The core concept of Phogs! is incredibly easy to grasp. You play as a dog with two heads in a physics based platform puzzler. If you’re imagining some kind of Cerberus situation, then allow me to dissuade you from that notion immediately – what Phogs gives you is much more in the CatDog vein. Essentially, you’re a tube with a set of legs and a head at each end.
It’s a simple foundation for a game – and one that might feel familiar for fans of Noby Noby Boy – but one that works brilliantly comedically, visually and in terms of gameplay. Applying this idea to a physics puzzler, you can imagine just how silly things get as you try and stretch one end of your dog to reach a new ledge while the other end is gripped firmly onto a handle below.
Those kind of puzzles are at the simpler end of what Phogs throws at you though, and the variety in the puzzles just in the demo was impressive. Some levels saw you planting seeds to grow flowers that formed bridges, while others had you manipulating cute insects to cut down those same flowers.
However, probably my favourite set of puzzles from the demo came in an area of the game with a dreamland theme. Here you had to use one end of your dog to grab hold of a light source, which caused the other end to act as a torch that could clear away patches of dark fog in the world. It was a simple twist on the mechanics that the game had already presented, but one that quickly blossomed into a particularly charming section of the game.
It also showed how far the game’s simplistic core can be taken. All that you can do in Phogs is move, grip and stretch the two ends of the dog. Essentially you just have to use the two analogue sticks, one for each end, and the two shoulder buttons, enabling single pad play. While the game’s developers, BitLoom, were very clear Phogs is ideally designed for co-op, the ability to get everything on a single pad means you can play solo if you feel like it.
However, if you can get a second controller and play with a friend, you’re certainly going to have a better time. Beyond anything else, Phogs really forces you to communicate and work with another person in a genuinely refreshing way.
There are plenty of co-op games out there, and generally these have you working towards a common goal. However, by basically forcing two players to control different parts of the same character, Phogs really heightens the need to communicate, and leaves you with the feeling that it’d be an ideal game for couples.
Visually, the game’s incredibly cute, with a look and colour palette that’s reminiscent of some children’s animations. Each of the worlds you’ll work through has a clear visual theme to it, but this largely comes down to switching the palette. However, given that each of the game’s levels is relatively small, swapping out the colours works well to differentiate worlds without adding unnecessary complexity.
It’s probably fair to say that on first glance, Phogs probably won’t appeal to everyone. While physics puzzle titles have come back into vogue over the last decade, ever since the release of the first Portal title, a couch co-op physics puzzler with a cute aesthetic certainly feels like it’s different from most of what’s out there right now. However, Phogs really is worth your time, whoever you are. It combines physics puzzle and 3D platforming elements well, and it’s co-op elements are so genuinely refreshing that it’ll bring a smile to almost everyone’s face.