Grapple Dog Review – I’m Hooked
If I had to choose a single title as my most anticipated upcoming indie game, it would have to have been Grapple Dog. I’ve been following the game’s progress via the sole-developer Joseph Gribbin’s Twitter posts for what seems to have been, at this point, more than two years. The classic platforming mechanics, pixel art, and player-controlled pup with a grappling hook had me, well, hooked from the moment I first saw a gameplay clip. I didn’t realize that Grapple Dog was going to be making its way into my hands this year, but I’m oh so happy that it finally did. Grapple Dog provides a wonderfully nostalgic platforming experience, with great humor, a fun story, and dazzling sound design, making it one of 2022’s first must-play titles for fans of the platforming genre.
In Grapple Dog, you play as Pablo, an offbeat, yet well-meaning dog who is on an expedition with his two adventuring companions – a mechanically-savvy bunny, and a learned professor – as they search for the Cosmic Gadgets scattered around the world by The Inventor. After getting separated from the group, Pablo finds a grappling hook that allows him to Spider-Man swing his way throughout each level – an ability that proves vital in his newfound quest to stop the evil robotic overlord Nul from destroying the world.
While a world-destroying plot might seem a bit dark and heavy, Grapple Dog is anything but. The adventure is incredibly lighthearted thanks to the vibrant, colorful worlds and hilarious, self-aware dialogue that takes place between the game’s characters (including the evil robotic overlord Nul). There were plenty of moments in which I chuckled out loud at a funny one-liner or goofy image during one of the game’s cutscenes. The humor extends to the actual gameplay as well, thanks to Pablo’s facial expressions when he hits a wall too hard or runs into an enemy.
And there is certainly no shortage of enemies. Nul’s robots are littered throughout each of the game’s six different worlds. Some shoot fireballs, some fly, and some shoot retractable buzzsaws. Enemies, in addition to traps, such as spike pits, require Pablo to be a bit strategic in when and where he swings or jumps. A careless or mistimed swing might mean a run-in with an enemy, which – much like in other classic platformers – damages Pablo immediately. Too many hits and you’ll have to restart from the previous checkpoint. However, a perfectly executed combo of destroying enemies while grappling and swinging throughout the level is incredibly satisfying – the highlight of Grapple Dog’s near-perfect platforming.
The one thing that Grapple Dog does better than anything else is its platforming. From bashing enemies and avoiding obstacles to its grappling and water levels, Grapple Dog just feels like a finely-tuned platformer. You read that right: even the water levels are enjoyable in the game, made even better by the dash ability while swimming. The flow and fluidity of running and swinging through each level is top-tier platforming. Occasionally, there are slight hitbox issues when trying to knock out an enemy. Interestingly, however, in these moments, the enemy drops a dog treat that gives Pablo back the life that he just lost. I don’t know if it was intentional, but it almost seems like the game knows that it did you a bit dirty and says, “Hey, sorry about that. Let me make things right.” The platforming in Grapple Dog isn’t exceptionally hard, but it is challenging enough to make this little quirk appreciated.
Boss battles are also just as fun as any other quality platformer out there, with higher stakes and different gameplay mechanics than the regular levels – such as the first boss which features a fun chase scene. The change of pace in the boss battles is welcomed, along with the bonus levels. Bonus levels can be unlocked as you explore each regular level. These bonus areas are basically little mini-games that reward you with gems (which are needed to unlock each world’s boss battle).
Whenever you’re not actually playing in a level, you’re traveling the open sea aboard the ship that takes you from world to world. The ship itself is a level that you can explore, complete with Pablo’s room that has a playable video game. The ship acts like a mini-"open world" that allows you to travel to new levels, or completed ones that may still have some gems that were missed. You can also revisit completed levels to compete in time trials, making Grapple Dog a great option for speedrunners.
Finally, the music and overall audio design in Grapple Dog is excellent and had me reminiscing on the casino levels from Sonic The Hedgehog. High praise, indeed. Each world has a single track that’s used for each level, which is fine, but it gets a bit redundant. I would have loved to have heard different variations or remixes of the same song that was specific to each level. This, however, is a pretty nit-picky critique for an otherwise wildly successful game.
Grapple Dog takes the platforming genre – one of the oldest genres in gaming – and manages to take it (grappling hook it?) to new heights. If you’re a fan of the genre, there’s no question that this game should be added to your list. From visuals and gameplay to characters and sound design, Grapple Dog is a wonderful game that, for me, was well worth the wait. Who’s a good doggo? Grapple Dog, that’s who.