Get Into The Swing Of Things!

HIGH Both phases of the last boss fight.

LOW That damn chaser dragon.

WTF How is this game-within-a-game so addictive?

Taking Bionic Commando‘s grappling hook-based platforming and placing it in an ultra-cute environment may not seem like an obvious move, but Grapple Dog proves it to be a fantastic idea.

A 2D platformer just this side of sadistic, Grapple Dog opens with the titular puppy getting a grappling hook and accidentally helping a robot start the apocalypse. Armed with little more than the ability to swing through a variety of colorful levels and bounce off of robots’ heads, it will be up to the player to save the world before it suffers a dimensional collapse.

Grapple Dog‘s controls are immaculate. It’s important for any platformer to have rock-solid rules for momentum, but GD goes above and beyond. While Pablo, the titular Grapple Dog, can run, jump, and swim around the various levels well enough, the meat of gameplay is finding blue-tinted objects, attaching a hook to them, and swinging.

This is where the importance of control consistency becomes vital — players press the grapple button to latch onto an object or wall, then tilt the control to swing side-to-side before jumping off. Pablo leaves at a different angle and speed based on the point of the swing that he jumps off, and success in the game is based entirely around practicing these jumps until hitting the exact angle becomes second nature.

Grapple Dog gets players to that point via impeccable level design. There are five worlds, with five levels and a boss fight each, and each one introduces a new obstacle type, giving the player time to familiarize themselves with the mechanics before adding complicating elements like spiked floors and killer robots. The first world gets the player comfortable swinging, jumping, and using cannons to move around levels. Then, gradually, they’ll find themselves dealing with conveyor belts, rotating grapple anchors, floating water spheres, and more.

In addition to the basic obstacles and enemies, levels are packed with secrets to ferret out. There are five hidden gems and two hundred and fifty pieces of fruit in each stage, and while the game can be completed by grabbing just a handful of gems and fruit, the true ending is locked away unless players are willing to swipe absolutely every last shiny. It’s a rare thing for me to 100% any game, but there’s an infectious joyousness to Grapple Dog‘s platforming that had me going back until I’d seen everything it had to offer.

The thing that sets Grapple Dog apart from so many others in the platforming genre is just how forgiving it is. Yes, it’s challenging and requires split-second reflexes, and a few of the boss fights are incredibly brutal, but it never feels like it’s trying to punish the player unfairly. Pablo has four hit points, enemies regularly drop health on death, and falling into a chasm teleports him back to the last stable area at the cost of a single damage point, rather than shunting him all the way back to a hard checkpoint. Yes, there were times when I yelped in frustration after screwing up a set of swings and the final boss is extremely nasty, but at its core, Grapple Dog is the kind of platformer that wants the player to succeed and is more than willing to meet them halfway.

Loaded with surmountable challenges, cute characters, and fantastic level design, Grapple Dog is the rare all-ages platformer that really could appeal to anyone interested in the genre. It’s simple enough for a child to use it as an entry point for platformers, yet offers challenges daunting enough to frustrate the most jaded Super Meat Boy player. Grapple Dog is a absolute treasure.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Medallion Games and published by Super Rare Originals. It is currently available on PC, SW. Copies of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed. No time was spent in the game’s co-op mode.

Parents: This game rated E by the ESRB, and it contains no content warnings. The only violence in the game involves bouncing on robots, there’s nothing questionable here.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. No audio is needed for successful gameplay. All dialogue is presented via text, which cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. Players use the thumbstick to move Pablo, and face buttons to jump, grapple, and stomp.

Daniel Weissenberger
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