Creating any sort of a particularly meaty preview for a simple arcade-style action game is always a difficult task. After all, these are the types of games deigned to be throwbacks to a simpler time, so attempting to sum up gameplay sessions that last about five minutes long or so can actually be more difficult than doing so for even the most elaborate sandbox games. Thankfully, though, Canadian developers Spooky Squid Games (previously best known for They Bleed Pixels) have injected enough fresh and interesting elements into their new score attack game, Russian Subway Dogs, that there ends up being more than enough action-packed craziness to talk about, especially for such a potentially addictive game that deserves quite a bit of attention.
Inspired by the real-life homeless canines of Moscow which dwell in the subway and are actually able to travel between trains, Russian Subway Dogs sees you controlling one of the stray pooches as you lead them back and forth on a screen, attempting to get food from the commuters that appear. Control-wise, things are easy. You have one button that allows you to bark, spooking people when done behind them and causing them to fling away their food and drink, and a button for jumping that allows you to avoid obstacles and get certain snacks before they hit the ground. But like a lot of other classic arcade games, things get quite complicated thanks to some of the…oddities encountered is these particular bits of the metro.
Enemy dobermans? Sure! Pompadoured Elvis-like travelers with giant burgers that move faster? Alright! Old ladies carrying a massive fish that they use as a weapon? Okay, now we’re getting odd. A freaking bear that wanders into the subway, seemingly with no one noticing? Yep, now we’ve entered crazy town. And you have to deal with this all while your hunger meter is slowly depleting, forcing you to work as fast as possible, and requiring you to use some creative techniques. For example, you can bark at passengers carrying vodka to have them throw it away in a panic, but the bottle will actually hurt you if it falls nearby. However, it also results in a small explosion that not only damages enemies, but that also cooks any food near it, which is worth more points when you pick it up. And yes, with any luck, you actually can cook and eat bear meat, in a bit of black humor.
You can also juggle the various snacks hurled in the air to multiply the points earned, but it gets more complex when the likes of jumping rival poodles are introduced. You can also accept challenges from your fellow kitty comrade for extra bonuses, such as having to burn a certain amount of dogs quickly or willingly ingesting another hazard, chocolate, that sickens you for a period of time. The unpredictability in Russian Subway Dogs is one of its biggest strengths, making sure you’re kept on your toes and having to suddenly adapt to whatever bit of lunacy comes next. And the lunacy is definitely part of the fun, with everything perfectly depicted with pixel art and simple animations for that retro arcade feel, and you can help feed this insanity yourself with the wide range of guest characters, including VA-11 HALL-A‘s Rad Shiba and Gunshow’s famous “This is fine” dog, among others.
To sum things up, Russian Subway Dogs is the perfect kind of arcade game, the type that’s easy to play yet difficult to master, one where you’ll say to yourself that you’ll only pop in to play for a few minutes, and the next thing you know, several hours have passed as you keep trying to get the highest score possible. It’s a cute and inspired twist on a modern-day urban phenomenon that makes for some challenging old-school fun and will be sure to delight dog lovers, arcade fans and bear-hating pyromaniacs alike when it comes out for the PC later this year.