There are certain sorts of mechanics and gameplay concepts that can be fun, but need to be done right or a game suffers. Grappling is one of them. Enter Grapple Dog, a platformer in which one of the key components is getting around with a grappling hook. The good news is it mostly handles the concept well. However, not well enough that it become the highlight of the title.
Grapple Dog is set in a world where a great inventor, a mouse who seems to resemble Steve Jobs, created some revolutionary items. However, enemies rose up, forcing those treasures to be hidden away. Pablo is a research assistant on an expedition. When he falls behind, he ends up both acquiring a legendary grappling hook and unleashing a horde of robots set on acquiring those inventions for their own purposes. It is up to players to get through the game’s 33 levels to save the day.
All of the classic platformer hallmarks are present in Grapple Dog. Levels are about the right length, with optional Time Trial options for each one. To defeat enemies, you bounce off of them or grab them with your grappling hook. Only certain sorts of blocks, which are easily identifiable, can be hooked onto. Each world has a theme and distinctive mechanic added, meaning you’re constantly learning and growing as a player. Items are scattered about to collect, some of them hidden behind secret walls or spaces. Also, there are a lot of spikes.
But very quickly, Grapple Dog gets much more demanding than its innocent facade would lead you to believe. That cute veneer is a lie. There are absolutely demanding gauntlets requiring precise inputs. In some cases, positioning beyond your control might come into play. The actual grappling hook mechanic works well. I’d even say perfectly. I could always control my angle and speed, and it would be easy to make adjustments. But when you throw in mechanics like the floating green orbs you need to ground-pound at exactly the right position for the correct trajectory over a slew of spikes? Not cool. It means you could nail the general execution, but minor issues could keep you from getting past that point. Also, this might be a Switch thing, but there are significant loading times after you die in Grapple Dog.
Yes, there are fairly regular save points scattered throughout Grapple Dog’s levels. This can help quite a bit. However, the most troublesome sections all come up between the last level marker and end of the stage. Which means you know you’re almost done. But also, it makes things increasingly more frustrating. But then, depending on your skill level and timing all of this might not be an issue.
What is happens to be locking boss fights behind a collectible. In Grapple Dog, you can collect fruits scattered throughout levels, tokens that unlock bonus levels, and purple gems. If you don’t have enough purple gems, you can’t access that fight. Some of those gems are hidden very well in areas! Or maybe you’ll see that one is there, but might not have the gaming prowess necessary to collect them. I didn’t have any issue getting enough to face those fights, but seeing that barrier gave me a bit of pause.
But while those technicalities can be an issue, Grapple Dog’s style is undeniable. The soundtrack is amazing. Every song is so poppy, upbeat, and perfect for that exact moment. (It also gave me Jet Set Radio vibes.) The character designs are amazing. Whether it is an enemy, NPC, or Pablo himself, it looks incredible. Also, I can’t get over how delightful the dialogue is. It’s witty, but never forced. Charming, but not sickeningly sweet. Even when some of the segments in levels were kicking my butt, I couldn’t get mad at this precocious game.
There are elements I don’t like, but I’m now officially a big Grapple Dog fan. Granted, more because I love the characters, music, and world, rather than find it to offer revolutionary platforming. It’s a good time. Just know going in that it might often demand your best, but not always help you execute things exactly.