Gotta walk together, gotta sing this song.
Multiplayer shenanigans in fantastical lands manifested through the eyes of two curious, conjoined pups awaits anyone looking for cutesy puzzle-platforming adventures in PHOGS! Following suit with split-controller predecessors, such as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, PHOGS! breaks the player’s brain as you literally must split your controller inputs between the doggie-duo, unless a player two can be found in the real world to share in the fun. Regardless of how you play, PHOGS! entertains and amuses from start to finish, even if most of what you’re embarking on (yes) is meant for younger audiences or newer gamers, where only some slight awkwardness in the controls stands in your way.
Red and Blue are the adorable pair you’ve partnered up with for this one, and if they aren’t just the goofiest good boys (or girls) you’ll have the pleasure of playing with. The worlds ahead are Food, Sleep, and Play, in traditional canine fashion, where themes and ideas couldn’t be more on the nose. The journey is filled with puzzles galore, with nothing really deep to explain Red and Blue’s origin or how they came to these lands, but all in all it’s about the journey, which is adorable at the very least.
If constant puzzle-solving is your cup of tea, then I’ve got a whole pot on the stove for you. Making your way through each stage consists of you wiggling from puzzle to puzzle, opening paths of travel, to simply find the end pipe and move on to the next area. Usually done through putting items in certain places, biting onto certain things, or utilizing Red and Blue’s ability to become a flashlight or hose, nothing fancy or tricky awaits. Considering PHOGS! is clearly meant to allow for anyone to jump in and have an enjoyable experience, that hampers those puzzle-aficionados’s hardcore brain-twisters from existing in these worlds. Even though experienced players might find PHOGS! a bit tedious with the lack of major difficulty, the “boss battles” really amp things up, and this outing is simply amusing throughout. Bark-spamming and all.
While the regular stages are engaging enough, it is the final route that really makes the whole experience worth it. While not really “boss battles” in a traditional sense, these long-form puzzle-fights have you taking everything you’ve learned from the previous areas to make your way through a magnificent structure that felt, at times, like raiding a castle or stronghold. While still maintaining enough fluff to be player-friendly, this is where the veterans will find solace.
Maneuvering this tag-team is—to be blunt—kind of a pain in single player. When playing co-op, these issues are mostly alleviated, but playing by yourself adds more frustration than a self-inflicted difficulty bump. Platforming takes more of a back-seat, at least in the classic sense, so nothing gets out of hand or needs major dexterity, but the fact that slapping around on flat surfaces feels so wonky is a little bit of a turn-off. Also, due to the necessity of using all four bumpers for biting and stretching, you are forced to regularly hold onto the controller in a less-than-traditional way, which felt odd to this reviewer. To be fair, split-control schemes like this aren’t the norm, but regularly needing to think about how you need to manipulate your hands rather than the characters in the game isn’t ideal (think I Am Bread or Octodad: Dadliest Catch).
The soundtrack is whimsical and relaxing and the art style a simple, pastel landscape of fun. Every section of the game offers interesting characters to meet and beautiful sections to stare at, making the adventure even more worth frolicking through. Besides a couple of slight hiccups in frames during load times, performance maintained well enough throughout as well.
PHOGS! is as delightful as it is unique and entrancing. While the controls are a little tough to get the feel of for solo-players, teaming “pup” with a friend allows for an experience that, though mostly on the easy side, guarantees the player a thoroughly good time—especially in the boss stages.