What is it? Two phogs, one pup.
Expect to pay $25/£23
Developer Bit Loom Games
Reviewed on GeForce GTX 1650, AMD Ryzen 5 3550H, 8 GB RAM
Multiplayer Two players local or online
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
Would you classify this game's protagonists as 'cute', or 'a horrific monstrosity that defiles the very concept of nature'? I think I'll go with 'both'. It's still fashionable to put in a claim of cognitive dissonance, after all. I'm not ashamed to say (perhaps I should be) that, when I first saw this double-headed… thing, the question that immediately sprang to mind for me was "how does it poo?". This is not, sadly, something that the game ever addresses.
The phogs have two heads, no legs, the ability to stretch like that toffee you can never seem to find any more, and—most importantly of all—a variety of hats to unlock. Each level has golden bones to find, and these are used as currency in the hat shops. The hats don't grant any special abilities, unless you count the ability to make your freakish pup faces look even cuter.
Levels are split across three worlds based on phoggy concepts; food, play, and sleep. Each world contains six platform-puzzletastic stages, and, well… not a boss fight, but a boss experience. When playing solo—and I'm going to assume use of a gamepad, which is definitely the best way to play—each phog is controlled individually. The left side of the pad controls movement, stretching, and grabbing (and barking!) for one, the right side for the other.
Although this freakish body places limitations on you and the phogs themselves, there are advantages too, which are exploited throughout in many clever ways. Can't cross that gap? No problem, bite onto these conveniently placed pegs, and swing from one to the other until you're over the other side. Need to water that plant? Get one phog to bite onto the nearby water pipe, and let the other one vomit the water out where you need it. Best not dwell on the mechanics of that one.
Puzzles get more complex and interesting than that. Some activities aren't even really puzzles at all, though—and these are some of the best moments in the game. The Play area is easily the highlight of PHOGS!. Bouncing around slightly awkwardly in a pinball machine, working in tandem to play a motorbike arcade game, playing giant hook-a-duck… it's great fun whether playing alone or in co-op.
I played most of the game with a friend, which brought out the best and the worst to be had from the experience. Local co-op is an option—which is brilliant—but I played online. When controlling just one phog, you're given control of the whole pad in a more traditional manner (both sides function the same), which removes the playful awkwardness of playing alone. No complaints in that respect at all.
Naturally, when playing something puzzle-based with a friend, you can bounce ideas off one another to progress a little faster. The opposite happened to us on more than one occasion, though, where we missed an obvious solution by overthinking things. This isn't the game's fault, of course, but it is one indication that almost all of the puzzles are incredibly simple. Solo or co-op, I never hit anything that stumped me for long.
I'm all for games that refuse to spite the player, and I consistently enjoyed my time with the adorable affronts to nature; but I feel that the game generally offers an enjoyable plateau rather than an experience with regular highlights. That's not necessarily a bad thing. More of an issue is the fact that online play opens the game up to bugs, glitches, and disconnections.
Despite the fact that we never played a whole level without issues, and occasionally had to reload a checkpoint, things never stopped being fun. This is in no small part thanks to the presentation. The wonderful, slightly surrealist art design is equal parts cute and fascinating (and—now and again, it must be said—unintentionally disturbing). It gives the already memorable and varied tasks a strong, utterly delightful flavour. Making a giant pizza via cannon, sneaking past birds with spotlights for heads, and even just being petted by a huge teddy bear, looks as good as it feels.
Each world is dotted with NPCs, but you're not going to be picking up epic sidequests. Some of them want something in exchange for a golden bone—as evidenced by a thought bubble above their head—but generally, they're just there to add to the joy of the environments, or for a bit of the aforementioned petting. Some even make themselves useful, such as plant-eating creatures, or distressed-looking anthropomorphic alarm clocks.
We had a lot of laughs along the way, and not only because I am of course naturally hilarious (ahem). Things going wrong are just as enjoyable as things going right, and twice as likely to spark a giggle. Mistiming a swing or a jump on my own is a minor inconvenience that I'm happy to bounce back from. Doing the same with a friend tends to result in half-pained laughter, and unspoken (or spoken) blame. That was your phog that messed up, right? Just don't talk to me about trying to operate a comically large pair of scissors. Ugh—very briefly not much fun.
With the three main worlds completed, one final gauntlet of tasks remains. I won't go into detail; despite the minimalist and abstract storytelling, it feels like a spoiler, and there are some great moments in there best experienced fresh. Overall though, it feels just a little dry and disappointing compared to what has come before. Once this final part of the adventure is complete, whether or not you'll go back is entirely dependent on your urge to mop up any missed collectibles. And your love for decorating physically impossible mutant dogs.
If you're looking for an antidote to the endless parade of grimdark RPGs and games dedicated to killing, this is a great choice. It's all about friendliness and joy. Great alone or a guaranteed source of fun and teamwork with a friend, you'll be happy to see your monitor get phoggy.