Publisher: Super Rare Originals
Developer: Medallion Games
As many of my ABG cohorts will attest, I love animals. In fact, it’s a bit of a running joke surrounding my adoration of cats and affinity for Cat Quest – by the by, Gentlemen Bros. is developing a third entry into the series!!! You can bet that I’m gonna do my best to review that bad boy!
Anyways. Yeah, I love animals. And do you know something else I love? Platformers. There’s something just so…wholesome about them (well, most of them. I’m looking at you Hollow Knight!)
So, when you combine a love for animals (specifically, for dogs, this time around) and for platformers, you should be on to a winning formula! Right?
As long-time visitors to the site will know, we are big fans of Super Rare Games [SRG]. We’ve covered a lot of the team’s high-profile indie physical releases, as well as some other side projects. Now though, we (by this I mean myself) have the honour of reviewing SRG’s latest project; the first entry in their Super Rare Originals label. And that entry? Well, it’s only ruddy GrappleDog!
For clarity, it should be pointed out I performed this review on a copy of the game gifted to us by the developer. It was also performed on a PC running Intel Core i9-10900 CPU @ 2.80GHz/2.81 GHz, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER, with 16GB RAM.
So, first things first; what is GrappleDog. I mean, beyond something that I’ve already gushed over. Well, it’s an indie [duh] precision platformer that sees you control Pablo, the titular “grapple dog”. He’s a grapple dog because he’s A) a dog, and B) through the story, obtains a mystical grappling hook. Said grappling hook is used, primarily, to latch onto and swing from various (normally) blue…hook spots? I think that’s the best way to describe what they are. Pieces of the environment that Pablo can latch into. Yeah. That works.
See, Pablo is a part of an exploratory/scientific team (comprised of himself, the team’s engineer Toni, and the scientist/leader, The Professor). Together, the team set out to find out about the Great Inventor, and his Great and Mystical…Inventions. These surmount to GrappleDog‘s equivalent of Zelda‘s Triforce – mystical artefacts of untold power and origins. I mean, we know how these were created. But, semantics.
The team’s expedition leads them to a new, uncharted island. However, shortly after arriving at said island, Pablo falls through some ruins. There, he meets a robotic head, named Nul. Nul helps Pablo to escape his prison by leading him to the aforementioned grappling hook. See, Nul would have escaped this place long ago himself, but, well…he’s a head. So he can’t use a grappling hook.
With trusty hook in hand, and Nul to help him out, Pablo finds his way out of – oh, oh wait. Turns out Nul wasn’t actually a good guy. No, Nul is, in fact, an evil robot who was using Pablo to not only escape but help find Nul’s body. With it, Nul plans to take over the world (you know, typical bad guy stuff).
Thus, Pablo escapes, runs back to find The Professor and Toni, and tells them all about what happened. Shortly thereafter, Pablo on friends go on an island/world-hopping adventure to defeat Nul, retrieve those aforementioned mystical Great Inventions (of which, there are four to assemble), and save the world.
Right, so that’s the basis of the story out of the way. Let’s talk about the gameplay; it is both buttery smooth and hair-pulling levels of frustrating. As you can imagine from being a precision platformer, there’s a level of, you know, precision needed to best the game.
At times, this level can seem insurmountable, especially as the game relies on momentum to achieve perfect platforming precision. It’s not necessarily a difficult game to get to grips with, but it can and will infuriate you at times. “WHY did I do THAT?” you’ll find yourself saying to yourself multiple times during playtime. There are varying degrees of swinging, swooping, dodging, and other cliché platformer tropes that will do their best to hamper your progress.
But, as I am continuously told by my colleagues, this sense of overcoming adversity is what makes the game so addictive. Granted, those same colleagues are referring to Dark Souls et al, but the message is still the same.
Each level will try your ability to platform to the nth degree. Whilst it is still a 2D platformer, there’s an impressive degree of verticality and scale that would rival a Mario game. It’s, additionally, easy to miss key parts of a level if you’re not hyper-focused on what’s happening around you. As is the case with basically all platformers, each level has a set amount of collectables to pick up.
In GrappleDog, those collectables are Purple Crystals (or Diamonds, I can’t quite remember what they’re called). Each level has five to collect scattered throughout. You also have an additional two Diacrystamonds that are rewarded when you successfully pick up 100/225 fruits that are akin to Mario‘s coins or Sonic‘s rings. With enough of these shiny trinkets in hand, you’ll be able to progress further into the levels – namely, with 30/60/90 etc, you’ll be able to open and face that world’s boss.
