Introducing: PHOGS! Switch Preview
PHOGS! is a strange game to discuss, as it simultaneously defies characterization while also being elegantly simple. Short for Physics Dogs, this title places its players in charge of a curious dog who has heads on both ends of its body. When playing in co-op, as I did when I checked this game out at the Coatsink booth, each person assumed control of one end, having to work together to solve various environmental puzzles. PHOGS! is one of the most eclectic and charming titles I played at PAX East, and stands poised to be the Switch’s next great local multiplayer adventure.
One Goofy Doggo
During my time with PHOGS! I was treated to vertical slice of the game in which I got the opportunity to understand acutely just how wonderfully bizarre the title is. Immediately, I was all smiles. The demo dropped myself and my partner right into the heat of the action asking us to lead our conjoined pup through the whimsical and otherworldly pastel landscape of PHOGS!. As we both reached for the sticks to guide our shared furry fellow forward, its two ends began herking and jerking forward. I erupted with laughter, wiggling our dog all the while making ample use of the dedicated bark button (a favorite feature of mine).
As soon as I had taken control of the dog, I realized just how unapologetically goofy PHOGS! really is. The dog is animated much like a limp noodle, with its floppy midsection bouncing and jumping all over the place as we proceeded through the demo. During our session, we fell out of the map at a few points, and as our dog plummeted to its doom, we were welcomed into oblivion by our dog spastically wiggling and wobbling into the great unknown, which was entertaining every time it happened.
Pups, Puzzles, and Physics
On a practical level, we used his questionable genetic structure and physics to solve all manner of zany puzzles. At one point on our demo, I attached the mouth on my end of the dog to a water spigot. By doing so, water flowed right through our dog, essentially turning us into a fire hose. As such, my partner stretched his side of the dog as far as it would go, aiming the geyser of water that spewed from his mouth onto a seed, growing the bouncy flower we needed to progress. At another point, we used our dog’s limp midsection to cradle a glowing ball, gently guiding across precarious pathways. We even used our dog like a slinky, attaching ourselves to outcroppings by our mouths and swinging our dog end for end across a gap.
While the game is primarily focused on puzzle-solving, PHOGS! also leaves ample time for the player to simply be amused by the game’s world. There is plenty of food for the dog to eat, which appears visually as a gigantic lump in its midsection, for no reason other than the intrinsic, comedic value of such a thing. There are also plenty of wildly imaginative NPCs inhabiting PHOGS!, who ask you to do things such as make them popcorn. Of course, there is also the pink, snake like creature who stands poised at the end of each area, waiting with an open mouth for the player to fling the dog into its gullet, all for the purposes of transportation to the next area. If such descriptions didn’t reveal already, PHOGS! is certainly a bizarre experience.
No Bones About It
Just because the game has an intentionally outrageous physics engine and world, though, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Several games have adopted something of a meme aesthetic, not taking mechanical competency seriously, finding popularity though sheer absurdity. While PHOGS! adopts some of those visual stylings, it certainly isn’t that sort of game. To the contrary, PHOGS! is expertly crafted.
During my time with the game, it was immediately apparent that a lot of time went into the game feel as it strikes an excellent balance between intentional chaos and empowering control. The design philosophy on display in PHOGS! is simple and effective, acting as a conduit for eclectic puzzles and exploration. While I only saw a taste of what the game has to offer, its environments are dense with secrets and collectibles for those who approach PHOGS! with a fine-tooth comb. While largely straightforward, its puzzles felt intuitive and tactile, much like its movement systems. The exterior of PHOGS! adds texture and personality, while its interior backs up that zaniness with truly elegant design.
The Bottom Line
With all of that in mind, I left my demo confident that PHOGS! will be a wonderfully charming co-op adventure when it launches later this year. While it can be experienced in single-player, this game begs to be played with another person. I couldn’t stop grinning during my demo, and this seems like the perfect title to experience with loved ones. As Coatsink is targeting a June release, it seems as though I’ll be playing through this one with my younger sister when she begins her summer break. PHOGS! is charming, accessible, and the epitome of smart, creative design. Just a few more months until launch!