Grapple Dog Demo Preview: Swingin ‘Sweetness



Among the many demos currently available this week including Steam’s Next Fest, a few are strange to me, personally. One of the topics of today’s post is: Grapple Dog, a game I’ve been watching for a few years now. As a longtime fan of platformers and 2D edge scrollers, everyone about this title shouts, “This is your thing, friend. Jump in here.”

So, in that announcement Grapple Dog was featured at Next Fest with a playable demo, this has become an immediate priority. All development screenshots and videos by developer Joseph Gribbin shows up on Twitter will finally be open to control. Many different indie platformers have come and gone, from between Where is Samantha? at SHEEPO quality But I had a good feeling that this game would be something especially grandiose. If the demo is any indication, my expectations are not unfounded.

Grapple Dog will be available to play as a free demo between October 1-7 during Steam’s Next Fest. A full release date was not provided.

Stories – Flimsy Flashbacks (?)

While I can’t say I’ve experienced playing demos, Grapple DogMakes something a little weird. A basic tutorial is shown at its beginning, but is probably placed in the middle of an intro sequence. Paul, the dog, falls into some dark precipice and encounters a ruthless robot named Nul. As the game takes you through the controls and features, you eventually encounter a grappling hook, one of the main features of the game. (Can you tell by the name of the game?) Pretty soon, the screen flashes white, and then you’re in a boat, able to move and choose between three stages straight away. I initially thought the game was broken, I realized it was probably intentional. (Right?)

In this particular state, there is nothing too grasping from a “Story” position. Paul and Nul are introduced, and I believe there is someone else you can talk to, but nothing big. From what I can gather, Nul forces you to help it maintain some resemblance of power, which they use to try and conquer the world. So your intent is to stop it. Pretty straightforward for a platformer, and less established in the course of the demo. It’s mostly gameplay and taking a sneak peek at the worlds on display.

The photos were taken shortly before the disaster.

The photos were taken shortly before the disaster.

Gameplay – Barkin ‘Up the Right Spaces

Going into it, I knew it was going to be fast paced. Bouncy, swing-y, physics-influenced physics abound throughout one’s time here. No. Webbed, though it can be a bit frantic for someone not fully versed in the genre. The design of the game however ensures that one can do them at their own pace, which is nice!

Speaking of going at someone’s speed, Grapple Dog contains several accessibility steps that make the game easier, available through the options menu. One can toggle if they want infinite health or infinite jumps, if my recollection is correct. Some may see this as dumbing down the game; I like to see this as optional cheat codes, allowing one to spell the game and feel like the greatest thing ever. I love when games provide the ability to supremely beef up the player or make things more absurd. Remember the gravity of the moon in Pro Skater by Tony Hawk games? Very good.

Entering the game itself, it’s a fairly basic platforming title, coated with an excessive sensation by the grappling mechanic. One is expected to go from one end of the stage to the other, dealing with obstacles such as robo-baddies, spike traps, and tall structures. Along the way, it entices one to collect the little fruit that accumulates at the end, along with the purple gems that act as a collectible money (I assume) for secret levels and / or progress. Paul can hop, ground-pound, wall-jump, and scramble in stages where appropriate, making him faster than the average dog.

Go, go, hook them!

Go, go, hook them!

Although the overall objectives of the game are not entirely original, what does Grapple Dog immediately recommend is the high -flying feeling of freedom. True, you can’t think without thinking what you want, but there are sequences of stages that reflect all that the game can provide as a form of entertainment. Swinging back and forth and getting higher ground; shuffling up and down to avoid buzz jigsaws while suspended above the lava; barreling up tight spaces while nabbing any fruits you can lay. A modern rendition of a 2D platformer with the caution needed to understand what makes a thrilling adventure.

An inevitable energy comes at each stage, encouraging the player to experiment and explore. Well-shared visuals and layouts keep players interacting with the environment, without having to over-explain what to do. (Suppose you’ve played a platformer before.) Access steps are set aside, the default difficulty is a good balance between approachable and destructive of the controller. A natural progression of difficulty is achieved, at least through three specific stages, suitable for the general logic of the player. A remarkable attention to detail in things not generally noticed by many players, but simply expected.

In simple words, Grapple Dog is quite fun. While it took me about an hour to complete all three stages and fight the boss — getting every collectible I could and doing a time test in the first stage — I never got bored. I am ready for more.

Ka-blam-o!

Ka-blam-o!

As things go, though, it’s not an entirely perfect experience. Also in Webbed, auto-targeting for grappling hook shots can be pretty naughty, leading to many seemingly unfair deaths. This is especially noticeable in open areas with a wide variety of different objects to lock-on, as well as faster situations that require quick reflexes. Swing, in general, there is a bit of roughness to it, which can sometimes hinder the fast pace of the stages. A few moving grapple points make this issue less apparent, though for those attached to the ceiling somewhere, I could have reached the sides – killing my momentum – several times as much for comfort.

And while it is a very much minor note, since the performance is generally very good throughout the season, there are times where the game inexplicably freezes for almost a second, scaring me into thinking that the demo has crashed. This happened a few times in the first twenty or so minutes of my playing time.

In fact, you CAN take care of the dog.

In fact, you CAN take care of the dog.

Graphics & Audio – I’m Taking This Dog

To the best of my knowledge, Grapple Dog are mostly employed by one person. He may have brought in a few other people to help with things, but the developer’s name on Steam is simply “Joseph Gribbin,” so I’d like to believe he does pretty much everything. I just wanted to remember how wonderful it was.

However, the game is a bouncy, colorful display of greatness that is perfectly reported for the overall vibe of the adventure. Clear yellows and blues and oranges and reds; most of which means some sort of innumerable mechanic. Some platforms are orange with an arrow on it – they will bounce you. Others are red and have a lot of arrows – the higher they bounce you. Anything blue is usually a grapple point. All of these different color denotations allow for easy understanding of what is and is not accessible at a given moment, in addition to being really beautiful. The three stages shown are within their own unique setting which makes me very curious to see how far the setting type roams.

Here's a sweat level factory - complete with lava!

Here’s a sweat level factory – complete with lava!

Many of the effects are similar. The small details in the animation are striking and charming, like Paul frowning as he presses his head against the ceilings, or the large cloud of dust that gathers as the remains of a robo-baddie fly in. each direction. Many actions such as comics and strokes come on screen with different actions, such as swinging or ground-pounds. It’s all compiled into an exciting set of visual shenanigans that only better enhance the immersive aspect.

Auditorily, I’m not quite as keen on. Grapple Dog, within the development of this demo, there are only a few notable tracks to listen to as one progresses through a stage. While funny and lively, it gets repetitive and repetitive after a while. If I can describe it by comparisons, it reminds me a bit of a ton-down Splatoon. Just a few hours removed from playing the game, I don’t immediately remember how any specific tune goes, so that doesn’t speak much to my love of it. Others may find it worth grooving, but not really for me.

The sound effects of the game are pretty easy to compliment. While again not as expressive as the visual element, listening to Paul rumble around the stages is quite endearing. I like the bombast of crashing into boxes to reveal platforms or fruit, as well as the little jingle that plays when collecting items. There are a number of well-intended noises that fit well with the overall flavor of each stage, whether it’s amplifying underwater, the eruption of lava, or the audible “whooshes” of the swing. As noted before, small details are prevalent, and they are greatly appreciated.

Grapple Dog is previewed via a demo available on Steam.



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