by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
It is often difficult to find a game that suits the whole family. It needs to be challenging enough for adults, but simple enough to play for the younger gamers. Games such as Overcooked (and its sequel) are ideal, apart from the yelling at each other when something goes wrong. It is a game with a simple premise and gameplay. PHOGS! too, is a game in a similar vein, with puzzles providing gamers with a challenge, but whilst keeping the game mechanics basic.
PHOGS! has players controlling a two headed sausage-dog like character. And when I say two-headed, I mean a head on each end. Each head is controlled independently, with a single player game requiring the player to control both heads, whilst a two-player game has one player controlling each head. Set in three distinct, yet all vibrantly colourful zones, our titular characters move throughout the 3D-platform style levels and solve puzzles using the various iterations of their characters skills. Our heroes can swing across chasms like a monkey, stretch their body like Elastigirl and push objects around the levels. Puzzles will require them to push levers, raise or lower platforms and work together to press switches at the same time.
The double-ended nature of our Phogs also allows for some comical abilities. With one end attached to a water source, the other end acts as a hose, with water spurting out of the mouth of the opposite end. This enables our characters to reach plants that need to be watered. The same goes if one end eats a hot chilli except the opposite end can now breathe fire like a dragon. And when one end attaches to a refrigerated device, there is a frosty result from the other end. One head can also hold onto a lightbulb which in turn makes the other head act like a torch. Many of the puzzles require the use of these combinations, and although many of them are quite obvious, there is a certain satisfaction when a more complex puzzle comes together.
As mentioned, the game is spread across three distinct areas each linked to a dogs favourite pastimes eating, playing, and sleeping. The first is reminiscent of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with giant food and sweet treats decorating the levels. The second area brings with it a more fairground feeling, with roller coasters, trains, and carnival games such as dodgem cars littering the setting. The third setting has darker colours and gives a night-time ambience that often requires the use of the light globe. But despite the setting being darker in the sleep themed area, there is still the same upbeat and fun atmosphere throughout
Two heads are better than one
The control scheme differs slightly depending on how many players are playing and each style brings with it some advantages and disadvantages. Playing a singleplayer game means that decisions about where to go and how to do things are simple, but controlling both ends of our Phog can be a touch difficult at times. On the other side of the coin though, a two-player game makes it easier to control the Phogs as each player only needs to concentrate on one end but the downfall is having to co-ordinate your moves with the other player. There were times during my playthrough with my daughter that I was asking her where she was going. But either way, the controls are similar. The trigger and bumpers are used to grab objects and stretch the Phog bodies, whilst the thumbstick controls the direction.
PHOGS! does have some issues though. At times - primarily when using the stretch ability - one end of the Phog can get stuck under a platform, and no amount of wiggling around seems to be able to release them. Luckily, there is a respawn function that places our avatar back into a normal position somewhere close to where the incident occurred.
As gamers progress through each of the areas, they will be able to collect bones. Occasionally, the bones are visible, but in difficult to reach locations that require some inventive use of the Phogs abilities. But at other times, villagers will have problems that need to be solved and once completed, will reward our characters with another bone. Apart from the collectible nature of the bones, they are also used as in-game currency. Heading to the shop will enable gamers to kit out our Phogs with various headwear. These hats and ribbons dont have any influence on the gameplay, but they do help to differentiate each of the two heads of the animal particularly when playing with two players.
Games that allow parents and their children to play together - particularly those that are fun for both are difficult to find. And although Phogs has a couple of issues that can make the game frustrating, it is one that has some simple controls that allow gamers of any age to play. The bright colourful cartoon style visuals will also please younger gamers. The puzzles are generally on the easier side, but there are some that do provide for a bit of a challenge, making the game more suitable to those experienced gamers. With the holiday season upon us, there will likely be ample opportunity to game as a family, and PHOGS! fits the bill nicely.
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Fun gameplay, simple controls
Glitches where one end of the character get stuck