If you take no offence in being called “son of a bitch” ...
... then you are likely a dog. No shoes, no trouble at work – life can be wonderful if you move around on four instead of two legs. And Jake, our four-legged hero in this recent PS2 game, is a dog. He lives in some redneck town in the mid-west of the US of A, and his daily routine – besides sleeping and eating – is all about bones and impressing his dog girlfriend Daisy. Although every sane dog will admit that the bones are way more important.
Jake’s daily routine is disturbed when some of his fellow dogs begin to disappear, and when finally Daisy is the victim of the “dognappers”, Jake’s mission is clear: find the bone he buried yesterday and then go find Daisy!
A dog and his boy
Most humans may not know, but dogs not only understand part of what we say or want from them - in fact they understand every single word. So why don’t they always listen? Well in Jake’s case its simple: sometimes he just isn’t in the mood, and in other cases the reward or treat he can hope for just isn’t big enough to bother. Always remember this important lesson in dog education!
Jake’s adventure starts at the farm where he and his pets – a human family – live. Although his dog friend Daisy was abducted right before his eyes, his top priority in the beginning is playing with the family’s son and finding something good to eat, preferably a bone. Once this is achieved, he will begin his exploration of the Mid-West of the States. Wandering from farm to farm he finally reaches the region's major city, and from there he can take the train to locations too far away to reach on foot. Along the way he causes some serious trouble. In the small town he pisses of the arrogant shop keeper and the dog captor will try to catch him, and once he reaches the region's holidays resort he causes some turmoil among skiers when being on the ski run. Dog's life isn’t easy.
All these locations and of course the various races of dogs you will meet are detailed, yet no realistic because the graphics have a little comic touch applied to them. The various environment are nice to look at and exploring the levels will not get boring too quickly. Some members of the human population were designed with not too much effort in mind, and simply look stupid: a good example are the skiers in the mountain levels. Although the rest of the town folks are done pretty nicely, and you will recognize different persons by their looks, not only by their smell – but more one this later.
Controlling Jake is quite simple. He can move around, jump and bark, and that’s about it regarding the basic controls. Interesting though, is the ability to impress humans, hoping for a treat. The treats restore Jake’s energy back to normal if he gets hurt. There is no health indicator of any kind though, and Jake can not die by normal means it seems. Instead if e.g. falling of a cliff, he will totter around slowly until you eat something.
To do tricks you use your pad. Down will cause Jake to sit, press down a second time and he will lie down. And while standing press left, right and down and Jake will try to do something naughty. If he has eaten recently he will be successful, if not you will at least hear he is trying really hard.
Ok, who farted?
The most interesting and biggest feature in Dog’s Life though, is the “Smell-O-Vision”. Every level in Dog’s Life can be explored in two ways: in “normal” mode and in “Smell-O-Vision”. In this mode the camera switches to first person and suddenly you can “see” smells. The smells are colour-keyed to recognize smells that belong together, making it e.g. possible to follow another dog's or human's trail. Essential to find other dogs to challenge them, or useful in missions where you have to fetch something for a friendly human. Smells can also be “collected” - there are 50 “purple” smells in every level, and if you can find them all you will be awarded a bonus bone (that’s what the game is all about after all... or wait, was there something else?). On the other hand collecting a given number of other smells, can cause a lot of things to happen.
Often the local dog will appear and challenge you for a competition. Sometimes you have to race against him, while sometimes you have to copy his tricks without making a mistake, in this case possibly even learning new tricks that will help you later on in the game. Of course the most important trick for every dog goes first: begging for food. Other competitions include a digging contest (who can dig the most holes in mother’s tulip bed before time runs out), and a, yes you read right, peeing contest. In this contest the “arena” of your competition is split up into sectors of various size. Every sector has four corners which can be “tagged” by you if you raise your leg at the right point. Once all four corners are bearing your odour, the sector will permanently belong to you. Until all four corners are marked though, your opponent can always steal it back from you, so hurry!
Rewards for winning a contest besides getting more of the desperately wanted bones can be learning a new trick or dominance over the local dog. This means that the dog has accepted you as a higher authority, and will do as you please for a limited time a.k.a you can control him. Since dogs come in different flavours *cough* I mean sizes and races (definitely too much Smell-O-Vision...), it can make a huge difference for you. Small dogs might reach places that you can’t, others are faster than you, and some are trained to perform special actions, e.g. like a sheepdog might get a reward for herding the sheep. No matter what they can do or get from it, being the dominant dog Jake will get the reward.
Smell-O-Vision is a unique idea and fun to use, but did we really need to know that the sound grandpa just made was no ordinary sleeping noise?
You decide how to play
By now you have a good impression of what the game is about and the things you can do. Jake is a dog, and even dog lovers will have to admit that most of them – until properly trained – don’t give much about hygiene rules and good manners, to be specific where, when and how they “do” certain things.
Jake is a dog, and since you have full control of his bladder functions and the things he eats, there are many ways to prove that you have a bad taste, and play the game in a disgusting manner. Although the game doesn’t endorse this at all, and children of all ages can be left alone with it in case you are fearing for your kids.
It’s a dog’s life
“Dog’s Life” is the most innovative game I have played in a while. I admit, I had my doubts when I first heard of the game - this has of course partly to do with the fact that dogs are not my favourite animals, I always was way more into cats – but luckily I was proven all wrong. You can of course decide to spend your playing time sniffing at your own droppings, or even worse, but that’s not quite what was intended. Dog’s Life is a fun game, not only for people that like or own dogs, and I’m positive – and hoping too - that we will see more of Jake, Daisy and Co. in the future.