Several years ago, some news organizations produced some interesting news stories about the dogs that live in Moscow. The capital of Russia is home to a large number of homeless canines that have become accustomed to begging for food and live in packs. The most interesting demographic of homeless dogs, however, are the ones that use the Moscow Metro, the world's second most heavily used subway system. These dogs are somehow able to understand the metro system and use it as a means of commuting around Moscow. Given people's love for dogs and this interesting story, it isn't too surprising someone decided to make a video game out of it.
Russian Subway Dogs is an arcade-style action game developed and published by Spooky Squid Games Inc. for Steam, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita. Based off of the dogs that live in Moscow's metro system, this game will have you scavenge for food from subway commuters while dealing with rival dogs, stray bottles of highly explosive vodka, and very moody wildlife.
Russian Subway Dogs released yesterday and can be bought on Steam for $13.49.
Russian Subway Dogs has you playing as a somewhat fictionalized version of one of the dogs that live their lives around Moscow's subway system. Your dog is in a cross-species pack, travelling along with three kittens and a cat known as 'The Proletaricat.' Together, the five of you travel the metro, fiercely battling rival packs for the best food.
The game is divided into two different modes: Campaign Mode and Endless Mode. In both modes, your character has a hunger bar that quickly depletes and must be kept full by collecting food. To get food, you have to bark at the various commuters while standing behind them to surprise them into throwing their meals into the air. There are also a variety of obstacles that you'll have to deal with. These obstacles include rival dogs that will steal your food, chocolate that will cause your hunger bar to drain faster for some time if you eat it (or you can let another animal eat it to poison them), and some particularly vicious wildlife.
The main draw to the game is that it's a score attack game, which rewards fancy moves and finesse in your gameplay. A basic move is to scare commuters carrying vodka and use its explosion to take out enemies and heat up food items other commuters carry, boosting its point value. There are also little tricks that the missions in the Campaign Mode teach you. For example, when you kill a bear by hitting it with three vodka bottles, it drops two chunks of meat. However, if you let the bear gain some weight by picking up some other food items, it'll drop four chunks of meat and some ribs when it dies, providing more points. Learning tricks like that one and mastering other skills. are key requirements to earning huge amounts of points.
When it comes to differences in the modes, Campaign Mode could be seen as an extended tutorial to the game. Each stage is set to spawn different items and obstacles, as can be seen in the picture above. In order to complete a stage, you have to survive until the timer runs out and reach the goal score, which will let you leave on the final train. Each stage also has three side missions that can be completed to earn extra bones, which are required to progress in the Campaign. Individually, the stages are just like smaller versions of an Endless Mode run. However, there are some unique stages, such as one aesthetically designed to look like a stage from Spooky Squid Games' previous game They Bleed Pixels, complete with unique enemies.
Speaking of They Bleed Pixels, completing Campaign Mode stages gives you access to a variety of new characters. These dogs (and other animals, for all of you strange folks who dislike dogs) are all characters from other bits of media. Not counting the default ushanka-wearing pup and The Proletaricat, you can play as:
- Question Hound from KC Green's webcomic Gunshow.
- Fidel the corgi from the puzzle game Fidel Dungeon Rescue.
- Nacho and Rad Shiba, both from the cyberpunk bartending game VA-11 HALL-A.
- Ratcoon from the 2D action roguelike Ruins of the Reckless.
- A tiny version of Nidhogg, the titular creature from the fast-paced dueling games Nidhogg and Nidhogg 2.
- Doppler and Kepler, a dog and cat who act as AI partners for solo players in Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime.
- Uay Chivo, a goat from the Mexican-style Metroid-vania Guacamelee!
- Clawed Kitty, a feline version of the Clawed Girl from They Bleed Pixels.
Endless Mode, as one can guess, is a score attack mode and the main mode in the game. In this mode, every single type of obstacle and item can appear as you try to survive and get the best score you can. As time goes on, your character's hunger rate, represented by the stomach with a number next to it, will start to creep up, forcing you to play better in order to avoid being killed by your turbo-charged metabolism. During Endless Mode, you also get the occasional mission from The Proletaricat, or the Kittens, if you're playing as him. If you manage to complete these missions within a certain amount of time, you get a big amount of bonus points. After you've played at least one round of Endless Mode, you can compare your score to others on an official leaderboard to see who's the best at stealing shawarmas from subway commuters.
Graphics and audio
The graphics in Russian Subway Dogs are done in a very crisp-looking pixel art style. The stages themselves show some pretty nice depictions of Russian subway stations, complete with fancy-looking murals in the background. The sprites also look very nice, and Spooky Squid Games did a very good job at converting a variety of guest characters to the pixel art style. The game also does a nice job a capturing the (stereotypical) Russian aesthetic. As you can see in the pictures, a good amount of the game's font is done in that classic USSR-esque font that is commonly associated with Communist Russia, with occasional bits of text written in gratuitous Russian. The game also renders the game's sound effects, like exploding vodka and most character's barks, in a comic book style with the sound effects written in Russian, which is a really nice touch.
As for the audio, it also manages to do a great job at blending a retro aesthetic with Slavic and Baltic music. The music in the game is done by musician Peter Chapman, who has done work on a variety of other games, including Modnation Racers, LittleBigPlanet Karting, and Guacamelee! The tracks are all pretty catchy and can be purchased as DLC for $5 on Steam, if you want to buy them.
Speaking of graphics and audio, one of the game's few problems comes from the options screen and how it handles it's graphical and audio options. Both menus have very few options compared to other games. For graphics, you can toggle full screen, change how the game scales (the exact option depends on whether you're using full screen or not.) and toggle V-sync. In the audio menu, you have three options you can toggle. One of these is whether you want music on or off. The other two let you toggle two sound effects: the long scream of the vegetable carrying commuter, and the hard bass that plays when a commuter carrying hot sauce or coffee is around. It's odd not to see a slider for music and sound, and even stranger to only see options for disabling certain sound effects. There's also the minor (for me) annoyance of there being a language option but only English as an option. Granted, I only know English as a language, but it's odd to have an option like that when you only have one option to choose from. I can only assume more options will be added in future patches.
Russian Subway Dogs is an energetic and fun game that's easy to learn and hard to master. It's the kind of game that will greatly appeal to those who enjoy the twitchy action games that were common in arcades of yesteryear. I personally find it to be a fun game to play either in short bursts or binge sessions focused on breaking my previous records. It can definitely be difficult at times, but Russian Subway Dogs manages to be an enjoyable run through the metro.
Note: For the first week of sales (until August 8,) the developers will donate $1 for every copy sold to the nonprofit charity Save Our Scruff, which rescues and finds homes for stray dogs.
|+ Highly addictive gameplay||– Can be difficult for some|
|+ Enjoyable graphics and audio||– Options menu somewhat sparse|
|+ Charming concept|
|+ Surprising depth|