Dogos (Xbox One Review)
As an outsider to the genre, I’ve always admired the shoot-em-up – or the shmup to use its more modern moniker – from a distance.
When my dad owned an Atari 2600, he and I would have regular high score competitions on Galaxian. Back in the day, when arcades were still a thing that existed on almost every high street, I’d occasionally rock up to Galaga or 1942 or even older titles like Gorf, die within a few minutes, think “that was fun”, then vow never to play again.
Later, as machines become more sophisticated, the “bullet hell” shooters – Ikaruga and the like – became a thing and essentially openly mocked my poor reflexes.
Since then, I’ve always kept a watching brief, hoping that I’d eventually found a shooter that suited my aging fingers. But, as I kept an eye on the genre, I noticed something – shooters got samey. With some very rare exceptions – Sine Mora and its time mechanic, for example – the shmup got prettier, but no more original, with even the best games in the genre often choosing challenge over innovation.
So, when Dogos – a shmup from Argentinian indie studio OPQAM – came to my attention, I was intrigued. For whilst many of its mechanics will be familiar to veterans of the genre, Dogos does introduce one little wrinkle that can be considered unique. For the most part, shmups tend to go in one of two directions – left to right or bottom to top (Zaxxon being probably the most notable outlier).
What Dogos does to play with convention is adopt open world sensibilities, with each level taking the form of a map as opposed to a corridor. Within those maps, you are generally free to head in any direction you choose. You are, of course, bound to an extent by the level’s objectives. Travelling all the way to the north west of the map is all well and good but, if your next objective is located south east, then you’re just creating extra travel for yourself.
Where Dogos’ freedom of movement really comes to the fore is in the game’s combat. Whilst a lot of its combat mechanics are your standard fare – a selection of same-plain projectiles, missiles for dealing with ground-based enemies, smart bombs for clearing groups when you’re in a bind – the ability to move at any angle means that I was soon playing Dogos like a twin-stick shooter. That’s right…after about five minutes, I was circle strafing and leading targets like a pro. Get on a good run in that game, and it’s genuinely thrilling – you will feel like a badass.
Of course, this is helped by the fact that the game has multiple difficulty levels, meaning that old codgers like me can approach it without fear of openly weeping, whilst you young’uns can know yourself out attempting higher levels of insanity.
So far, so good, but the game does have some issues that prevent it from being one of my favourite shmups. Visually, the game doesn’t do anything particularly memorable, being perfectly functional without ever wowing me with clever enemy design. The arenas you hover above are also fairly generic – natural environments of land and sea, broken up with the occasional industrial-style platforms. Likewise, the soundtrack and sound effects serve their purpose, but I’m not humming the tunes afterwards.
The most glaring issue for me though is in the game’s occasional on-rails “escape” sections in which you’re required to fly down some fairly narrow canyons to either finish the level or reach another open area – think the scene in Independence Day where Will Smith is trying to evade enemy ships. Now, to be clear, I’m not opposed to this idea at all. If executed properly, these sections would provide a nice little change of pace. However, during these sections, the game’s perspective changes to a fixed one, above and slightly behind your ship, but – crucially – it also zooms in a little and that’s where they fall down. By reducing your field of view, it can be pretty difficult to see what’s ahead of you and, on more than one occasion, I crashed into a cliff because of how little time I had to react. Of course, this may partly be down to – yes, you’ve guessed it – my old man reactions, but on levels where one of the bonus objectives is to complete it without dying, this could quickly become more than a little frustrating.
Editor’s note: This post was written by none other than Andy Manson, you can find his work on various sites ranging from Playboy to InsertDisc. If you want to pester him about his choices or show your support for his work, you can find him on Twitter under @PsychTyson.