Platforms: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Nowadays, it seems like a rare occurrence when a new shoot ’em up (or SHMUP, as enthusiasts lovingly call them) to hit the market. Fans have been zipping around, tearing apart their foes since the early days of the arcade scene. Developer OPQAM is aiming to bottle some of that magic while modernizing their game to appeal to today’s crowd. Their newest title, DOGOS, puts you in the cockpit for a wild ride against the invading Zeetnuks, but can it stand with the giants upon whose shoulders it was built?
Bright flashes of light and explosions comprise the entirety of violence in the game. This is family-safe shoot ’em up action.
DOGOS is a story of overcoming impossible odds to stand up for something worth fighting for.
OPQAM is still relatively new on the scene. With a penchant for arcade shooters, games like R-Type and Gradius almost certainly have to be among the team’s favorite games. Now, they’re trying to create their own footprint on the genre with some flare of their own. The problem is that, based on DOGOS, the studio still feels relatively inexperienced. Don’t get me wrong—DOGOS is a fun game with the soul of a SHMUP, but it has too many glaring flaws to hold long-term sway with genre fans.
First, let’s start with the gameplay mechanics. Like other SHMUPs, you’ll control a ship in a top-down perspective. Unlike scrolling shooters, you control the movement of your ship around a 3-D environment. You have one button to attack flying enemies, one to attack ground enemies, and one for special moves. The movement and gunplay feel pretty solid and there is good variety of enemy types you’ll face. As you progress, there are a few extra weapons you can unlock and a handful of special weapons, too. There are even some pretty cool sequences that put you in a canyon-run perspective I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, that’s where the fun of the game ends for me.
I got hung up on parts of the geometry more times than I care to count, often resulting in my death. On a few levels I actually got lost outside the bounds of the mission’s map, even wandering into the NEXT LEVEL on accident! Many of these are mistakes veteran teams would have worked around but it feels like DOGOS opted to offer an easy deterrent and hope players stick to the “happy path,” never straying from developers’ intended courses.
On top of the actual bugs, DOGOS suffers from what feels like a few core design flaws. The game often favors ground units heavily. While I understand their reasoning, it felt ill-balanced. Boss encounters range from somewhat interesting to frustrating, typically caused by repeating attack patterns, bullet sponge health, and no way to tell how close you are to defeating a boss. On top of that, the “Game Over” screen offers you two options: restart at the last checkpoint or restart the entire level. The problem is that the more desirable option—the last checkpoint—is the most obscure button. In at least three separate instances, I died at a boss, intended to restart the boss fight, and accidentally restarted the entire level. Yes, that was user error, but no prompt or consideration was ever made for it. Recycling some bosses also felt like a scramble to work around a time crunch instead of really investing in boss design.
The storytelling here is its own unique beast. The story is campy, but given its genre and team size, that doesn’t bother me. I find the journal entry interludes to be an terribly weak storytelling mechanism, though. What bothers me most of all the storytelling problems though, is the game’s voice acting. Both the hero and his supporting role successfully deliver the most somber, uninteresting, monotone performances I’ve seen in a game in years. Please drink some coffee before you record next time!
To the game’s credit, DOGOS‘s soundtrack is actually pretty good and the visuals offer some rewarding mental stimulation. Blowing up Zeetnuks to some jamming tunes is genuinely fun, with explosions popping off and lasers flying around the map. This is really where the game excels. It’s just too bad so much else drags it down.
At the end of the day, the core of DOGOS as fun and satisfying is dragged down by too many chains. The game offers fun, satisfying visuals, a great soundtrack, and some good ideas to bring SHMUPs into the modern era. Unfortunately, terrible storytelling, mediocre boss design, bugs, and usability issues really hold it back. I’ll have my eyes on OPQAM in the future—I’m expecting big things once they learn from a few of their mistakes. For now, though, maybe just go back for another round of Raiden or Ikaruga.
Review copy provided by OPQAM
The Bottom Line
DOGOS is a decent SHMUP that does some interesting things, but the uninteresting story, poor voice acting, array of technical issues, and frustrating design choices drag down what could have been a stellar experience.