Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Big Way Games
Publisher: Big Way
Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.
OneDog Story is a failed Kickstarter tale. Originally promising branching side-quests, deep NPCs and a plethora of locations to explore what we’ve actually gotten is a much simpler game, albeit one that attempts to keep some of its original vision with the inclusion of multiple endings and a few other things. But failure on Kickstarter doesn’t mean failure as a game, and while One Dog Story may not be anything spectacular there’s an enjoyable, straightforward 2D shooter-platformer here that should keep genre fans fairly happy.
You’ll be playing as that one dog mentioned in the name, having awoken in a laboratory of some sort. An ability to speak, a lovely pair of overalls and hat, and several case of stereotypical videogame amnesia all point toward you being a somewhat odd dog, especially when you pick up a baseball bat and start whacking the many creatures roaming the lab before then picking up a gun. Thus begins a crazy tail (hehe) of time travel, an A.I companion called Lillith and even aliens with a surprising melancholy background about a dog and a human.
The overall arc of the story is a lot of fun, and there are multiple endings to discover, including one quite early if you opt to take it, although if you do choose to take it then the game will just wind up depositing you at the last save because obviously the developers don’t want you to miss the rest of the game. Sadly, it’s the moment to moment writing that lets the game down. Without facial animation or voice acting the writer/s struggle to get across the tone through the text alone, their talent not quite managing to match the task, and quite often it felt like pieces of the story didn’t connect properly. Chunks of dialog seem like they were missing sections, and some things that got said didn’t feel like they matched up with what I knew.
Yet beneath those problems it’s hard not to get at least a little caught up in everything. The scientists you meet along the way are completely throwaway characters, but they provide extra snippets of insight into the madness that has taken over. Likewise, computers and diaries help fill in some of the details that don’t get outright explained.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward side-scrolling fare with enemies to kill, bosses to battle and some platforming to be…platformed? The arc of your jump is slightly stiff but you quickly get used to that, and the controls are nice and responsive, so leaping from point to point while avoiding fireballs and other nonsense feels quite solid. And as for killing stuff, you’ll gradually unlock a slew of weaponry, from the simple but always reliable baseball bat to shotguns and even something that unleashes an exploding chicken. It’s not the most versatile or exciting armory aside from the explosive chicken, but it gets the job done. There’s a good variety of beasties and while the boss battles may not break the mould they are thoroughly entertaining, albeit perhaps a little too easy at times. Indeed, the game in its entirety can be a little too easy thanks to the fact that with ranged weapons enemies can often be killed before they even realize you’re there. The game tries to combat this from time to time by almost literally dropping you onto enemies, something that feels a bit unfair. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often.
Along the way things get mixed up a little with water sections, a hoverboard and even a jetpack, but at the core you’ll mostly be wandering into rooms in search of a keycard or part needed to turn on a generator.
There are some design niggles along the way, such as how when searching through trash piles for ammo, health and mutagen said objects get flung seemingly at random, often into nearby pits. It’s a little annoying to be low on health only to watch it get hurled into oblivion by the game’s physics. There’s also wonky hitboxes which you need to get used to or risk getting hit, and an infuriating shake effect on the camera when doing certain things.
Using mutagen gathered from enemies and crates you can upgrade your weapons at specific vending machines throughout the levels. These upgrades degrade as you use the weapons, though. Interestingly, the save points also require mutagen to be activated, costing as much as a weapon upgrade and thus forcing you to choose. Part of me wishes they had gone all out here and doubled the price of save points, just to make the decision truly difficult, because as it was I was generally happy to save the game and then spend whatever was left on the upgrades. Plus, mutagen was rarely in short supply.
Even if you do start to run out the game shoots itself in the foot by having enemies that respawn whenever you move through a door into a different area and then back again, thus it’s possible to farm mutagen until you have enough to upgrade everything, heal and save. Of course, you could simply choose to play “honorably” by not deliberately farming, but it still feels like an obvious oversight by the designers.
Even with these flaws, though, One Dog Story manages to keep you engaged enough thanks to its core mechanics. It trundles along, never leaving you feeling wowed but always being good enough to make you keep plugging away until the end. Some of that probably comes down to its charming aesthetic. The laboratory locale doesn’t provide the most impressive backdrops, but there’s still a pleasing look to the whole thing and the sound design is solid, emulating the classic 8-bit days while tossing in more modern bits and pieces for good measure.
Maybe the developers didn’t get to make the game they truly wanted after the Kickstarter failed, but despite that they’ve still succeeded in making an entertaining side-scroller that has an intriguing story and solid gameplay. It’s not going to amaze anybody or wind up on any lists of the best games of 2017, but that’s fine. Not every game needs to be the next Witcher 3 or The Last of Us. Not every game needs to change the world with its dazzling brilliance. Accept One Dog Story for what it is and you should be happy enough.