Indie Spotlight – Grapple Dog

Jeremy Peeples4 minute read

Precision platformers have grown in popularity since the rise of the genre with Super Meat Boy in 2010. While the love of the sub-genre has expanded, so too has the demand for games to be accessible for as many people as possible. Platformers have long been viewed as a genre that wasn’t conducive to being accessible, but companies like Nintendo have aimed to change that, while some indie games like Street Cleaner: The Game have upped the ante for the industry in that regard. Precision platformers have lagged behind though, with many still going for a hard-as-nails approach to the core gameplay no matter what. The end result has been gatekeeping the genre from those who would like to enjoy it, but can’t. Thankfully the team at Medallion Games is showing everyone else how it’s done by creating not only something that works as a challenging precision platformer, but also one that is highly accessible.

What’s most impressive with Grapple Dog is just how inviting it is from the moment it begins, and that continues on into every core aspect of the game design. It is a delightful adventure that runs the gamut from platforming to simply allowing the player to enjoy the world. There’s a boat to explore, characters on it to interact with, and even the ability to pet your grapple dog. There’s a lot of charm on display and it makes the game one of the most rewarding platformers to play through simply because every stage opens the door to another new charming thing to enjoy. Having the game mix relaxing moments with platforming is great from a pacing perspective as well.

Blending things up ensures that the platforming never gets old and having a 70/30 mix for the core game and relaxation ensures that the player never forgets the core objective is platforming. Grapple Dog offers up a ton of accessibility options within its core design and then builds on that strong foundation with a few options on their own. Having a boldly-colored cartoon art style helps a lot, as your dog is a solid light brown and the world he’s in has solid colors throughout with thick black outlines. This makes it a breeze to tell him apart from the ground, the sky, water, and parts of the world. The vivid colors are a treat to see and allow the game to be fairly easy to see even on a smaller screen. One huge benefit to the game being designed around being easy to see is that text and icons are bold and fairly large by default.

Grapple Dog doesn’t have a text or UI scaling option, but it also doesn’t really need one. With poor vision, it was still easy to see everything on-screen and while it’s never a bad idea to have more options available to the player, a text and UI scale wouldn’t be needed for most players. It would definitely help to have colorblind options added down the road, but thankfully most of the world’s hazards are things like pits and spikes that aren’t so much color-reliant as something like a lava floor would be.

Grapple Dog allows the player to have unlimited jumping to make traversal easier, and it does that quite well. This is perfect for those who maybe can’t nail the timing and arc of the grappling gun, but still allows for full progress throughout the game. It can also be combined with a turbo function on something like an 8bitdo controller on Switch and PC to basically allow the game to be played by largely holding down the jump button and moving around with the d-pad. It’s remarkably versatile and something that could be baked into the game down the line just by adding in an auto fire-like option for jumping like Mighty Goose had.

Having a platformer be so open ended with its design and how it gives players a fair number of options is nice to see. It’s sad that such a thing is an exception, but it does allow for games that go the extra mile to be recognized more as a result. Having the ability to just go through stages is nice, but being able to explore is great too and helps make longer play sessions more rewarding since the player can soak the world in more. Being able to treat it like a Bionic Commando-style game or a Super Mario-style game while blending in barrel-blasting or focusing on the collect-a-thon aspects, or just having fun with infinite jumps offers something new with every play session. Sometimes, it’s fun to just kick and zoom through a stage as quickly as possible. Other times, the player will be led by a desire to collect everything and search every nook and cranny after coming one collectable short in the prior stage.

Overall, Grapple Dog is an incredibly-accessible game, especially for its genre. Action-heavy platformers are rarely very accessible, and this one handles action, precision, and dexterity-related tasks with a level of freedom that makes it something other developers can learn from. It plays like a dream thanks to enabling the player to have unlimited jumping, and that’s made even more user-friendly to those with turbo controllers. Its bright and bold graphics and large icons and text make it highly-accessible from a visual point of view, but there is room for improvement with UI scaling. Similarly, the audio is great, but doesn’t do much beyond text boxes to help the user know what’s going on.

This article has been transferred from DAGERSystem (now AbilityPoints). Scores, formatting, and writing style may differ from original CIPT content.

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