Review: Phogs! – Utterly Cute And Charming Co-Op Fun
What do you get if you take one part Push Me Pull You, one part Noby Noby Boy, one part CatDog and a weirdly large helping of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons? Depending on which parts you take, you’ll either end up with a tale of fraternal love and body horror, or you’ll end up with Phogs: a game in which you play, simultaneously, as both halves of a two-headed dogsnake.
It’s not as horrific as it sounds. The dear little phoggos, as they’re called, are sweet and adorable, tasked only with biting, snaking, and borking their way through a series of puzzles in order to reach the end of each level. Rather than being cosmic, Lovecraftian horror, Phogs is a physics-based puzzle game, playable either in single player (which is fun, but hard) or cooperatively, through online or local multiplayer.
The phoggos can solve puzzles using their combined brains and a hell of a lot of tube-based manoeuvring. They have no hands, but they can bite things, which means putting levers in their mouths (not recommended) and pulling, or carrying an object through a level. Some objects have the added ability of being transmitted through the phoggo body: biting a fan will make wind come out of the opposite mouth, biting a water outlet makes water come out the other end, and biting a light will, for some reason, turn the other phoggo head into a torch. Don’t think about it too much, ok?
The puzzles range from simple to hard, but in the way a puzzle game should: the difficulty comes not from having zero idea of what you’re supposed to do, but from actually trying to achieve it. The range of puzzles is fantastic, too, with the kind of creativity in mechanics and aesthetics that make every moment a wonderful surprise.
The levels have been sectioned off into the three constituent parts of a phoggo’s life: Food, Play, and Sleep. The Food levels are reminiscent of a Mario Kart track, or the Luncheon Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey: huge corn cobs sit patiently, waiting to be turned into popcorn by your phoggos after they’ve eaten a spicy pepper (which is… not at all how popcorn works, but the world of Phogs plays by its own rules). Characters take baths in chocolate that waterfalls down from a brown river (at least, you hope it’s chocolate). Gigantic watermelons and bouncy pumpkins help the phoggos get to higher levels. The theming is joyful, clever, and always delightful, with each new food-related surprise giving the phoggos new ways to explore and new puzzles to solve.
Like their name implies, the Sleep levels are a little more sedate, being mostly themed around alarm clocks, dreams, and bright, happy nightlights – literally everything has a face, by the way, which (depending on your outlook) is either adorable or swerves swiftly back into body horror. The Sleep levels are swathed in dusty purple, unlike the loud colours of the other levels, and although this gentle theming can provide a respite from the eye-searing variety of the Food and Play worlds, it’s also just a little more boring to look at. It’s still beautiful, but just not quite as interesting.
The Play levels are the highlight of the game, despite having the weakest theming at first glance. It is within this world that you find beaches, theme parks, mini-golf, and the absolutely fantastic arcade-themed level, which has the phoggos competing to beat pinball, air hockey, racing games and bowling. The art is absolutely on-point, from the sticky-looking bowling shoes to the ’90s-style arcade carpet, with neon everywhere and that signature ’80s vaporwave look that was so trendy for a hot minute. It’s genuinely one of the best puzzle levels this year.
There’s so much charm to be found in Phogs, from the way the dogheads fall asleep when you don’t use them often enough to the characters that dwell in each level. And there are hats – the hidden collectables, golden bones, serve as currency to buy these entirely aesthetic add-ons, and they’re glorious.
What’s even better are the co-op modes, both online and local. Single-player Phogs is fun enough, but co-op makes the game sing. There’s nothing like trying to solve a ball-rolling puzzle with another person, whose co-ordination is likely much different to yours, and successful completion of puzzles feels like a testament to your combined skill and communication. You may end up getting divorced or losing a friendship, but if you can’t complete a Phogs level with them, are they really worth keeping around?
Unfortunately, as is often the case with janky-on-purpose physics games, there are a few little flaws here and there. The phoggos can easily get stuck on stuff, a couple of levels had bits that didn’t work, meaning forward progress was literally impossible, and the game did crash to the Switch’s home menu a couple of times. With generous checkpointing, respawns and promised patches, these problems may go away (or at least be manageable), but it’s worth knowing that the game doesn’t run perfectly, at least on Switch.
But Phogs, despite its flaws, is genuine joy in a three-foot dog-tube package. There are so many moments of wonder, like when you realise that the transport from one level to another is a giant worm that eats you, or when you discover the emotes on the D-pad that range from «phoggo crying» to «confused phoggo». Phogs has bucketfuls of charming details that don’t need to be there – the game would work fine without them – but their existence elevates it from a simple physics puzzler to something heart-warming and sunny in a sea of much more serious games. Phogs has the soul of a dog: it just wants to cheer you up, and it does so by being unavoidably enthusiastic, unashamedly cute, and unconditionally loveable.
(And yes, the NPCs can pet the dog.)
Phogs is a genuine dose of unbridled joy in a weird, physics-y, dog-tube package. It’s hard to play this game without having a huge, goofy smile on your face. The Switch version has some minor to major issues here and there, but it rarely slows down the momentum of the puzzle-solving, dog-wiggling gameplay – this is another brilliant co-op experience for Nintendo’s system.
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