Dogs in games tend to come in two varieties. There are the adorably cute ones: loveable, enthusiastic pups who like nothing better than to be stroked, bathed or decked out in Mario-themed headwear. And then there are the heroic ones, the loyal companions who'll dig up treasures and bravely tug at the trousers of villains in battle.
So it's refreshing to play a game which reminds you of the universal truth that dogs are actually terrifically stupid. The stars of the show here are Max and Ralph, who've managed to get their tongues knotted together. Meanwhile your omnipotent finger must tap, slide and swipe to keep them out of trouble as they dumbly blunder onwards, wide grins spread across their slobbering jaws.
With standard virtual d-pad controls, the platforming would be a doddle, but developer Mojo Bones has opted for a control scheme to convey the awkwardness of controlling two doltish canines at once. As they gambol along automatically, you'll need to pull back on one of the dogs to catapult the pair over gaps and hazards. Alternatively, you can drag one underneath a platform to collect the bone tokens below, or tap both dogs to drop down from a higher level. Swing a dangling dog in an arc, and you can earn a score bonus for collecting eight or more tokens in a single swipe. There's a pleasing sense of elasticity and weight as you ping them about the place, particularly when you're swinging from tyres or working your way along a patch of sticky mud in a manner oddly akin to negotiating monkey bars.
New obstacles are drip-fed throughout the generous helping of 60 levels. You'll need to avoid hot coals and dynamite, while trying to smash bone bags and crates for extra points. It adopts the standard structure for just about all puzzle-platformers on iOS, meaning that beating the level tends to net you a bronze medal, while silver and gold tallies are more exacting. Earning the top prize sometimes requires you not only to collect all the tokens on a stage but to engage in a bit of showboating, as you whip Max and Ralph around like a pair of doggy boleadoras, netting combos while swinging dangerously close to explosives for bonus bones.
In a genre that tends to coddle players, patronising them with a medal for tapping the screen once or twice and watching the action play out, a game with levels that are actually tricky to finish let alone master is a welcome rarity. Even so, it can occasionally be a bit too demanding, with narrow platforms, crumbling walkways and trailing explosives combining to force umpteen restarts. Ultimately, when you pull those tied tongues taut, you can never be entirely confident on where the pair will land when you let go. And when the two are close together, it can be all too easy for a chunky digit to tap the wrong dog, sending them both plummeting off the bottom of the screen.
With that in mind, the iPad version is the way to go if you've got the choice, with the added bonus of being able to better appreciate the classic Hanna Barbera look of Max and Ralph. But even on smaller iDevices there's plenty to enjoy here, even if it's merely to marvel at the most authentically dumb digital mutts we've seen in a while.
App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.
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