Welcome to Coverage Club, the weekly series where we shift our critical eye towards smaller games that deserve some attention. Each week, our review editors select two titles and provide honest first impressions in the style of our full reviews. Games can range from brand new titles hitting Early Access to older hidden gems that never got their due. No matter your preferences, you’re sure to find something off the beaten path here. This week, Alex digs up the garden in Dig Dog and Sam digs up space gardens in Morphite.
Covered by Alex Santa Maria
I wish that more indie games were like Dig Dog. Whenever I go back to the past to sample some old 8-bit cartridges or a few arcade ROMs, there’s something to the simplicity of it all. Sometimes, a strong concept alongside a striking presentation is all you need, and that’s exactly what Dig Dog offers.
Despite what people my age might assume, Dig Dog is not a clone of Dig Dug, although I’m sure that game came up during development at least once. Dig Dog does involve digging as a dog, but your goal is the simple act of fetching a bone. This is a video game, so there are various blobby creatures in your path. However, the excitement over retrieving bones lets this particular dog dig with a furious intensity.
Moving in any direction will let you dig slowly. Slamming on the dig button will send your dog flying in any number of directions. This can get unwieldy at first, but that’s part of the fun once you get the gameplay’s unique rhythm down. Levels are procedural and short, letting you either jet straight to your cartilage compensation or take a side trip to collect gold and spend it on making your dog dig even better.
That’s all you’ve got. Levels get trickier as you go on, but the unique and simple controls encourage you to push forward. If boredom overtakes you, the game lets you warp ahead to further worlds with generous abandon. If you just want to dig as a dog, you can even avoid the game’s level structure and chill in a relaxing endless mode that forgoes game overs entirely.
No matter how you want to dig into Dig Dog, you’ll appreciate the game’s unique look. The graphics are pixel-based, but the sprites and the environment are in shadow at all times. These contrast with the deep hues of the backgrounds, making each new stage a feast for the senses that keeps up with the game’s blistering pace. Add in a layer of catchy NES-style chiptunes, and you’ve got a game that would fit right in at any arcade I’ve ever been to.
Retailing for just a few bones on Steam, itch, Xbox, and iOS, Dig Dog is easy to recommend to anyone looking for an unassuming retro-styled adventure. The gameplay is easy to pick up and fun to master. There's just enough complexity to keep you going through the game’s four worlds. The game isn’t as good as hanging out with a real four-legged friend, but it has an irresistible charm that brings it pretty close.
Dig Dog was played on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC via itch.io, Xbox One, and iOS.
Covered by Samuel Guglielmo
When No Man’s Sky came out back in 2016, it didn’t quite manage to make the impression people were hoping. While it may not have met expectations, it didn’t stop a lot of other games for targeting a similar idea. Games such as Morphite, a first-person shooter and exploration game where you land on a planet to collect materials. Is it fun, or is this another sky no man should occupy?
You play as Myrah, a young woman who dreams of finding a mysterious rare mineral known as Morphite. When Myrah takes on a job collecting bioscans with her pet robotic cat Kitcat, she stumbles across all the minerals she could ask for. Naturally, she also stumbles across a conspiracy regarding the nature of Morphite and all the people who seem to want it for themselves. Mysterious military organizations and friends becoming enemies is the order of the day here. It’s compelling and good enough to make me want to see how everything plays out.
You’ll be landing on planets and exploring them for new materials and more Morphite. The game isn’t open world survival like No Man’s Sky, but rather each planet serves as a level. You’ll have goals, usually being to find a temple hidden somewhere on the planet and give it a proper looting. Along the way, you’ll collect tools to help you do such, like grenades to destroy cracked walls in your path.
While you’re on these planets, you can spend your time scanning weird alien life forms. Nearly every plant and animal on each planet are scannable, and you can sell these for bits. I wanted to like this mechanic more than I actually did, but I found it ate up a lot of time with me scanning every single object I ran across. Still, it was entertaining to chase after animals and try to scan them.
Not everything wants to be your friend though, and you'll have to fight off hostile monsters. Combat is on the simple side, with you having a lock-on that will keep your gun pointed at enemies. Many of the enemies I fought had little more than simple melee attacks, which meant that combat was little more than running circles and shooting. It's serviceable but noticeably clunky.
Honestly, it’s hard to deny that every part of Morphite is clunky, but man does it throw itself at everything with some sort of contagious zeal that made me keep playing. Enemies will attack while you fly to a new planet, turning the game into a turret sequence. You can explore totally random planets for more artifacts and things to scan. You can land at space stations and talk to the locals to take on side quests for more rewards. It's almost as fully featured as No Man’s Sky, the game Morphite feels like it's trying to emulate. All of this is wrapped up in an awesome low poly look that really makes the game stand out.
So no, this isn't some kind of indie effort that outclasses the AAA version, but it's hard to deny that Morphite is a fun game that honestly tries it's hardest. I'd absolutely love to see its elements fleshed out and expanded upon in a sequel. For now, though this is a great little proof of concept that stands out from the crowd.
Morphite was played on PlayStation 4 using a copy purchased by the player. The game is also available on PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android devices.
What do you think of this week’s Coverage Club selections? Do you know of an overlooked game that deserves another chance? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to follow our Steam Curator to keep up to date with all our reviews.