When asked “What is best in life?” Conan should have said doggos. Doggos are best in life. Presumably, that’s why in the game Phogs!, you play as both Red and Blue, a magical double dog, linked by a stretchy belly. Picture a sausage dog with a head on both ends, that’s also somehow made of rubber — that’s you.
At its core, Phogs is a relatively simple puzzle adventure game. One end has a blue collar, the other a red collar, and you control both simultaneously (or control one half of the double dog with a friend in co-op). You bite onto things, stretch around or across things, and use a combination of these two commands to solve the puzzles spread out across the world at large.
Since you’re basically a double-headed hollow flesh tube (which is, incidentally, the worst thing I have ever written), a lot of the puzzles involve acting biting and dragging things or acting as a hose — connecting two outlets to direct water from A to B, and watering plants or filling up pools as your cute little dog brain(s) see(s) fit.
You can also bark at things and emote at the person sitting next to you, but that does nothing other than tell the person next to you that you failed to bite onto the thing you’re trying to bite and that you’re passive-aggressive, respectively.
Mechanically, this all makes the game very simple. Despite this, there is quite a lot of gameplay you can get out of this game — too much I would argue, as Phogs feels roughly a third too long.
One of the things you quickly realise, as you embark on your adventure, is that though the puzzles are themed around the three different worlds of play, sleep and eat – the three things that dogs care about — they are all much of a muchness. There’s only so much you can do with two commands.
This all, unfortunately, makes the game feel very repetitive. With each world having six levels and a boss, and with each level split into around five zones linked by a double-ended snake, that’s a lot of very similar puzzles that you need to work your way through.
Generally speaking, this level of repetition would mean you get through the game pretty quickly, but Red and Blue handle like a greased-up snake on an ice rink, which really slows you down.
Not only is it hard to control, but the fixed camera isn’t always great at helping you through the world. You’ll frequently find yourself sniffing out a collectable or looking for a solution, only to wind up getting stuck behind something a hedge. Frustratingly, this tends to end with you either wiggling yourself off the ledge or just manually respawning at the nearest checkpoint.
All of this is compounded by how buggy the game is. From the opening telling you that Bite and Stretch are on the wrong buttons, to constantly getting caught on the scenery, there is a lot in this game to annoy.
This brings us to the unfortunate lack of a story. Although Phogs doesn’t necessarily need one, it would have been nice to have some sort of narrative to hang the experience on. Instead, you’re left asking questions like: What the hell is going on? Who gave Red and Blue their coloured collars? Why the hell am I playing as a hollow flesh tube?
If there was a supposed reason why Red and Blue are doing what they’re doing, there may be a more compelling reason to play the game other than that it is heckin’ cute.
And the game really is cute; the visuals are lovely and the idea of a double-headed dog plodding off on an adventure will melt any dog-lover’s heart. This is why I am so disappointed that the game is so frustratingly dull towards the end. Simply put, it outstays its welcome.
As it stands, the story is that Red and Blue go and get three magical McGuffins and bring them back to the home base.
Yep. The game about dogs is secretly just a fetch quest.
If you can get past the repetition and are just itching to play the game, it’s still an experience worth pursuing. There is fun to be had, perhaps playing through the game with your kid, figuring out the puzzles together. However, if you have kids that are prone to bickering, the heavy controls will probably lead to frustration and fighting, so bear that in mind.
There’s also a fair amount of longevity — not that the game needs it — in the form of collectibles, with each level having a scattering of golden bones and a ‘boingle’ (it looks like the pokemon Roggenrola, but Google assures me it’s actually a type of dog). The bones can be used to purchase hats from each of the world’s hat stores. Who doesn’t love a dog wearing a little hat?