Image: Joseph Gribbin/IGDB

‘Grapple Dog’: a platformer that comes out swinging

In the games industry, there’s so often a stress on novelty and innovation that it’s easy to forget that sometimes the best games are the ones that do something familiar and do it well. Not every game needs to reinvent the wheel – I would rather have a good, solid game that works well and is fun than a unique experience that doesn’t land. I mention this because this was my experience playing Grapple Dog. Developed by Medallion Games, Grapple Dog is a 2D platformer that doesn’t revolutionise the genre, but it does everything you want from a game like this – and it does it superbly.

The game was previously released on PC, but saw a new lease of life on Switch in February last year. You play as Pablo, a puppy who embarks on a quest to stop the evil robot Nul from destroying the world. As always, the story is a framework to allow you to test your platforming skills – Pablo is able to do the usual movements, but he also has a grappling hook that enables him to swing over gaps and many other things. New concepts such as bouncy platforms and conveyor belts are introduced gradually, and built upon in a way that feels so natural.

Really, it’s impressive how well Grapple Dog is designed. Every part is so easy to understand, even as new level gimmicks are introduced, and the difficulty level rises at a steady and sensible level. The game felt tough towards the end but never unfair, and that’s a hard balance to strike. It helps that the controls are so simple – the jump, grapple and slam mechanics are each mapped to a button, and the momentum and physics work as you’d expect them to.

Any minor issues don’t matter in the face of successful platforming and a game full of fun

I found Pablo really fun to control, and there’s an optional time trial mode in which you can really test your platforming skills. The main objective, though, is gathering gems and fruit – the former to unlock new levels, the latter essentially to nudge yourself towards the 100%-completion mark. You don’t need to explore, as most of the necessary gems are generally easy to locate, but the game is constructed in such a way that every hidden entryway and grappling point remains an enticing challenge.

It’s also worth noting how good the game looks. Grapple Dog employs a pixel-art style, which looks great and gives Pablo loads of character. The worlds also look alive, and the cast of supporting characters are both cute and frequently hilarious. Everything just pops off the screen, and it’s ably-supported by a bouncy soundtrack that’s a joy to listen to. The sound matches the visuals wonderfully, making everything feel like an adventure, and the final boss theme is very good. (One thing I noticed – when you leave the game idle, Pablo starts dancing, a sign of developer love if I ever saw one.)

As you can tell, I really enjoyed Grapple Dog – it sets out to deliver a charming and tough platformer, and does exactly that. I’m not going to claim it’s a perfect game, but any minor issues don’t matter in the face of successful platforming and a game full of fun. If character-driven platform games are your jam (and frankly, even if they’re not), go and check out Grapple Dog.


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