I think that I have said this before, but sometimes, I put a review request in, just based on the title of a game alone. Grapple Dog, from developer Medallion Games and publisher Super Rare Games, is one of those instances. I honestly had no idea what the game was about. The option to put in a review request popped up in my emails and even before opening said email, just from the title alone, I knew I wanted to review this one. Then I saw the trailer and I was sold.
“Jump, Swing and Zip your way through colourful worlds and exciting challenges in this unique 2D action-platformer! Master the power of the Grapple on your adventure to save the world!”
I never had a Sega Master System growing up, I was a Commodore 64 kid. Still, I had a school friend who owned a Master System and I did get to play on it regularly. Oh man, I spent hours playing platformers like Psycho Fox, Land of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and of course, the Alex Kidd games. That is what the trailer for Grapple Dog put me in mind of, classic Master System platformers.
The story is that you (Pablo the dog) has to find five mystic relics to stop a big bad from destroying the world. The plot is very typical 80s platformer fare, all that is missing is a kidnapped princess. During the intro/tutorial for Grapple Dog, you get given… wait for it… a grappling hook. Now armed with said grappling hook, you set off swinging to save the world.
What you get here are six worlds and thirty-three levels of platforming action. Levels are semi-explorable and often have a few hidden secrets to find. The main aim is to nab some (or all) of five gems that are on each of the levels. The more gems you have, the more levels open up on the map. Each world is themed and split into multiple levels and each world ends with a boss battle. It is all very typical, very 1988-like which is not a bad thing at all. Visually wise, Grapple Dog is a real treat for the eyes. Bright and colourful graphics with some nice animations and background details help add to the fun.
The levels are wonderfully crafted and designed with plenty of opportunity for you to use that grappling hook. This is great because using the hook and swinging through the levels is an absolute joy. There’s some great variation between levels too, to keep you on your toes. Basic swinging over gaps and between platforms is a given, but you’ll also be using it to defeat enemies and even some of the more trickier platforming aspects. It all feels really satisfying too with simple and basic mechanics (jump, wall run/climb, stomp, swim and swing) that just work really damn well. Brilliantly and clearly designed levels that leave you to explore and find secrets, but never feel too big or confusing. You’ll know where you need to go and what you need to do to keep moving forward, even if you do choose to leave the more obvious route through.
The difficulty curve is just perfect too. Starting out with simple and basic platforming, while using that grappling hook. The levels steadily increase in difficulty and start throwing more and more for you to deal with. When you are swinging across an insta-death pit of spikes, dodging fireballs and landing on moving platforms to get to the other side, there’s a real sense of accomplishment. The best thing is that you’ll not even notice how tricky the game gets later because by then, your platforming skills have been finely tuned by the steady difficulty curve.
There are plenty of generous checkpoints to restart from that really help with some of the more difficult areas of the levels. You’ll never feel frustrated, even when you fail. Grapple Dog also offers up a load of accessibility options. I’m a big fan of good accessibility options because it does open up the game to those who may struggle with certain elements. Effectively, you can make the game as easy or as tricky as you want. Grapple Dog can get a bit difficult later on, but never unfair. Topped off with boss fights that are fun and will often have you revisiting moments from your when childhood playing similar titles.
£12 is how much Grapple Dog is going to cost you. I adore this game. It’s a loving homage to classic platformers with wonderfully cheery and colourful graphics, some great level design and tip-top gameplay. That £12 price tag is worth every penny. If I had to pick a niggle or two. I would have preferred a dedicated run button. Instead, Pablo starts out with a steady jog and after heading in one direction for a second or three, he then runs. But there are times when you just need to run and a dedicated run button would’ve helped. Then, the falling controls feel a bit too ‘light’. I love everything about the controls here as they are responsive and tight… except for the falling. Pablo just becomes a bit too fiddly to control when he’s coming down from a jump or falling from height.
Still, niggles aside, Grapple Dog is a cracking platformer. Charming, crammed with character and gameplay, secrets and bonuses. A fair challenge, a not too original story but one with a great sense of humour. Oh, and you can pet the dog too.