The Dog Island is an adventure roleplaying game which was developed by Yuke’s and published by Ubisoft and released for the Wii and PS2 in 2008. The main story follows a dog (who you get to name, and to an extent design) who goes off on an adventure to discover a special plant which will cure their sick sibling.
I originally came to this game after watching the Game Grumps do a playthrough of it, and you can check out that playthrough here. I was captivated by the simple, pleasant nature of the game, it has dogs which is always a bonus for me and is just an endearing little adventure with a surprising amount of heart.
While my enjoyment of the game was overall good, I cannot honestly say that it was without its flaws, it was a little repetitive and it obviously isn’t a heavy game, it’s casual and silly, but as much as I could consider that a flaw it’s also one of the reasons why I liked it as well. I do stand by saying that it’s a fairly simple game, but that’s just in terms of mechanics, it’s surprisingly expansive, with 23 explorable locations and numerous interactable NPCs (Non-player characters).
Now I just covered the environment, you can traverse the world around you by walking, crawling, sniffing, digging and barking with each of those actions being used to progress through different parts of the game. Digging, for example can be used to find items which have been buried, and this can often be used in conjunction with sniffing to actually locate those items.
The sniffing ability which I mentioned above is arguably the most important aspect of the game, throughout the game you learn various scents and then use your powerful puppy nose to track down lost items and missing people, not only does this net you rewards or let you help people but you also get to keep building your skills and improving until you become the ultimate ‘Sniff Master’, which is the game’s terminology for a talented sniffer, and you need to be a sniff master to find the flower which will help to heal your injured sibling.
Speaking of which, throughout the game you are told that if you do good deeds then it will help you connect with nature and help you to locate the cure for your sibling, but honestly even forgetting the main storyline, it can be fun to just make your way through the game helping the other dogs, because at the end of it you really feel like you’ve earned a happy ending.
I mentioned up top that the game was pleasant, and to an extent this is a happy, cute little game with sniffing and puppies and adventures but there is also a darker thread to this game with is surprising considering that it was almost definitely targeted at children, and yet still deals with death and sickness without subtlety or analogy. In fact right at the beginning of the game, your main character ends up going overboard during a heavy storm, although it does go right back to cute puppies, but seriously major props for dealing with darker topics while still managing to provide a hopeful game that can have a heartwarming conclusion.
Another thing that I liked about this game was that they kind of staggered the gameplay, and then gave you a chance to get used to it, when you first start, it’s just exploration and the game teaches how to do that properly. Once you’ve actually reached the titular Dog Island, the gameplay shifts and adds combat into the mix, now as well as finding buried items, you can also fight. I’ll admit even though you could hardly claim they throw you in at the deep end, it was still fairly jarring to have a combat element, as up to that point it just didn’t feel like that type of game but that being said it was still interesting and fleshed out the world a little. It wasn’t just carefree adventure, there were 6hreats now and that actually added to the fun. Suddenly you can take damage and your bark is now your weapon, and you can use it you fight a variety of enemies including snakes, gorillas and bear.
As well as all of the main content there are also some fun mini games which add to the core gameplay, you can go fishing or bug catching and as someone who appreciates those little things they were a welcome addition. Overall I would say you should play this game, especially if you have some time and appreciate a surprisingly engaging adventure that’s all wrapped up in cuteness and dogs.
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