I have played dozens of shoot em up games on multiple consoles and almost all have one thing in common, a moving screen edge. Whether the character moves vertically or horizontally, you typically are moved by the game and are always pressing forward. That’s why upon trying Dogos, a new shmup by developer OPQAM, I was taken aback when my ship just stood still. Not only could I completely stop in most sections but I could turn around with full 360 degrees of movement and explore freely. Once I got used to this epic change, it was business as usual with hordes of air and ground enemies to destroy and bullets to dodge.
The story in Dogos tells of an alternate reality where alien beings known as Zeetnuks have invaded earth. The Zeetnuks have an advanced fleet of land, air and sea vehicles that humans are simply no match for. The resistance members thus combined human and alien engineering to create a fleet of ships that can stand toe-to-toe with the aliens. You play as Desmond Phoenix and the game tells the story of his part in the war versus the Zeetnuks. Throughout the game the story is told through voiceovers from your allies and also through Desmond’s journal entries before each mission. I appreciate the time taken to expand this narrative, but in the end I didn’t need much motivation to kick some alien butt.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the freedom of control is the main innovation in Dogos and it works very well. Your ship is controlled with the left stick while the right stick rotates the camera. Combining these two directional inputs means you can make sharp turns from side to side and even make a full 180 degree turn towards the opposite direction. There are occasional moments where your plane flies automatically and you must use the right stick to maneuver around tight canyon corridors. These instances are fast and tense as one wrong turn means you can crash into stone walls. When I first played one of these sections I felt a little motion sick. This occasionally happens to me in games but thankfully after playing for a while my eyes adjusted. There are also tricky sections where you must maneuver the plane through laser gates and one wrong move means death. Desmond can fire both aerial and ground weapons in addition to special weapon pickups that are dropped by enemies. Alternating between weapon types in the heat of battle requires quick thinking and is one of the main challenges of the game. Overall I have no issues with the controls, they are intuitive and responsive.
You begin the game with basic weapons and a helpful graphic shows their stats in damage, rate of fire and speed. As you progress through the campaign you will unlock different weapon types that will help you as the difficulty increases. There are also unlockable skins for your ship which are always a welcome addition. There are four difficulty levels ranging from very easy to very hard; I chose to play on easy and even then there were challenging moments to be had. There are also three optional challenges to beat in each level which vary from: beat the level without dying, destroy x number of air or ground units or complete the level under a set time. This adds to the replay value of the game and even had me replaying levels again using different strategies. Thankfully the levels in Dogos don’t drag on longer than necessary and there are checkpoints should you lose all your lives. There are 14 levels total which felt like just the right length for a campaign.
Graphically Dogos looks pretty good with smooth aerial visuals showing off oceans, mountains, canyons and jungle terrain. I never noticed any slowdown with multiple enemies on screen and when fighting bosses, you get a nice tactile flash informing you of a hit. The stage music is good but it will get a little repetitive as it reappears over the campaign. This is definitely one of those games you will want to play with your own preferred background music blaring. Another gripe I had was the lack of a boss health meter during battles. This is a staple among the genre and it’s just nice to know how much damage a boss can take.
Playing Dogos managed to feel both comfortably familiar and surprisingly unique at the same time. Combat against land, air and sea vehicles reminded me of Desert and Jungle strike, two of my favorite games on the Sega Genesis. I enjoyed the variety of environments and the ability to explore at my own pace. I do wish there was more variety in the game’s music; and being able to choose different plane styles, rather than just skins, would have been great as well. Overall those are just minor complaints to a very enjoyable shmup game.