There's nothing better than a good grappling hook, I reckon. Titanfall 2 knew it, Halo Infinite discovered it, every Spider-Man game lives or dies based on how good its arachnid-flavoured rope feels to fling.
Released this week, Grapple Dog is a charming platformer about a hook-swinging pooch—and boy, if that hook isn't an absolute delight. I've been following this mutt for some time now, watching developer Joseph Gribbin tweak and tinker at the Game Boy Advanced (GBA) flavoured puzzle platformer for the past year or so.
Unlike the looser, freeflying hooks of Titanfall or Halo, Grapple Dog's hook is a very deliberate thing. It can only be fired straight up or at 45 degrees either way. You can't fly in complete circles, either, with your swing stopping at 90 degrees each side. It's limiting, but intentionally so to open up the game's high-flying platforming.
But Grapple Dog's grappling hook has that critical element: momentum. Build up a good swing and you can properly yeet yourself across a stage, exiting at a low angle for maximum velocity as you bound between hookable surfaces. Exiting a swing at a higher angle gives you a slower speed but more control, letting you tackle more precision climbs.
Grappling isn't the only trick Grapple Dog has in its pack, mind. I mentioned a GBA styling to the game earlier, and I can't stress enough how hard that holds. There's a distinct style of pixel art carried by Nintendo's handheld—all chunky, and vibrant with bold outlines—and Grapple Dog's funky MIDI soundtrack goes so hard it could've been lifted from any of the Sonic Advance games.
Mechanically, too, Grapple Dog is a game that feels like it'd slot right in alongside the Gameboy's best—a tight platformer with a charming cast that does one thing really well: pushing that mechanic to its limit and exploring it in creative new ways.
Grapple Dog isn't perfect. The absolute deliberateness of that hook and your jumps means you'll often fail jumps that feel within your reach, and I desperately wish there was more than one music loop per world. But it feels like the kinda game you'd hear in passing conversation about hidden old gems, a mid-00s platformer you'd never heard of that found a cult following beyond the borders of Sonic or Mario.
Grapple Dog is out today on Steam.