Two-headed doggo? Check. Fantastical worlds? Double check. Some of the most fun puzzles you’re likely to find in gaming? Triple check. PHOGS! comes to the market with a whole host of brilliant cooperative opportunities in tow, ensuring that it is able to deliver a gaming experience that will see a huge smile beaming across your face from start to finish. Granted, it’s not without issues, but for sheer stupid fun and classic cooperative play, it’s right up there with some of the best you’ll find.
PHOGS! comes about via the teams at Bit Loom Games and Coatsink to see you thrust into a wonderfully delightful world that is full of humour, character, and madness. There is little reason to this adventure, and there is even less reason to care, but from the first moment you set eyes on the worlds of PHOGS!, and then gather up the chance to play as a lovely two-headed dog, you’ll find gaming sessions that are an utter joy.
In PHOGS! you are put in sole charge of Red and Blue – the cutest of doggos who are helping accompany you through a weird adventure. The thing is, Red and Blue aren’t your usual dogs; these guys are joined, quite literally, at the belly, and so you’ll need to work with the mechanics in play to manoeuvre them around the worlds as a tricky twosome. As a solo player, this will mean that one half of your controller is designed to control Red, whilst the other side of things handles Blue’s movement, with thumbsticks, bumpers and triggers covering the main characteristics. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for the face buttons or d-pad – they sort out the most crucial of elements, the emotes. And you can’t have a fun game without an emote or two, no matter how simple or pointless they are.
Pulling left and right with Red and Blue is a cinch, utilising a bumper to action biting so you can grab hold of items (in order to drag them around or use them as an anchor point), or spend time barking for no reason other than that dogs love to talk. Further to that and Red and Blue can stretch their torso to incredible lengths thanks to a hold of the trigger, letting them reach platforms, pull levers or grab objects that may otherwise be out of normal reach. Red and Blue move nicely for the most part, with enough guile to snake their way through the levels at hand. Yes, occasionally they will be found getting stuck on level furniture, but mostly they are seemingly happy enough working their way through three different worlds as the land of PHOGS! unfolds into Play, Sleep and Food biomes, with these seeing 24 worlds all interconnected by a system of worms. Yep, you read that right, worms. Nothing makes sense in PHOGS!, but it’s all the better for it. Oh yeah, and there’s a shop that sells hats in exchange for bones too. Why wouldn’t there be!?
Each of these landscapes comes with its own unique take and distinct puzzles, focused on the theme at hand. This means you’ll discover nightlights, teddy bears, bedtime stories and weird dream-like sequences in the Sleep stages, a host of different food types and areas to play around with in Food and, through Play, some really clever ideas focusing efforts on gaming and fun; the retro arcade and amusement parks demand time spent in them. Everything is drip fed nicely too, so just as a new idea comes into play – for instance, utilising a nightlight to rid a sleepy world of darkness, throwing food into a soup bowl, or switching on fans to get the playtime action blowing – you get the chance to gather your thoughts and begin to understand how that action can be used going forward. Things can become pretty tricky to work out a little down the line, and as you move through Play, Food and Sleep, reaching the end of a stage, actioning weird little collect-a-thon missions for various NPCs to be rewarded with doggy treats, AND finding super rare Boingles, you will have been tested a fair bit. Thankfully there’s nothing in PHOGS! that frustrates, with fun the overriding element of the entire playthrough.
It helps that PHOGS! looks great too. This is far from a highly detailed, next-gen, uber-realistic affair, but the simple visuals come together well across all elements, with the super cute Red and Blue themselves right at the heart of it. Areas are cleverly put together, come with enough exploration to warrant just an extra five minutes of hunting, and look the part across all three themes; Play being ultra vibrant, Food being full of the tastiest of treats and Sleep nailing the dream-like aspect required of it.
The audio works in a similar vein: it’s never something that will have you dropping your jaw in amazement, but there are just enough little audio cues to allow you the chance to figure out what is going on and what is required of Red and Blue in order to uncover the various secrets; none more so than the annoying, yet realistic, alarm clocks found in the Sleep stages.
It must be said that not everything in PHOGS! works as it should though, and a good number of times I’ve found that luck and glitches have helped see Red and Blue through their adventure. At times checkpoints that haven’t been previously reached have popped up to ensure the doggy duo are saved from death, and occasionally the physics can go completely haywire, seeing Red and Blue fly around stages like there’s no tomorrow. There are also little issues with multiplayer connectivity and exactly what is presented to both players via the online side of things, as sometimes things go awry; one player may see a puzzle solved whilst the other still has to complete it, or levels fail to load, turning up as nothing but black, blank screens. On the whole though, these shouldn’t really be too much of a concern, mostly because any oddities that crop up can normally be rectified by respawning back at the last worm; as levels are relatively short, and checkpoints pretty frequent, you’ll never find too much progress lost.
Other than those small issues though, PHOGS! is a delight. If you’re playing it alone it all comes together as one the second you get your head around the need to utilise two different control schemes at once, but it really does reach new heights when you bring another player into the equation. Working together either on the sofa with two controllers, or with a friend across the power of the online world, PHOGS! brings laughter and cooperative workings aplenty. It’s been a real joy to progress through the worlds of Sleep, Play and Food, discovering little secrets to each and uncovering collectibles in the process. And best of all, at no point has there been any comment as to why Red and Blue are running through these worlds – it’s just fun to do so. Some may find a lack of proper narrative a problem, but if you’re prepared to kick back and just have some puzzle-fuelled fun, Red, Blue and PHOGS! as a whole allows for it.
Should you be in the market for a fun puzzler that never takes itself seriously, PHOGS! on Xbox is the game for you. It works well as a solo experience, but goes up a level when split across two players, whether they be sofa or online-based. A few issues crop up from time to time but for the majority of the playthrough Red and Blue are two of the most well-behaved doggos you could ever wish to meet. You’ll most certainly want to give these two dogs a bone.