What could be better than a dog? The answer is two dogs, obviously, and PHOGS! from developer Bit Loom Games and publisher Coatsink intends to prove this time and time again. PHOGS! is a puzzle adventure game about Red and Blue, the eponymous Phog, which is a dog with two heads, no paws, and the ability to stretch like an elastic tube. One or two players control Red and Blue, solving puzzles and helping strange creatures along the way. The game takes place in a psychedelic fantasy world, full of bizarre creatures and colorful imagery. It’s split up into three worlds based on the things dogs love most: sleep, play, and food. Each world has a hub, six stages, and a boss encounter, as well as plenty of delectable collectable golden bones.
You know what they say about two heads…
As far as adventure puzzlers go, PHOGS! takes its cues from the best of them without overtly copying anything. There are whiffs of Super Mario, hints of Zelda, and even a little Portal in the mix. There’s a major focus on physics in the puzzle-solving and exploring, (Phogs is short for “physics dogs.”) and the exploration feels comfortably familiar. The game plays with gravity, inertia, and timing to deliver a fun experience as you guide Red and Blue throughout the various worlds.
The visuals are incredibly bright and positively adorable. In fact, the pastel colors and cel-shading combined with the goofy music and the wacky physics make it feel like you’re playing a cartoon. Moments that might be frustrating in another game — a missed jump, clipping through the wall, your character careening off the edge due to a plan gone horribly wrong — are hilarious instead. It helps that the game isn’t very difficult and that checkpoints are plentiful, of course.
There’s a fair bit of environmental world-building going on in the background, as well. The game starts with Red and Blue waking up in a temple after taking a nap under a two-headed statue. However, aside from the worms, which are more pneumatic tube than character, this is the only two-headed creature in the game. Noticing details like this pays off as you go along.
Finally, the denizens of this world love Red and Blue, and the chaotic canine is more than happy to help with their requests. Many creatures will reach down and pet them if you go within their reach. Even the boss encounters involve manipulating the environment rather than directly striking the foe — everyone is a friend, and sometimes friends need help. There’s kindness oozing out of every pixel, and it’s such a refreshing thing to see.
PHOGS! isn’t all treats and chin scratches, however. The camera is used to great effect in a handful of puzzles, specifically the ones where a sleeping giant is dreaming about a bridge that you can cross. The rest of the time, the lack of control often leads to missing jumps or, worse, not being able to see what you need to in order to progress. In fact, just about every stage has a point where the camera swings wildly around to provide a new angle, and you’ll have to adjust your trajectory on the fly.
Additionally, the controls are very loose, and simply moving your character around has a fairly steep learning curve. In solo play, the left side of your controller is for Blue, the right side for Red. Sometimes you’ll get stuck on a piece of scenery, which is annoying even if you aren’t trying to solve a timing puzzle with an incredibly tight window. Very often, the two halves will snap back together at the worst possible moment, throwing your entire sequence into chaos.
The duality of Phogs
PHOGS! is clearly a game designed with two players in mind. That’s not to say that playing by yourself is bad, but the lack of human connection is noticeable. Ideally you’ll have someone else beside you in this adventure. Sadly, this means that it’s releasing in quite possibly the worst time imaginable for a couch co-op game with the pandemic. There’s also an online mode, where you can invite a friend to join in the fun or get together with a random stranger (NSO subscription required).
For this review, I played with my sister in the same room, with my best friend over the internet using voice chat, and by myself, each for at least two hours. The solo experience was alright, and the online mode was admittedly rather fun. However, given the choice, I’d pick couch co-op every time.
Who’s a good abomination of nature? You are!
Overall, I greatly enjoyed the PHOGS! experience. The fiddly controls and wild camera couldn’t put a damper on the joy of playing as a dog going around and helping wacky creatures. Besides solving puzzles and helping weirdos, I loved getting to explore the vibrant cartoony worlds, taking in the adorable music, and barking for no reason at all. It was a wonderful treat that I hope to share with more friends some time in the future. In the meantime, there are still a bunch of collectable bones to fetch and one very good dog to pet.
A review code was provided by the publisher.