“Are you playing the doggy game?”
That is the question my 2 year old gave me the other day as he ran into my office after a nap.
The doggy game is Dog Sled Saga, described by it’s developers as “a simple arcade racing game where you throw food to your dogs, surrounded by a rich team management layer.”
So my kiddo likes the doggy game. He likes that they all wag their tails and they bark, he likes when I throw the dogs treats and they eat them, and he especially likes that you can pet the dogs (which, on the iPhone, he liked even more).
I also like the doggy game. It oozes charm with it’s attractive pixel-art style, a fun soundtrack, and dogs (I was always going to like it because of the dogs). The racing gameplay is simple and works well with mouse or touchscreen (they demo’d at PAX with an NES controller, but I’ve not tried that at home), with simple touch/release commands and some swiping, but it’s more than enough to keep you active during a sled race.
Aside from being one of the easiest titles to share with my little ones, it’s one of the better strategy/management sims in recent memory - the game is deceptively simply in presentation, but quite a bit of depth is there to be found.
Based on our discussion with Dan (half of the development team), all that strategy influence quickly comes into focus, as he cites inspirations like “....tactical RPGs like XCOM or Valkyria Chronicles where you have this team of underlings who have ups and downs with consequences if you don’t do well. I thought the idea of doing that with pets would be really fun.”
It all makes perfect sense once you break down the structure of the game; select your squad (dogs), train/equip/upgrade, then go out on a mission (or a race in this case). Depending on how well you do during the race, your team members will come back with different perks or ailments to be addressed. Rinse and repeat with increasing difficulty and options as you progress.
Those options though - that’s where that XCOM comparison goes even deeper. Need more dogs to progress into higher level trainer licenses? You have to expand the kennel. Now you have more dogs; how do you train them all? By hiring staff to help you. As dogs level up from race experience, they are able to become proficient in certain roles. Certain dogs have rapport with one another and perform better together.
Even the dogs themselves have additional depth to discover. As you race with them, they can develop strengths or faults that you have to account for when building a team or the kind of race you’re taking on next.
And then, depending on your ability to lead the team during races, dogs can level up faster and gain fame and popularity. Have famous dogs? Now you have sponsors offering you better equipment or money to help cover kennel costs.
But, you know, aside from all that, it’s a pretty simple game.
While I invested more than a few hours into the game on PC when playing the beta, the full release included a mobile version has (predictably) increased my playing time. Nothing is lost in translation - in fact, touch controls might even be the better option for this game (certainly for petting the dogs).
Only quibbles i have with the game; it’s sometimes hard to tell which dogs are tired during a race when lot is going on, but maybe that’s intentional. I also have had semi-regular app crashes on iOS, but hopefully those get tracked down and resolved. Otherwise I don’t have much to complain about.
The game certainly isn’t for everyone. If you’re not a fan of strategy games, dogs, snow, or having your pants charmed off, then this game isn’t for you. Pixel art is always a subjective matter, so maybe you don’t dig the game because of that. It is certainly a more casual title which turns off some.
But, my kid loves it. I do too (even without his input). It’s a bunch of fun that you don’t have to take too seriously; just enjoy some dogs and some sled races. The added depth just gives you many more reasons to keep coming back.