Friends aren’t always on the same page, yet your differences make your friendship exciting. In that way, friendship is a lot like a double-sided sausage dog. The double-sided sausage dog is a walking, barking disaster. Yet together, its two halves can solve the toughest of puzzles. Perhaps not very quickly nor efficiently, but certainly in the most entertaining manner. PHOGS! is the premier co-op adventure for friends of any age. Every second of the game is a new opportunity for friendship-fueled hilarity.
PHOGS!’s controls and concept remind me very much of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Not only does Brothers feature two characters controlled via a single controller, it’s also my favorite game of all time. But while Brothers is meant to be single-player “co-op,” PHOGS! basically demands you share your controller with a friend. (It can be played with the keyboard, but I wouldn’t recommend anything but a gamepad). That all-important social element contributes to a truly fulfilling emergent adventure.
It’s a toy box for you and friend, and it definitely looks the part as well. The cutesy, colorful visuals evoke the childlike wonder that you thought you lost. PHOGS! is loaded with so many friendly color palettes and shapes that I was surprised Keita Takahashi’s name wasn’t attached to it. The warm soundtrack and quirky sound design add even more charm to the experience. Its diverse sights and sounds are complemented by its equally diverse levels. The game plays just as well as it looks.
Built for two
Sausage dog’s blue half is handled with the left side of the controller, its red half with the right. Using their respective joysticks, the two friends can maneuver their good boys around the level. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the two puppers are conjoined at the hip, meaning movement is limited. You’ll have to work together, so you’d best agree on where you’re headed. Using your respective triggers, you can stretch the sausage to reach things just out of range. Or, just to mess with your buddy. The latter is more worthwhile.
The dog is as slippery as an eel, and a prime target for the game’s zany physics. Walking steady on platforms might just be the hardest part of the game, if you can’t cooperate. Stretching out the dog and letting go also produces a hilarious rubber band effect. It’s worth it just to mess around with its mechanics for a while. Screwing around won’t save the world, however. You’ll need to make use of your bite to manipulate objects and all sorts of doodads. The dogs act like a conduit for different elements as well. Your friend could latch onto a water spout while you fire out water like a hose.
The puzzles of PHOGS! are a combination of physics-based tomfoolery and cooperative tasks. The name of the game is to learn what different tools do, and how they interact with each other. Growing a large fruit creates a platform, but also attracts munchlets. Light orbs create bridges out of thin air, but dispel the platforms you needed after. Putting your heads together is only half the work, executing is an entirely different story. You’re also on the clock for many of the puzzles. As your teamwork improves, so too does your pace.
Worlds of possibilities
The puzzles accommodate PHOGS!’s floaty physics and slippery movement brilliantly. Each one is fairly lenient, but more significantly, airtight in its design. There’s just enough space for you and your friend to perform a little skip here and there, just to feel clever. Though, the cost of failure is getting wedged into awkward spaces. The game’s physics and colliders are far from perfect, but it’s easy to shrug off given the laughs they bring. Luckily, there’s a handy respawn button and generous save points. Every level is chocked full of obstacles that facilitate creativity and teamwork, leading to hilarious, emergent outcomes. Yet still, each one demands you master the necessary mechanics together — no easy skips allowed.
PHOGS! features three worlds built around three unique themes: food, play, and dreams. Every world has its own ethos, and spotlights different level layouts and mechanics. Levels are selected in hub worlds, which expand as more levels are completed. Each world contains six levels, with a puzzle gauntlet boss fight to make seven. Seven levels per world when there’s only three isn’t too substantial. The game can be completed in under six hours. But, the love and care put into each one can’t be ignored.
Levels also have separate sub-themes. If you’re in the food world, then the theme of a particular level might be dessert. More importantly, you will find new contexts to test existing mechanics while being introduced to more in the process. The strings of puzzles in each level get increasingly more elaborate, opening the door to more opportunities for expression and creativity. In one level, we had to customize a giant pizza, using a cannon to fire toppings at the base. Every playthrough with a new friend is a different story to tell.
Teamwork makes the dream work
In each hub world are shops that sell myriads of hats for your wearing pleasure. Hats are paid for using golden treats, which are scattered throughout the levels — each home to an average of four. Many are hidden just out of view, though, most require solving a special puzzle. Nothing too tasking, but both players should keep an eye out. I managed to stumble across the majority of the treats during my playthrough, leaving only a few left to find in each world. Completionists won’t have a tough time with PHOGS!, but levels are worth replaying just to mess with your friends anyways.
PHOGS! is a well-rounded co-op puzzler with a lot of great ideas and terrific execution to accompany them. The zaniness of the character controller combined with its elegant and diverse puzzle design is a recipe for fun. Likewise, you can’t argue with its whimsical stylings and penchant for absurdity. Just remember that despite there being two players, one controller playstyle is in fact, the best way to play.