Grapple Dog marks the first title launch for Super Rare Originals and comes by way of Medallion Games. This unique 2D action platformer sees you in control of Pablo, a dog with a grappling hook…
There’s a very simple story pulling Grapple Dog along that possibly promises a little too much. Perhaps expecting more from the story is on us, but it serves its purpose. Our unlikely hero Pablo accidentally unleashes doom upon his world; he’s then tasked with collecting the four Cosmic Gadgets to put a stop to the big evil’s plans. Fairly basic stuff sets up the standard platforming formula of different worlds, each with multiple levels. It no doubt sets a nice pace with each world bringing its own unique design and obstacles while never feeling repetitive.
Grapple Dog is a 2D action platformer with a hook… a grappling hook that will see Pablo swinging through levels like Spider-Man. It’s a robust mechanic that can quicken the pace of any level or completely grind it to a halt. That’s because not only is the grappling hook used to swing from place to place ala Spider-man but also to defeat the numerous robot enemies and perform tricky jumps to reach those important collectables. It’s a shame then that some of the more basic controls for a platformer don’t feel as fine-tuned as they could be.
While Grapple Dog isn’t impossibly difficult, it’s definitely a challenging ride. The difficulty increases at a comfortable pace, so a bit of patience and practice go a long way. There’s no shame in saying that the second world, Sunny Shores, gave us particular trouble with its bountiful use of green balloons. These were tricky to navigate as timing and angle are key when there’s the possibility you’d fall right through them. Green balloons appear in later levels but by that point, you’ll know how to deal with them. Perhaps the most annoying of obstacles is the robot snake that’s introduced later on. Unkillable, and entirely unstoppable as it follows you through a level. This makes speed your friend as you quickly aim for the exit while putting collectables on hold.
Boss levels are a fairly fun affair. Players are tasked with making their way through a mini level of sorts before facing off with a giant robot. These battles are never complicated or particularly hard to master. It’s just a matter of getting down the right timing to jump in with the grappling hook. After three or four well-timed hits, our good boy, Pablo, is easily victorious. While collecting every purple gem from each level prior to the boss stage is not necessary, know that there is a minimum requirement to unlock the stage.
If the difficulty sounds a little too much for you then there are a few accessibility options to ease that. No Damage, swing to your heart’s content in the knowledge that enemies cannot harm you, although they can still impede your progress. Also worth knowing that certain hazards can still kill you, so don’t expect to be running across fire. Some level of skill is still required to complete a level, but the next option will help with that greatly, Infinite Jump. Want to cheese your way through each level and gain all collectables then you easily can, but where’s the fun in that? On the flip side, these slight changes can allow for a fun experience with younger kids to less-abled gamers, so it’s great to see these included.
Completing the main campaign will unlock Trials of Valor for those that really want to test themselves. You’ll need to collect pretty much all the purple gems throughout the game, a feat unto itself. Then, of course, there are also the time trials for each stage that are unlocked when you complete said stage. There’s also a mini-game playable in your room on the boat called Boomerang Bandit. A simple Space Invaders like game, but with a boomerang and displayed as though you’re playing on an original Nintendo Game Boy. It’s a fun little addition that’s worth mentioning we love it when developers give you a little something extra.
For the most part, Grapple Dog controls fairly well except that the game defaults to the B button on Nintendo Switch for confirmation. While the A button is used as the back/cancel action. As a long time PlayStation player, this shouldn’t cause much issue and yet it’s confusing all the same. Whether you’re used to a certain control layout or not, when a game doesn’t follow the system’s default, it’s odd. Of course, getting used to a simple switch of buttons can be done in quick order, but first, a visit to the control options wouldn’t be amiss. Unfortunately, there are no options to change the control scheme, only the option to toggle on and off vibration. Hopefully, an update can add some more options to customise the control scheme to your preference, but for now, it’s just a minor gripe.
For as enjoyable Grapple Dog is, it’s hard to ignore some persistent issues we encountered. Bear in mind that the recent 2.0 update has, as far as we can tell, fixed most of these issues but also introduced a few minor ones. To quote our robotic overlord Nul, “This was cute at first, but I’m losing my patience”.
In order of least to most egregious, then. Dropped frames were fairly frequent, especially during the later stages of the game where more is happening on screen at a given time. This did not overly affect the gameplay, but it was noticeable. On very rare occasions when backtracking to reach a purple gem, the game would get stuck and not allow you to continue forward. Eventually, the level would reset as though you’d died. Another rare occurrence would be where the grapple would attach to an area it isn’t meant to and will get stuck there while Pablo drifts slowly to his doom. Nothing can be done to move Pablo during this time except wait for him to touch the bottom of the level where the game will treat it as another death.
Onto the most egregious, a software error complete with warning screen and eventual force quitting of the game. This happen no less than four times and unfortunately, each one of those times was during a boss level. It always appeared to be right before the boss of that stage was summoned by Nul. Of course, you’d need to redo the entire stage to reach the boss again. Thankfully, as mentioned, all these issues appear to be fixed in the 2.0 update and even so they didn’t affect our enjoyment of the game.
Aesthetically, Grapple Dog is a joy to behold. The cute character designs and interesting worlds make for a pleasant experience from start to finish. Even the enemy designs are too cute for the roles they play in this game. Though we could do without the robot snake. Even the soundtrack has no business being this good, but it’s straight fire bringing Jet Set Radio vibes, James Brown’s soul and probably many more influences we’re missing.
Grapple Dog delivers a solid 2D action platformer with fresh and interesting mechanics, impossibly cute characters and a soundtrack that’s straight fire! Don’t be fooled by the charming aesthetics because Grapple Dog follows a trend of impossibly cute but frustratingly challenging platformers. Taking advantage of some choice accessibility options might be a must when taking on this 2D platformer unless, of course, living life on the edge is your jam. Despite some issues, Grapple Dog is an incredibly exciting journey that never outstays its welcome.