Developer Bit Loom Games and publisher Coatsink have finally let Phogs off the leash and it’s time for us to have some fun in our review.
For any of you that haven’t heard of Phogs quite yet then you’re about to meet two brand new friends. Set in a colourful fantasy world full of oversized apples, animated fire hydrants, and the odd grabby teddy bear Phogs is a gorgeous looking puzzle game that plunges players into an experience that’s all about what a doggo wants. Starring a pair of your new bestest friends who are more than the average pair of paws, Phogs allows anybody grabbing the leash to take this best doggy duo on an adventure. Entering three worlds based on the themes of food, play, and sleep, the Phogs must work together to navigate their way through these oversized obstacles and think their way around the exciting distractions to complete this escapade.
Ready For Show
Phogs doesn’t take particularly long before it lets you know exactly what to expect. Bounding out of the screen to meet any new onlookers, the central protagonists are a set of simple souls, best described as one half dog and the other half, another, dog. This two headed bundle of joy walks snakes and squirms its way around an opening hub that might look a little juvenile, but I prefer to think of it as utterly joyful. This zen styled garden is full of placid pink tones and cute animal additions that make Phogs an entirely inviting experience and while it shares some animations ideas with The Red Lantern, the worlds of Sleep, Play, and Food are a much less sombre experience than that doggy day out in the wilderness.
Holding The Leash
While the opening player experience in Phogs might look like a backdrop for a sedate Sunday in the sun, this is far from a straightforward adventure. Tackling control of the Phogs, either as a pair of players or a single owner, you’ll use one set of buttons to direct Blue and one to direct Red. These controls are simple enough to understand, with the movement of each Phog tied to one analogue stick or an equivalent couple of keys. While you will be able to use a keyboard to coach the Phogs across the screen, using a controller is advised when grabbing the leash. The simple three-button control system provides plenty of flexibility in sharing or splitting control inputs across various devices and ensures there are tons of ways to play, including local, online, and co-op campaigns for the Phogs.
Everything about Phogs seems to be built around making the Phogs easy to engage with, from the main hubs non-liner approach to the three core worlds and the simple control system. Even the choice of Red and Blue for the core characters seems to make this adventure easy to engage with. Thankfully, Phogs isn’t a total rollover once you let it off the leash.
Bumble into any of the three core worlds and you’ll find a huge range of platforming puzzle adventures await, all brimming with personality. Part brain scratcher and part platform adventure each world comes stuffed with its own silly scenarios, from castles made of books and kights built of yarn balls, through to walking beachballs, and funfairs full of seagulls for you to chase. These themes allow Bit Loom games to build out a range of increasingly off the wall puzzle games that gate access between levels and allow the Phogs imagination to run wild. Starting out in Sleep World, players might find themselves dragging a Glow Orb around to unlock secluded areas, eventually navigating a series of gravity-defying platforms without losing the aforementioned orb or waking a sleeping NPC with the illumination.
This initially simple system of puzzles shows even more imagination when it delves into the rest of the available worlds. The blazing bright palette of the Play world is especially worth a look. While every doggo loves a full belly, I was blown away by the ingenuity of miniature train sets, fairground rides, and even a giant Hook a Duck style stall. The silly-sounding set of adventures, a fantastic player dictated pace, and the utterly odd themes allow Bit Loom to play with ideas without worrying about realism making Phogs a joy to watch.
Personally, I’m not one for watching. If you’re not either then Phogs takes on a wholly different level of joy when a second player picks up the controller. Whether it’s spread across a single controller for cramped quarters gameplay or rocking a handset each across the couch, the two-player mode of play brings out a different beast. Beneath the adorable aesthetic Phogs just gets silly. While you’re working your way through the logically simple set of problems that spin out of the game’s central hub, communication and spacial awareness become key. These two mutts might be able to think as one when you’re in control of both ends but when two heads get involved there’s easily as much yapping to be done across the room as in the game. Despite this extra level of idiocy that my players one and two brought to a plush yarn filled castle in the sky, none of the Phog-stacles are insurmountable and the fun of failure is obvious, resulting in a fit of giggles when our poor sausage doggos got Red’s head stuck in a wall and Blue wibbled off into the distance.
Beyond the pure pleasure of this experience, there are plenty of achievements in-game. Across the many levels that make up each world, you’ll collect a range of items. Golden bones are of crucial importance, rewarding players for taking an extra minute to find them and following up the tail of these two mutts with a bunch of cute rewards. This achievement and unlock system is not much more than a reason to have a proper sniff around each level, but it does have a satisfying number of hats that unlock as you progress through the game.
The reward cosmetics in Phogs is fairly limited and much like the game, it’s a simple structure that doesn’t ask too much of its players. However, that criticism could even be levelled many classic games that we hold dear now. There’s a definite woof of Mario in the air when the Phogs wag their way out of the game’s central hubs, jump down a long slopey worm and fall into these themed challenges, and it seems like Bit Loom games have taken plenty of lessons from that genre classic while still remaining relevant. If you have time for the most adorable new friends you’ll make during the holidays then grab Phogs when it arrives on Nintendo Switch Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass for Console, Xbox Game Pass for PC, Playstation 4, Steam and Stadia. Check out when and where you can meet these two puppers over on the official Phogs website.