The word ‘dreamlike’ perfectly summarises this physics-based puzzle platformer. Set in a vibrant, cartoon-like, world you play as a wiggly, stretchy, double-ended dog. It’s backed by a supporting cast of cutesy critters that could have easily escaped from Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. Specifically, the Candy Kingdom – PHOGS! has an entire world dedicated to foodstuffs of all shape and size.
This is a surprisingly demanding experience, with a novel control scheme being the backbone. The dog’s noggins are controlled independently with one analogue stick assigned to each. Only the trigger and bumper buttons are used, with the former to stretch (granting elastic-like properties) and latter to grab objects. While perfectly playable on your lonesome, the idea is to play with a pal and control one canine each, using good old teamwork to progress.
The difficulty level has been adapted to trial and error (aka breakdowns in communication), being far from punishing. Respawns are almost instant and there are no grounds for failure. Combat doesn’t feature either, putting the focus on puzzle solving by bending and stretching your way to victory.
It’ll test your reflexes as well as your sense of logic, even requiring the dogs to bend into certain shapes quickly. Precise movement is often required too, especially when manoeuvring objects into place. Even though we did have to manually respawn a few times due to getting our fully extended woofers stuck in places they shouldn’t be, the physics engine behaves itself for the most part.
Whether it was intentional or not, the game’s structure recalls an N64 platformer – the main hub leads off to three smaller hub worlds (Food, Sleep and Play; a dog’s favourite things) with each hub having several stages to beat along with a more elaborate “boss” stage.
Levels are spread across floating landmasses – connected by two-headed snakes that swallow our unlikely hero whole – and every location has a puzzle, obstacle, or impromptu mini-game to overcome to unlock the next. Even in the absence of spinning collectables, your current goal and the path ahead are always clear.
There’s a bucket load of variety, with few ideas reused, and each world introduces something new which helps keep things feel fresh and exciting. Even items such as giant scissors are only used once.
The Food and Play worlds are equally colourful and inviting. Featuring ice cream mountains and chocolate rivers, Food world has challenges involving creating a giant pizza step-by-step, helping to chop and crush ingredients for a colossal sundae, and causing chaos in an automated jam factory.
Play world also lives up to its name, including a wonderfully designed arcade level with playable air hockey and pinball tables, as well as a stage centred around a beach golf tournament.
The moonlit Sleep world is where the harder puzzles lie, set in a world filled with clocks and gears. This world also adds a much-needed sense of danger in the form of Watchers – mechanical birds with spotlights, often found patrolling the path ahead. Due to being cloaked in darkness, this world isn’t quite as inviting as the rest. As such, take on the challenges in this area first (worlds can be tackled in any order), and your first impression may not be as favourable as somebody who jumped straight into Food or Play world.
While the basics never change, allowing anybody to jump in and play, the puzzles do become multi-layered, culminating in a final stage that’ll test your mettle.
PHOGS! is a game designed to delight and engage, effortlessly achieving those goals in numerous ways. While some puzzles are a little straightforward, this doesn’t make them any less pleasurable to solve and with 24 stages – each lasting around 30 minutes, give or take – this isn’t something that’ll be beaten within just one or two evenings either.
Whether you’re looking for a new co-op challenge or a spot of single-player silliness, this will scratch both those itches.