Grapple Dog: Petting Dogs and Platforming Perfection – PC Review
Every year, it feels like there is one indie platformer to stand among the rest; a clear winner. Where game feel, momentum, tight controls, and a strong art style come together to strike at the core of what makes a great platformer. It may be early to declare it, but Grapple Dog might be that platformer for 2022. The speed and sound of Sonic, and the precision and flow of indie hits like Celeste, run deep in its DNA, and it is all tied together with an adorable art style and charming story.
“Grapple Dog is no slouch when it comes to the mechanic.”
You play as Pablo, the dog, in an anthropomorphized animal world. He’s a bit of a himbo. Pablo’s not too smart and a little bit of a klutz. But, he has a hero’s determination and an always cheerful and optimistic attitude. Pablo is serving as a research assistant to the researcher/historian-wannabe turkey, writing about the great inventor who once saved the world from an evil creation called Nul. A cute white bunny named Toni maintains the researcher boat they use to travel in. She’s a mechanic and an awkward, nerdy inventor, and she may have a crush on Pablo.
In classic fashion, a visit to a historic sight goes wrong, and Pablo ends up accidentally freeing and reawakening Nul. Fortunately, he manages to escape with his life. In the process, he discovers the central tool of the game, the grappling hook. After his companions find him, Pablo, and the rest of the crew, must journey across vast oceans to save the world and stop Nul.
Grappling hooks seem to be a prevalent trend in many triple-A and indie releases recently, but regardless, Grapple Dog is no slouch when it comes to the mechanic. Those familiar with 2D classics like Bionic Commando will feel immediately comfortable swinging and jumping through each of Grapple dog’s five worlds (and an additional bonus world unlocked after the credits).
“The best players will fly through the 33 levels, rarely ever touching the ground.”
Unfortunately, you cannot grapple on everything, but if it is blue or a flying enemy, you can snap to the target and swing away. In addition, there’s climbing, ground pounds, dashing, and wall jumps. Though, swinging is the most common mechanic of choice. And Grapple Dog does succeed in making this mechanic challenging, striding the line of difficulty and accessibility, as the skill ceiling is sizable.
Swinging is all about timing and the placement of your hook. The best players will fly through the 33 levels, rarely ever touching the ground, swinging effortlessly up and over blue blocks to find hidden gems and chain grappling enemies to avoid obstacles. But at the same time, helpful accessibility features like infinite health and added jumps mean even less skilled players can still have a good time racing through the levels.
“Grapple Dog offers the sense of speed I’m always searching for, but without the insane difficulty of precision platformers.”
It accomplishes this accessibility with plentiful checkpoints, enemy health drops, and risk-reward systems for extra gems, bonus level tokens, and coins. And though Grapple Dog occasionally makes the mistake of its influences, forcing you to slow down in tedious auto scroller sections or waiting for rotating platforms or projectiles to pass and so on, most sections provide riskier alternatives.
With its Mario-like exploration of level design through hidden tutorials, constantly introducing new mechanics and quirks, its blissful feel, and excellent momentum and physics-based systems, this is a platformer you shouldn’t pass up. Grapple Dog offers the sense of speed I’m always searching for, but without the insane difficulty of precision platformers. And it doesn’t sacrifice the depth of its simple systems.
This even extends to its bosses. Sometimes it reverts to a simple three to five bonks on the head of the boss; more often, Grapple Dog keeps the platforming in focus. The best fight is a brilliant Sonic 2-esque fight against a flying leviathan, where you jump from a biplane to swing across its undulating body, avoiding hazards along the way.
“By the end of my 12 hours with the game, I was close to my platforming limits.”
The game is not perfect, with a story that ends with too many loose ends and a final world that quickly becomes tedious. Unfortunately, the difficulty spikes in the end, with a series of levels that ditch speed in favor of slow, almost bullet hellish sections where you slowly wait for platforms to appear and obstacles and projectiles to disappear. These difficult challenges expose flaws in the grapple targeting system, which can occasionally be a little finicky when there are too many grapple points and not always a clear aim indicator of where the grapple will land.
By the end of my 12 hours with the game, I was close to my platforming limits, but I was grateful for the accessibility features to help me through one of the final bosses’ gauntlet of challenges. However, I am by no means a master when it comes to platforming, so others might sail through these sections.
“Funky jazz-fusion chip tunes bump through each world, capturing that 90s and early 2000s sample-heavy Sega sound. “
Aside from platforming, you can visit your research vessel, talk to the crew and other charming characters — goth crows to loving polar bears, play through a shmup in Pablo’s bedroom, and take on bonus levels.
While the presentation can get repetitive with too few songs and some uninspired theming, what is on offer is great. Funky jazz-fusion chip tunes bump through each world, capturing that 90s and early 2000s sample-heavy Sega sound. The art is shape-based with blocky characters with cute rounded corners and strong character design. Bright colors dominate the color palette and make the whole thing shine.
Grapple Dog doesn’t break the mold when it comes to platforming, but it does provide an accessible suite of mechanics and levels which provide room for players to grow without brutal difficulty. With a high level of charm and fun narrative diversions, this game is an easy recommendation for anyone who likes petting dogs and platforming. Grapple Dog has quickly become one of my favorite games of 2022.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.
Grapple Dog Review
Grapple Dog is an approachable platformer with enough depth in its central mechanics to encourage replayability and mastery. While it drops in quality near its end, it's an adorable game with charming characters, a great Sega-inspired soundtrack, and solid mechanics. This just might be one of the best platformers in 2022.
Great sense of momentum and speed
High skill ceiling
Cute characters and narrative
The last world is tedious
Sometimes grappling can be inconsistent or finicky