Airports are strange little pockets of time and space, seemingly existing separate from the rest of the world. As someone who has spent a lot of time traveling and spending time in these airports, I always wondered how a place operating on a strict schedule also felt like a vacuum of time. In particular, I wondered about what goes on in the minds of airport workers who regularly witness thousands of people, luggage, stories, secrets, hellos, and goodbyes every single day.
Strange Scaffold offers an answer, albeit in an irresistibly surreal way. An Airport for Aliens Currently Run By Dogs (also known as Dog Airport Game) is exactly what it says on the tin and more. Director Xalavier Nelson Jr. has worked on numerous projects, notably Hypnospace Outlaw, Reigns: Beyond and the upcoming SkateBIRD. The penchant for comedy and meaningful interactions is seen in his latest project.
Story – Surreal, Silly, and Sweet
The game drops you and your betrothed Krista caged in the middle of a bizarre airport. From the jump, this network of airports you visit feels like destinations themselves. Full of life and teeming with several “Pedogstrians”, you make your way through these curious stages in an effort to find and spend time with your beloved.
The game’s writing is charismatic and funny. Some lines are chuckle-worthy, while you might be taken aback by other dialogue’s honesty. The open-world comedy reveals itself to the player through short but entertaining conversations and quips with these stock photo dogs. You can’t help but embark on a space-faring quest in order to appease these earnest dogs who are hard at work either traveling or running an airport.
If you’ve ever tried to imagine what it would be like to speak to a dog, this experience just might tide you over. The internet has collectively decided on a way that dogs would talk. While some of the dogs adopted this memetic speech, I was glad that there was a good variety in the speech patterns of the kooky canines that you come across. Another thing that impressed me was the sheer amount of content that had to be written for each dog and quest – so you’ll have to understand if you come across duplicated text when you visit the same shops.
Wrapped up in its bizarre goals and presentation is a love story between you and your partner, Krista. The game throws around the phrase “I love you” liberally, which is a jarring experience for plenty of gamers who have been conditioned to virtually work for that endearing statement in various RPGs. As you weave in and out of different areas, your journey fleshes out your relationship, her dedication to her career, and your dedication to each other. Oh, and a mutual appreciation for dogs, of course.
Gameplay – Fetch Quest Fest
An Airport is, simply put, a series of fetch quests – which is extremely appropriate. Most of the gameplay is really discovering more dogs to meet (and pet), and along the way meet up with your partner again.
I did enjoy the exploratory experience of the game. There’s a lot to look into at every airport, and figuring out how to navigate each new stage takes some puzzle-solving and even light platforming. While this might scare away people who find open-world games too unfocused, there’s always something new and different to discover. If you venture far and wide enough, there are some experiences tucked away to reward you.
Collecting everything that the puppies have to offer is also a lot of fun, and it’s also great to figure out what these items can do. They could be important items to progress your quests or just whimsical little additions to your journey. I am partial to the skateboard for practical purposes, but breaking out the electric guitar on random dogs was also a lot of fun.
Navigating the departures system is pretty fun. Deciphering the Mr. Saturn-from-Earthbound-esque alphabet that peppers the boarding passes and signs in each airport is a neat puzzle. While familiarizing yourself with the areas is part of the puzzle, I would have appreciated a map feature, perhaps something you could work towards, that could be helpful by your umpteenth visit to Beachwell. A wristwatch feature or more interesting ways to kill time while waiting for your flight could help players who want to move the story forward.
Despite being able to speed up movement with food, drink, and other tools, I still found the movement to be a bit tiresome, especially when the airports become so massive. I would chow down on any food I got my hands on and flip my skateboard while I’m on a walkalator. All this while I’m lost figuring out how to get the next terminal – but aren’t all of these part and parcel of the air travel experience?
The “Pupperdex” is also a neat menu that shows you your progress so far. I appreciated this guide just to remember what item should go to which dog – and where I could visit my favorite dogs again!
Audio and Graphics – Lovely and Lo-Fi
The low-poly environment charms and suspends disbelief for its players just a bit further. How big and inventive these worlds get will genuinely surprise you as you progress through the story. My personal favorite is Elf Planet – the big bright sky and woodland scenery, accompanied by a chill soundtrack was a relaxing experience, especially for homebound travelers.
The choice to use dog stock photos was revealed to be a gag after the developers used them for their prototype, ultimately enjoying its vibes. In today’s memetic culture it’s clear how the comedy works, but I think it also has a profound effect. These picture-perfect dog portraits have a poignant quality – dogs caught in a perfect moment, living forever and waiting forever for the next traveler to approach them with a question or a favor.
Or maybe I’m just overthinking things.
An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs was reviewed for PC with a key provided by Strange Scaffold.