Fans of 2D platformers, especially from the Gameboy Advance era, will love the quick gameplay and adorable style of Grapple Dog.
Title: Grapple Dog
Release Date: February 10, 2022
Suggested Audience Age: E for Everyone
Time to Play: 9.5 hours, per How Long to Beat
Availability: Switch, Steam
Recommended for fans of: Mario, Sonic, and Grappling Hooks
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Like so many games, one look at Grapple Dog was all it took to know this was a game built for me. It’s an adorable, straightforward platformer with fantastic mechanics and tons of collectibles. There are a few hiccups, but it’s a fantastic game nonetheless!
Lite Story, Bright Aesthetics
For a game that leans so heavily into retro aesthetics, Grapple Dog has a surprising amount of story to tell. Your character is part of an archeology team that uncovers a hidden tomb and unleashes the last remnants of an ancient civilization, leading inevitably to the entire world hurtling towards certain doom.
You know, that old chestnut.
As you adventure through five worlds, each with its own aesthetics and enemies, you’ll come across chatty NPCs with wonderfully dumb dialog. You can also check in with your teammates as you go to see how they’re doing. There’s nothing deep to see, but each conversation gave me as much of a smile as the bright, colorful graphics. This game is an absolute delight to see at every moment.
A Pure Platformer
There is no getting around the title… Grapple Dog is a game where you play as a dog with a grappling hook. I was actually a little worried that this would end up feeling gimmicky, and it would be a game where every moment revolved around the grapple hook (kinda like the webbing in Webbed). However, that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, Grapple Dog is a solid 2D platformer that just happens to have a fantastic grappling hook mechanic.
In each level, you run, jump, and swing your way from left to right, avoiding enemies and collecting coins. Other than all the details that make it awesome, that’s it! It’s just a really, really good platformer!
Each level has five hidden gems to collect, along with two bonus gems you earn for finding enough coins. There are also bonus levels that give you gems for completing some timing-based challenges. Once you get enough gems you can fight the boss of the world, and eventually, that takes you to the boss of the whole dang game.
Honestly, the structure is super simple and familiar, but in a way that feels super comfortable.
Grapple and Go
Swinging through the worlds in Grapple Dog feels great. There are blue surfaces all over that you can attach to, and then you swing in a simple arc. It’s a simple system, but it feels really good and can let you build up some pretty incredible speed. In fact, after you complete a level you can play it again in a time trial mode, which is totally unnecessary and does nothing except record your time for bragging rights.
The speed in this game is really pretty awesome, but I mostly loved it because I could avoid it. There are almost no challenges in this game that require building up speed like a Sonic game, so I was able to explore at a calmer pace like I was playing Mario. However, if speed is your thing you can build up a lot of momentum and really go flying.
Oddly, my only two issues with Grapple Dog both come down to a problem of unexpectedly slowing down. On a technical level, this game runs wonderfully smooth on the Switch about 95% of the time. Then, every once in a while, the game chugs for a split second, you lose some frames, and the whole fluidity of the thing shatters. It’s really not a big deal, because even if you die the game is super generous in its checkpoints. Falling in a pit or running out of health will only set you back a few minutes, and there is no Game Over state. But still, any amount of slow down in a game like this feels bad.
The other issue comes down to a structural problem in the pacing of the game. Throughout the entire journey, there are a total of 300 gems to collect. In order to engage the final boss in battle, you need to have 180 of them. Up to that point, I basically played each level in a world and had enough to go on to the boss of that area. When I got to the finale I was short by something like 30 gems.
The core gameplay of Grapple Dog is so fun that having to backtrack to unlock the ending wasn’t exactly unpleasant… but it did leave a weird impression at the end of the game. I had a blast playing through it up to that roadblock, and then it kind of felt like a slog trying to figure out where to go to get enough gems to finish the thing.
I really loved playing Grapple Dog, but it felt better when I was pushing forward than when I suddenly had to stop and look backward.