Developer: Dynamic Media Triad
Publisher(s): Dynamic Media Triad, Digital Tribe
Genre(s): Shoot ‘Em Up, Action, Adventure, Arcade
Platform: PC (Also available on Nintendo Switch)
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 08/04/2021
A code was provided for review purposes.
New Dogs, Old Tricks?
To kickstart this review with a shameful confession – I have never played a Star Fox game. Though I know of their popularity and reputation as phenomenal space shooters, I was more interested in franchises like Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and Professor Layton in my youth. Therefore, the frequent comparisons drawn between Star Fox and Astrodogs mean very little to me in terms of context. However, they piqued my interest and convinced me to expand my gaming comfort zone and try Astrodogs.
In Astrodogs, four freelance bounty hunters – Tobias, Darleene, Liz, and Kombo – must work together to save the galaxy from an evil corporation called WOOFER. You play as Kombo and fly the legendary Red Paw. Using its advanced manoeuvrability and weaponry array, you must take down enemies and defeat various bosses. At your disposal, you have a basic light gun, homing rockets, a laser beam, a parry shield and bombs that launch directly forwards. You’ll need to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each, and combine them with some well-timed dashes and barrel rolls in order to make it out alive.
Many Bark, Lots of Bite
In order to use your special weapons, you’ll need to build up energy by collecting small green energy shards. These are dropped by enemies when defeated, most notably by stationary cannons. To draw energy shards closer to you, as well as deflect incoming fire, you can use your barrel roll. As this is a natural and fluid part of the gameplay, your weapons should almost always be ready to fire. However, you will need to manage your use of them well, and not make wasteful shots. On the whole, these weapons are responsive and easy to use; you’ll quickly learn which ones are effective against what enemies.
An additional mechanic used in Astrodogs is “instinct”. This allows you to slow down time and be more precise about your aiming. Any projectiles heading your way can often be delayed just long enough to defeat those who shot them, which makes for some intense battles and satisfying combat. I found the instinct mechanic to be particularly helpful during boss battles in order to scope out weaknesses, as well as to clear paths in crowded areas. It can be a little unreliable to activate however as the same input is used to barrel roll. Often I found myself trying to tap to roll, and ending up entering instinct mode. I recommend being very conscious of how long you hold the input for as a result.
Not The Nice Kind of Woofer
Speaking generally about Astrodogs‘ gameplay, initially, I was dissatisfied and frustrated. However, the recent patches to the game (which fixed several of my issues) have transformed my view. Having finally finished my run – admittedly with a not-so-impressive score of 2604 – I am eager to dive back in. The varied enemy types and environments make the gameplay interesting, as do the boss battles, each of which is subtly complex and require puzzle-solving skills and intuitive approaches to overcome. There are also lore-based collectables, which are a motivating factor for me to make repeat runs. These are obtained via an in-game shop run by Mr. Whiskers, as well as a gacha-style vending machine. Neither uses real money, only the hard-earned coins you make during your runs across the galaxy. Some will require you to save up a lot of cash, though, so perhaps are somewhat too geared towards a dedicated player base.
Two elements of Astrodogs that I need to give high praise to are the graphics and soundtrack. The graphics are impressive throughout, making use of vibrant colours and varied visual effects. Each of the missions has its own unique environment, and all are well-constructed, visually impressive, and detailed. Though some can feel too crowded at times, this only adds to the shoot-em-up atmosphere of the game. Each of the featured characters also have their own portraits, and all of these display their unique personalities and are incredibly cute to look at. The soundtrack only serves to further improve the gameplay experience, with each level having its own unique theme. Boss battles, too, vary their soundtrack between bosses, and I found myself dodging and attacking in time to the beats at points. It is funky, well-orchestrated, and pleasant to listen to. What more can you ask, really?
Something To Bark About?
As mentioned, my initial experience of Astrodogs involved more issues than at the time of this review’s publication. Notable issues already fixed include the centre-locked aiming while using PC controls, the Y-axis inversion not working properly, and boss battles not progressing. My main concerns now are the lack of accessibility features, customisable controls, fully functional achievements, and sensitivity settings. After the tutorial, there is nowhere in the menu to view the controls. There is also nowhere to rebind the controls. For anyone like myself who experiences pain from repetitive motions, spamming the triggers to dash and deflect projectiles is not a very comfortable experience. It is also disappointing that achievements do not unlock when intended, as I thoroughly enjoy achievement hunting. Following my playthrough, those for completing the tutorial and finishing missions 1-8 remain locked. More may be impacted, but I haven’t met their unlock conditions yet to personally verify.
In conclusion, if you are a fan of space shooters like Star Fox, enjoy a challenge, strive for the highest scores, and find satisfaction in collectables and attainment-related unlockables, then Astrodogs is likely to be right up your virtual street. It does have its issues – namely its lack of accessibility features, adjustable keybindings, fully functional achievements (at least in my experience) and sensitivity settings – but its gameplay is fun, its graphics are vibrant and the soundtrack is one you can bop along to for hours. Though I played on PC, I think the portable experience on Nintendo Switch (release confirmed here) will also be one to watch out for. Should you prefer a console set-up, the controls are perfectly suited to Joy-Cons. The game has a promising future with a development team dedicated to improving the game, so do give it a look if you have the cash to spend.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3.5 out of 5
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