It’s an accepted fact for most that the Nintendo 64 is a hard console to return to. Sure, Mario and Zelda’s first steps into 3D are stone-cold classics, but Nintendo has no trouble recapturing their glory on the Switch. Outside of nostalgia, a kid isn’t going to go back to Ocarina of Time outside of some sense of duty to the franchise. However, there are some unique things that the N64 and its ilk did, and they’re worth revisiting. Phogs, a physics-heavy platformer starring a two-headed dog, is just the game to do it.
What is Phogs?
I would go into more detail about what Phogs is, but simplicity is key when talking about this one. You and a friend (or you and yourself using both thumbsticks) control the two heads of this CatDog-esque character as it explores a colorful cartoon landscape. You can stretch your body around objects, bite and pull various levers, and bark at everyone you meet. That’s the extent of your actions, but everything’s so wrapped up in a layer of cute and whimsy that you won’t mind the laid-back gameplay.
For my demo, I played through the first level of the Play world. Each world in Phogs centers around what a dog likes best, with the other two themed on Sleep and Eat. As I worked my way through, I used my heads to swing across monkey bars, climb up a windy hill, and chase after a moving train. There were optional goals to help some of the simplistic characters along the way and even a few objects to play with if you wanted to stop and smell the hydrants.
What’s surprising about Phogs is how much there is to the game despite its mechanics. Most physics-heavy experiences end up feeling like sandbox toys rather than full-fledged experiences. Phogs has 21 full linear levels packed with the same kind of activities of a Gang Beasts but combined with a sense of forward momentum. Instead of feeling like a game designed for YouTube compilations, this feels like a game you’ll want to complete and perfect. It’s old school in that way, like an obscure platformer you might have rented at the local Blockbuster.
That’s where the N64 comparisons come in for me. At its core, Phogs takes the ideas of physics games and marries them to something like Banjo-Kazooie. The camera follows you around, but 20 years of progress has ensured that it doesn’t trap itself behind a wall. Each level (which typically takes about 20 minutes to complete) feels packed with mini-games, side activities, and moments of explorations that will charm kids and parents alike.
Phogs for the whole family
Another thing Phogs has in common with its Nintendo ancestors is a family-friendly philosophy. Death isn’t really a factor here, and you’ll bounce back from most bodily harm like a full-blown Looney Tune. That makes the game perfect for kids, and it includes a few puzzles designed to stretch developing minds. Still, whether you’re 3 or 30, this isn’t a game that insults your intelligence. Phogs wants everyone to get in on the fun, and I feel like it accomplishes that goal.
Phogs is currently set for a June release, and it supports both single-player and co-op. You can even play with strangers online if you so choose, although the gameplay is highly susceptible to grieving if you match with an undesirable partner. It’s probably better to stick with someone you know and take a walk in the park with this charming physics platformer. By the end of my time playing, I was as eager as a dog chasing cars to get my hands on more.
TechRaptor previewed Phogs in a closed-doors demo session at PAX East 2020. The game is set to release on PC in Early 2020 with a Nintendo Switch release not far behind.