Picture the scene: a scientist distractedly fussing at a laboratory desk, a pug soundly asleep on the floor, and a cat sitting a little too close to two test tubes of mysterious, glowing liquid. Anyone feline-familiar will know there is only one possible outcome here: cat knocks stuff off desk, stuff tumbles through air, mixes to form inter-dimensional vortex, vortex consumes dog, cat, furniture.
In terms of narrative depth it’s not exactly War & Peace, but lays the groundwork for your escape/rescue mission as you speed-waddle through five increasingly harrowing technicolour worlds. Basically you’re the pug (Otis) now, and you have to find the kitty and get the heck out of there before you snap your Switch in half and embed it in a wall.
The last detail is key to understanding this game, because it’s a case study in testing a player’s patience to the absolute limit and if you’re prone to acts of red-mist violence, don’t even look at it. Double Pug Switch is an auto-side-scrolling platformer with a cute facade and a demon within, and I’m not talking about the cat. It’s got a severe learning curve and a couple of gameplay quirks that kick you when you’re down, but clearly hopes to live alongside brilliant indies like Celeste and Super Meat Boy.
It’s not quite that good.
The gameplay is super simple: Otis runs by himself, you’re in charge of jumping and ‘Switching’ to navigate obstacles and reach the finish, via checkpoints. Switching - a byproduct of your trip through the aforementioned vortex - flips you into a parallel dimension with its own set of traps etc, but one that is roughly on the same track. There are a few extra mechanics to watch out for - lasers, boosts, super jumps and tiny dog mode - but on the whole you’ll be getting by with a combination of As and Bs. In the beginning you’ll have time to see what’s coming and respond accordingly, but the longer the game goes on the less time you’ll have to react, until by the 3rd or 4th world there’s no choice but to trial and error your way to completing things through muscle memory, perseverance and luck.
Failing is a feature of platformers to some extent, and that’s OK, but DPS is a tricky one. The level design is punishing enough, but on occasion you’ll drop from a ledge and the vertical scrolling won’t keep up, giving you no chance of knowing what you’re falling towards. Unresponsive button-presses are a bit too common, and even the slightly odd way Otis jumps take some getting used to - he pitches into a nosedive very abruptly, and while that might be mechanically accurate for a pug, it’s not the kindest animation when you’re hurdling giant spikes. Maybe the most irritating thing (but fortunately the easiest to patch) is the total lack of warning or count-in you get when restarting from a checkpoint, creating the occasional death-cycle and really ramping up your blood pressure.
It is addictive though.
There were a handful of times when I just squeezed through a level and had to take a moment to admire the difficulty balance, because there are some sections that must have extraordinarily small margins for error. Disappointingly, those moments don’t really build as the game goes on, and success feels less like a feat of skill and more like the fruits of hard labour. I can appreciate that some people want that but I have a different relationship with my Switch, and the console that brought me Zelda, Mario and Pokemon doesn’t deserve to be thrown across the room. While playing this, it was a very real danger.
It’s a soul destroyer in a quirky collar.
DPS is a seriously challenging little game that you’re not going to finish in a single sitting, and one that provides enough collectibles and hats(?) to offer a bit of replay value when you’re done. It’s visually basic but gets the point across, the music is kinda catchy, and despite some levels that are reminiscent of those homebrew Mario Maker abominations, it does hook you in. It’s a soul destroyer in a quirky collar and while I can’t honestly say I enjoyed it all, it’s still comfortably the best pug-based platformer I’ve ever seen, and there are definitely worse ways to spend £7.