Rinse, repeat, something something, profit!
Gameplay-wise, that’s the gist of it all. You run, jump, and swing your way through five levels until you meet a boss. Or, if you’re super-duper lucky/good at exploring, you can gain a blue…button(?) that grants you access to a special level where you can partake in a unique challenge and earn even more crystals. Again, there’s no real new ground being broken here. Fans of the genre will know what to expect.
So, let’s take a look at other aspects of a “good game”. Firstly, the looks. GrappleDog is all sorts of 2D, 16-bit glory. You’ll see semi-pixelated sprites of characters on screen that harken back to the halcyon days of platforming yore. “As it should be“, some might say! The colours are vivid and vibrant, with nothing looking pale or drab. It’s just a fantastic looking game – 2D/16-bit aesthetics considered. GrappleDog easily looks like it would fit in with a Saturday morning cartoon block, which is most definitely a compliment!
Going hand-in-hand with the aesthetics is the sound. GrappleDog has one of the best retro-beat soundtracks I have ever had the pleasure of listening to! It somehow conjures up playthroughs of Jet Set Radio/Jet Set Radio Future and Sonic the Hedgehog (the original, natch!). There’s a funky beat and smooth tunes coupled with a synthesized/computerised lo-fi tech appeal that, honestly, I’m in love with. I’m not really one who would consider getting a separate soundtrack DLC for a game on Steam, but I might have to break character for GrappleDog.
Sadly, there aren’t really any voice actors giving Nul, Pablo, and co a full personification. However, we are treated to woofs, purrs, clicks, and other charming little noises whenever a character talks. Even Nul, who as it turns out is a real pain in the rear, comes across as adorable with his robotronic noises.
All-in-all, GrappleDog will probably take you a decent six-eight hour to complete (when taking the “speedy” approach or the “collectathon” approach). I’m sure you could probably knock that six hours down even further on subsequent playthroughs, and actually, that is something GrappleDog encourages. Once you’ve beaten a level once, you have the option to jump back in and do a time-trial version.
Obviously, the better you perform there, the higher your rewards at the end of it. However, as our dear Toni tells us early on, these are just for fun and are not necessary to complete the game.
Who’s a Good Boy?
GrappleDog is a wonderous nostalgia ride for any fans of the 1990s/precision platformers. Yes, there are moments where you will need to step away from the game and ponder some life choices. However, the core game itself is marvellous. It’s joyous, humourous, and oh so much fun.
Additionally, if you find the game too difficult, there’s also a wealth of accessibility options to tinker around with. Don’t want to take any damage whilst you’re wall-hopping? Turn damage off! Fancy being able to just jump ad nauseum? There’s an infinite jump ability you can access. They act almost like juicy cheat codes you would secretly enter in before a playthrough and feel like a total badass…but you don’t need to remember a convoluted series of button presses! Winning!
So, that all leads me to the score. Honestly, I can’t think of many faults to GrappleDog. It’s enjoyable, gorgeous, plays really well, and has something for everyone who fancies a go. Is it a GOTY candidate? Erm…I’m not 100% sure on that one yet. Don’t get me wrong, I cannot fault it at all. Which should be enough. But GrappleDog has a lot of competition this year, and –
Nah, I’m just joking with you all! You can pet Pablo after every successfully completed level. Easy GOTY candidate for me! 10/10. Seriously though, I’ve had a good long think about things, and I honestly cannot find something I would fault GrappleDog for. Switch users have made claims that they witnessed framerate drops here and there. But, for me, on my PC (which isn’t exactly the best, as you can see), it was a dream.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a time trial time to beat.
- Overall - 10/1010/10
GrappleDog, the first entry from Super Rare Originals, is a precision-platformer that oozes nostalgic fun. With plenty of difficulty spikes to keep you on your toes and a great soundtrack to boot, there’s a helluva game here. And I cannot wait to jump back in.
+ Amazingly simple gameplay that urges you to master it
+ Soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time
+ Aesthetics, whilst not for everyone, are eye-pleasing, vivid, vibrant, and another throwback to the genre’s heyday
+ Clearly a love-letter to all things 1990s gaming
+ Amazing amount of accessibility options
+ Yes, you can pet the dog
– Erm…if you’re not a dog person, you may not like the idea of spending six+ hours as one