Despite what that dogs-playing-poker painting would have you believe, dogs are pretty bad at doing human stuff. Asking a dog to run a dishwasher, manage an election campaign, or compose a heartbreaking piece of art probably wouldn't end well. To pluck an example out of the air, if dogs had to colonize a post-apocalyptic world devoid of humans, they'd almost certainly run it into the ground, right? Well, indie platformer Dogworld begs to differ. You are the last human in a world overseen by a creepy AI and populated entirely by dogs on the surface. It's up to you to discover the truth behind what happened to your kind.
Dogworld is rather lovingly rendered in a classic 1-bit retro visual style, utilizing that black-white-and-red palette beloved of games like Downwell and Undertale. It's effectively a mixture of Cave Story and Gato Roboto, an offbeat tale that never feels self-conscious or parodic but that still presents a bizarre, intriguing world to explore. Gameplay-wise, it takes a few cues from Cave Story, too. It's a semi-linear Metroidvania-style shooter with plenty of weapons to find, areas to explore, and strange mutated dog-creatures to defeat. Does Dogworld have what it takes to join the aforementioned indie pantheon, or will its bark be worse than its bite?
Dogworld Tells A Surprisingly Intricate Story
Despite its relatively small scope and brevity, Dogworld's story is pretty well-formed. As the game begins, you are one of many humans encased within "protective" pods underground. Daddy, the rather unfortunately-named AI who governs your life, delivers a history lesson about the world as it once was. Catastrophic circumstances forced you and your fellow humans into this facility, and Daddy, as he tells it, is your unwavering protector and father figure. Of course, it's not long before a mighty earthquake shakes your pod loose and forces you out into the great wide world, and - wouldn't you know it - Daddy wasn't telling you the whole truth.
What follows is a rather strange odyssey through a world in which the only speaking roles are dogs and Daddy's robots. However, it's not quite as quirky as the setup would have you believe. The actual story itself is rather straightforward: dogs good, Daddy bad, stop Daddy from recapturing you and all the dogs on the surface. There's quite a detailed and involved backstory to discover, but it's unfortunately delivered almost entirely through text logs strewn throughout the world. A little more environmental storytelling and a little less tell-don't-show wouldn't have gone amiss.
With that said, Dogworld is mostly successful in its storytelling. The characters are broad, but they're likable, and the details that are revealed paint an intriguing picture. There's nothing here you haven't seen before, but Dogworld fleshes out its world and its characters with aplomb, making for a well-told and well-crafted narrative. The brevity of the story overall is a bit of a stumbling block, though. It doesn't feel like Dogworld quite has time to tie up all its loose ends, so it's more of a thumbnail sketch of a world than a complete picture. Still, that the story is involving at all is an achievement in and of itself.
You Can't Teach Dogworld New Tricks
At its core, Dogworld is a classic side-scrolling shooter. Initially, you only have access to the Plasma Rifle, a conventional machine gun-style weapon. As the game progresses, you'll also gain new weapons right out of the classic shooter playbook, including a shotgun, a sniper rifle, and a rocket launcher. You can upgrade these weapons to give them extra functionality, but for the most part, they operate exactly as you would expect. Falling back on conventional weaponry isn't necessarily a point against Dogworld, but given the imagination on display in the world design, it's a shame there isn't a more interesting or imaginative arsenal to have fun with.
Thankfully, the moment-to-moment gameplay is great fun. Dogworld's weapons feel chunky and cathartic to use, and there's a wide range of enemies on which to use those weapons. Movement is fluid and intuitive, so navigating Dogworld's often massive and intricate stages doesn't feel difficult or frustrating. It's a relatively brief experience, but each new level introduces new enemies to battle, and you'll need to be clever with your weapons if you want to get out of combat encounters unscathed. There's nothing new here, but the tried-and-tested approach works in Dogworld's favor.
Dogworld's weapons feel chunky and cathartic to use.
Unfortunately, the difficulty doesn't quite hold up to the same scrutiny. Some enemy placements feel brutally unfair, as they're able to get attacks off before you can see them. When you've been hit, you don't have long before you're vulnerable again, and it feels like some enemies exploit that. It's possible to lose huge chunks of your health in a tiny space of time if you're not careful. Dogworld's gameplay feels like it should be breakneck and fast-paced, but the enemy design forces a cautious stop-start approach that feels completely at odds with the cathartic abandon of the gunplay.
Dogworld Can Be A Ruff Experience
Despite Dogworld's classic approach to gameplay, parts of it still feel poorly-implemented. One of the weapons is a barrel launcher that can be used to pick up and fire explosive barrels in the game world. This weapon feels clunky and irritating, and I never quite got the hang of exactly how it was supposed to be used. Unfortunately, Dogworld contains numerous puzzle sections involving this weapon. These sections force the pacing to completely plummet, asking you to stop in the middle of high-octane shooting action so you can angle a barrel launch just right.
Even when the shooting is uninterrupted, Dogworld's approach to visual design can make it feel frustrating and badly balanced. Visually, Dogworld has a retro 1-bit aesthetic with a very limited black, white, and red color palette. It's stylish and well-crafted, but it doesn't gel with the core gameplay. There are moments when enemies are completely impossible to see because they're indistinguishable from grass or ground textures. One weapon upgrade, in particular, applies a red "burning" effect to enemies, but some bosses' tells are dependent on being able to see their faces, which the burning effect makes impossible. This kind of sloppy design mars an otherwise perfectly enjoyable experience.
During the latter half of the game, every single boss fight crashed at least once, forcing a restart.
Sadly, Dogworld also hit me with more than its fair share of glitches. Most of the experience was smooth, but during the latter half of the game, every single boss fight crashed at least once, forcing a restart. Bosses can be a little bullet sponge-y, so being forced to restart a battle I'd almost won due to circumstances beyond my control felt inordinately frustrating. This happened three times during the final boss fight, which is lengthy and has multiple stages. For the most part, Dogworld is a bug-free experience, which is admirable, but this is a major problem that severely impacted my enjoyment.
Dogworld | Final Thoughts
All in all, Dogworld is a perfectly fine shooter. It doesn't do anything at all to reinvent the wheel, and its story is less quirky than it thinks it is, but it's a fun ride while it lasts. The shooting is satisfying, with enemy variety catering well to the different weapons on offer. It's just a shame that uneven difficulty and some pretty deadly bugs prevent Dogworld from the retro greatness to which it aspires. With more polish and a slightly more forgiving approach to difficulty, Dogworld could be a truly good boy. As it stands, it's deserving of a few treats, but it needs some more training. Oh, and one more thing: you can't pet all the dogs, but you can pet some of them, and that's good enough for me.
TechRaptor reviewed Dogworld on PC via Steam using a code provided by the developer.
- Shooting Feels Great
- Well-Told Story
- Smooth Controls
- Frustrating, Uneven Difficulty
- Muddy Visual Design
- Game-Killing Bugs