Dogchild is developed by Animatoon Studio and is a game from an indie studio who won Sony’s first Premios PlayStation in Spain 2014. It started out as an animation project and tells the story about a boy and his faithful dog as they fight crime and save various animals. The game is available on PlayStation 4, but is it worth playing?
You and your dog work together to investigate the disappearance of other dogs from a scenic park. You soon realise that the dogs are being dognapped. You play as both Tarpak and Tarao and switch characters using the touchpad. You use the dog known as Tarao to follow scents and begin to unravel who is behind this mysterious dognapping’s.
I would describe the game as a third-person action mystery where you play as Tarpak, who has parkour skills and his faithful dog Tarao, who has the ability to track scents using his sense of smell. You will also be talking to a woman called Ann, who will help guide you on your journey. The story here doesn’t have that much depth, which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity considering some of the interesting elements in the game, like enemy drones, rescuing animals and the overall sense of mystery. I feel like the game would have been so much more if the developers had included decent cutscenes, dialogue and more of a focus on storytelling. I can see that the game is for a younger audience, but these simple additions would have added a lot more to the overall experience.
The gameplay feels a bit clunky and awkward at times, but it does introduce some interesting mechanics and ideas. I really liked how you can switch between the two characters that have different abilities. Some parts of the game involve you playing as Tarpak to do various elements of platforming, with some shooting style parts. I found controlling Tarpak to be fairly frustrating and would find myself falling off ledges easily and generally feeling clumsy. You will also be throwing objects at enemies, like hovering drones. The enemies are very easy to defeat, it’s just the awkward controls make it feel frustrating and annoying at times.
You can then switch and play as Tarao the dog. This is where the game introduces some slightly more unique and interesting ideas. Tarao can run, bark and pee, which helps distract and cause enemies to slip over. You use your sense of smell to follow scents that lead you to the next objective or location, which is very much like the hunter sense in Far Cry Primal or eagle vision in Assassins creed. If you bark whilst playing as Tarao it will mark a location so that Tarpak can easily find him. The game uses switching between characters to solve various scenarios and events that take place during the game.
The stages and tasks in the game are pretty simple and don’t offer too many challenging moments, apart from the awkward controls. The gameplay is very repetitive and mainly consists of using Tarao’s smell mechanic to find a trail and then following it using Tarpak. I could really see that the game is aimed at a younger audience, which is fine but the controls feel tricky and often glitch at times, which took me out of the experience. There are bosses you will face in the game and these can actually get a little tricky, but nothing too intense. Most of the battles you face are simply about figuring out how to take on the enemies and then rinse and repeat.
One of my real frustrations with the game was the fact that objectives can feel horribly unclear and doesn’t help by telling you where to go next. Also the platforming feels frustrating, with Tarpak missing ledges and mistiming jumps. This was annoying as every time you miss a jump you have to start all over again. I found at times that I was constantly having to restart certain parts before actually moving forward and making any progress. There are also random QuickTime events and other frustrating gameplay moments that leave you think, ‘what could I actually have done to avoid dying here?’
The visuals feel a bit mixed, with colourful and vibrant environments, well designed characters and interesting ideas. The world can feel a bit empty and lacks any real character at times, which would have helped if Tarpak and Tarao were voiced. Also having cutscenes or more of a story would have helped to create a more interesting world to explore. It feels like a game that’s only half way there. I can see some good ideas, interesting gameplay mechanics and vibrant art style, but unfortunately there’s too much holding it back. The game stutters at times and froze completely on me once during my playthrough.
Overall for the developers first attempt at creating a game I have to commend the things they have achieved. The ideas are great and switching between two characters with very different abilities is a nice touch. I would have like the game to have more of a story and possibly have some sort of character voice acting. Also the game can be hugely frustrating with awkward movement and controls. When a game involves platforming it needs to feel responsive and control well in order to feel satisfying. I can see the developers going on to create a better game by taking what they have learnt from this game and improving certain aspects.
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