple Dog, and I’m sure there will be assumptions that this is just a ‘kids game’, but anyone taking such a stance is set to miss out on a truly enjoyable experience that’s chock full of rewarding platforming action. Perhaps being tricked by the cute art style myself, I had only expected Grapple Dog to be a 6-hour-or-so romp, but I’ve already put in twice that time and still have some post-game bits and bobs to complete, along with the time trial challenge for each level as well. There’s plenty of content for you pennies here, and I imagine that the speedrunning community will have a field day with Grapple Dog in the very near future.

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Last but certainly not least in my praise goes to the sound department, who have created a catchy soundtrack that oozes funk and matches the play style brilliantly. Each world has its own standalone theme and the tunes go from strength-to-strength as the game progresses – the more I heard, the more the the sound profile reminded me of a beautiful lovechild of Toejam & Earl, Sonic the Hedgehog and Splatoon, which is absolutely a compliment in my book! My only concern with the music would be that with some of the levels running longer than expected, things might become a little repetitive, especially for anyone running into a tricky section that they’re struggling with. For anyone wanting to check out the soundtrack, there’s an OST also available to fulfil all of your bounce-funk needs!

From the beautiful visual style and catchy music to the throwback level design and tight mechanics, Grapple Dog is a blast all around. The gameplay is easy enough to pick up but difficult enough to feel rewarding, and the light-heartedly story and adorable characters round out the experience really nicely. Having watched Grapple Dog swing around social media for a long while, it’s incredibly fulfilling for me as a reviewer to finally get my hands on it and enjoy it so much – I can only imagine the sense of achievement that the Medallion Games team are feeling at creating such a wonderful experience. 

In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.

Our Rating
7.5