It’s a dog’s life, scavenging for scraps on the Moscow Metro. Taking diktats from the Proletaricat, juggling vodkas and torching the competition, just to earn a few bones. Maybe you get lucky and board the tram out, maybe you don’t and starve to death. A bear-eat-dog world, and all for that sweet, sweet shawarma. This is our Russian Subway Dogs review.
Based on a real-life study, Russian Subway Dogs has you prowling stations on the Moscow metro, barking at commuters to startle them into dropping their snacks, and defending your turf from the local wildlife. Developed by Toronto-based indie studio Spooky Squid Games (also behind They Bleed Pixels), RSD is arcade fun in its purest, polished form. With a surprising depth to gameplay and fantastic chiptune music, this is worth getting your ticket punched for.
At the core, Russian Subway Dogs is simple enough. Bark behind a subway passenger, and you’ll startle them enough to drop whatever they’re carrying, launching it into the air. If it’s a shawarma you’re in luck, as these tasty snacks keep hunger at bay. If it’s a bottle of vodka then look out, as these explode with a crash on landing, sapping health. Your bark also has a potent talent for knocking projectiles back into the air, as long as you time it just right. Sounds easy, no?
Things get complicated when you start pushing for those high scores, which is part of what RSD is all about. Playing hacky-sack with your food acts like a score multiplier, but it increases the risk of something else coming and snatching those snacks away. It’s the same with those vodka bottles, as you really are playing with fire.
Arcade styles demand pinpoint responsive control, and Russian Subway Dogs has this aspect nailed perfectly. I’d recommend grabbing a controller for a more natural and fluid experience, but both this and keyboards are well supported. However, precision is still vital – bark too early or too late, and that bottle of vodka’s landing on your head instead of flying in the direction you hoped for.
Once you’ve got the hang of bark bouncing, Russian Subway Dogs then starts throwing even more ways to add points. Combining vodka and shawarma means cooked food, and catching the morsel in mid-air gets even more points. Then there’s other food too, from grocery veg to delicious burgers. After all, you’ve gotta eat ‘em all to keep that hunger at bay.
Unfortunately, you’re not the only desperate scavenger on the metro. Dobermans will hoover the floor for snacks, but poodles will leap up to snatch them out of the air. And then there’s the rampaging elk, bears, and birds, all after your precious food.
There’s also challenges to complete before you can tuck into some cuisine, like the giant fish that needs cooking before it becomes edible, or the chocolate that gives you a massive pile of points before eventually killing you dead. The Proletaricat might even order you to pick up a few cat toys for a boost to your score.
Russian Subway Dogs comes with a campaign mode, where subway stations are gradually unlocked by completing missions within a time limit. Completing missions earns bones, and a higher pile unlocks stations further down the track. It isn’t easy, however, as there’s the added complication of needing to hit a minimum score before you can even bank your bones.
If the campaign’s not your thing, RSD also has an endless mode that keeps the commuters flowing until your comrade pup eventually succumbs to hunger. It’s this option that feels like a better fit for the arcade style, as it allows for some incredibly high scores that are also shared online. After all, there’s nothing like being able to prove you’re the best barker on the tracks.
With a simple approach and short campaign levels, I thought that Russian Subway Dogs would get repetitive or frustrating, but neither seem to be the case. Hopping between the two modes helps to train skills and timing, while the controller accuracy makes it clear that it’s my own shortcomings, and not the game, that are cheating me out of victory. If I had a gripe, it’d be about the early difficulty curve, but it’s a minor one.
That aside, the clean pixel-art style and glorious chiptune music contribute strongly to the overall retro aesthetic, making it an enjoyable yet challenging bundle of entertainment. I’d love to have seen some kind of multiplayer mode (maybe Super Smash Subway?), but the high score table battles still make it work. And although we tested the Steam PC version, Russian Subway Dogs is likely to work equally well with Xbox One, PS4 and PS Vita when it launches on consoles later this year.