Before reading this review, look outside your window. Go ahead, I will wait. See that? Crazy isn’t it? Not only do you have Christmas to deal with, which is stressful enough. It’s also 2020, by far the toughest and most depressing year that most of us have experienced. It’s times like these when I like to keep gaming simple. Sure, we have the likes of the PS5 launch line-up to plough through (More coverage coming folks) and Cyberpunk 2077 is delighting and disappointing in equal measure, but when it comes to stressful times for me, the only cure is an overdose of sugary cuteness. It’s these times when games like PHOGS! Look more appealing and I thank whoever for indie developers that embrace casual weirdness in the name of sanity.
PHOGS! Is a puzzle platformer from Bit Loom, a Dundee based studio that have set out on the seeming mission to create the most sugary sweet puzzle platformer experience possible. In this game, you play as a two headed dog with a gelatinous body that can stretch, bounce and bark through three colourful worlds that represent food, sleep, and play. Each world taking little more than guiding the good doggos from point A to B, with minor, playful challenges along the way. There is little more to it than that and while that sounds overly simplistic on paper, there is some depth to be found here. Thanks to the use of the three main abilities (Bite, bounce and stretch) in tandem with the gloriously surreal worlds around the slithering doggos.
For example, in the world of sleep I encountered various puzzles which required my PHOGS to tandem abilities together to achieve success in traversal. One task saw my doggos needing to stop a clock which was controlling moving platforms with gears. In doing this I had to stretch one of the heads over to the large clock hand while the other head reached out for a weight. Once I had grabbed the weight, the dogs were able to leave the area, with the clockface permanently pinned down in a particular position. Another inventive puzzle saw me trying to help a character fall asleep, as his dream bridge would materialise and allow the PHOGS to cross safely.
These are small examples of the many puzzles that await in PHOGS! None of these are particularly taxing, with most levels being cleared within a few minutes each. What the game does offer however is an overall inventive approach to the typical physics-based platformer that keeps varied enough from start to finish. While the game does not feature any major stakes or challenge, it is a fun and meditative game that just feels fun to play. Also, for those wanting to get a bit more bang for the buck, there is the additional challenge of finding the golden bones and critters in each stage. These can range from easy to find to some which are quite difficult to hunt down, with additional mini-challenges needed to secure.
While the game can be played through entirely in single player, the real strength of PHOGS! Comes in when playing with a friend or sibling as each player takes control or Red or Blue’s head and operates independently, either to the aid or chagrin of the other player. While the controls may seem weird at first; especially if you have a less than compliant partner. The simplicity of the inputs allows for easy mastery that lets players focus instead on the puzzles and platforming ahead.
In terms of where PHOGS! really shines however is in the worlds that you play through. These are all a joy to look at and traverse through, with the themes of food, sleep and play coming across beautifully. Each of these areas have a dreamy quality to them, with landscapes littered with appropriate scenery that is made of pillows/teddies for sleep, fruit and veg for food or beach-like areas for play. While playing on nostalgic imagery for the most part, each level feels unique and strangely lived in. I was a big fan of the Play world, which had me collecting stars through various carnival-like minigames before sending me onto a large golf-course that had me putting shots using the stretch ability.
I didn’t encounter many issues with my playtime in PHOGS!; only some minor gripes to be had with collision detection on some obstacles like cogs or some moving platforms. Also, the automatic camera can be somewhat bothersome, with one section on a moving bridge which lead to some long falls. These minor issues are mitigated by an incredibly forgiving checkpoint and respawn system which never throws you too far back when you make a mistake.
While not exactly a white-knuckle thrill ride, PHOGS! Is a charming and fun platformer that capably answers the question; “What happens when you mix Katamari Damacy with questionable animal experimentation?” The answer is to not think about it too much, just sit back and take the doggos for a walk, either alone or with a friend, there is a good fun game to enjoy that doesn’t ask too much of you and that may be exactly what you need right now.
+ Smart co-op puzzle mechanics that also work well in single player
+ Plenty of content for those who get sucked in
+ It’s a slithering dog with two heads. What’s not to like?
- Not a lot of level variety
- Lack of camera control can be bothersome