2D platformers release daily and its quite difficult to know if a game is targeting youngsters, retro gamers, cutting corners or providing a real top tier gaming experience. Grapple Dog put simply, is one of the best 2D platform adventure games I’ve played in the last few years. It is so rare to have a game that is so well thought out and that plays beautifully too – my message is clear. Do not sleep on this game.
Grapple Dog’s name is Pablo and he is an unwilling hero as he accidently sets loose a mechanical evil hellbent on destroying the world. Across 6 worlds and 33 base levels, you’ll be running, jumping, wall jumping, swimming, dashing, bouncing and most importantly swinging your way to glory. Pablo has two run speeds but his jump isn’t hugely powerful although it allows you to hug and cling to walls and climb up vines or just slowly slide down walls if need be. You’ll also find cannons are everywhere to either land into or swing from too. All of these skills are introduced quite early on in the game but what Grapple Dog does is constantly change up how you use the skills – building up combos as difficulty curves over time.
You’ll start off jumping and catching blue grapple blocks to swing between platformers. The swinging has weight and speed factored in so if you swing fast and let go at the right angle you’ll fly far. You’ll then be introduced to using rope length to swing up and over blocks or into tighter gaps – adding in wall jumping. Then platformers start to move, or hazards requiring timing to pass. Grapple blocks end up becoming conveyor belts or grapple nodes are spaced with bounce pads between them. What Grapple Dog does so well is get you into a flow state of rhythmic gymnastics and making you feel like you are getting better and better at the game with a perfectly tuned difficulty curve. All of this would be for nothing if Pablo didn’t handle so well but even his swimming skills feel tight enough to make it through spikey mazes without causing problems.
Each level has 5 gems to collect and they always slightly off the beaten path. You’ll see them and the challenge is to either get to them via a little platforming combo or to work out how to get to the gem. In addition, gems are given for how much fruit you collect too with each level having 250 to collect. Bonus levels are unlocked by collecting B tokens and they are either races against a time limit or collecting crystals within a time limit. Again, these bring more gems as you pass them and world bosses are unlocked when you pass a certain threshold. In theory, you can skip levels entirely if you have enough gems but I didn’t want to. I loved playing this game.
Bosses are often some of the easier parts of Grapple Dog although they have a particular 90’s boss pattern charm to them. You’ll be using all the things you’ve learnt before but they never feel unfair. Checkpoints are liberally placed and if you lose your 5HP, you simply restart back at the last one again. Grapple Dog is quite forgiving in that regard but you can take the hardcore route with the time trial modes. Once a level is complete, you can take on the online leaderboards for speed running. Some people are mighty! I’m far slower but I enjoy the extra connected challenges and gems they bring. There’s even an endless 80’s styled shooting game on Pablo’s ship where his two friends hang out and you sail to each level from.
The attention to detail, the fantastic way Pablo moves, the cute graphics and the way levels are designed to flow and make you feel good all come together to make Grapple Dog a stunning experience. You can even pet him after each level. If I were being a tiny bit critical, the soundtrack is a cheesy retro hip-hop jam but I’d have liked a few more tracks or some slightly longer loops of what’s here (which is still great).
I love Grapple Dog and would recommend this to any gamer out there that just wants good old fashioned platforming done perfectly right. Buy it. Now. Please.
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