Dog's Life is one of those rare titles that first saw the light of day in a UK release and is now being brought over (by Hip Games, in this case) for North America to enjoy. The game's story might remind you of a certain Disney animated feature film--there are dognappings going on all over town, and it's up to a mutt named Jake to enlist the help of his other canine companions and save the day (as well as the beautiful retriever from down the road). To that end, Dog's Life remains on all fours, right on the ground. Humans are factors in the plot--benefactors with tasty treats, and even enemies--but these are the dog days!
Most of the time you'll be controlling Jake, an easygoing mutt-about-town with a refined habit of breaking wind. Guiding Jake is a matter of moving the left analog stick to walk and run around and the X button to jump. However, the canid hero also has a wealth of other important doggy abilities, such as sitting, lying down, begging, barking, growling, farting, defecating, and urinating. Those last few options aren't just there for show, either; all of Jake's tricks will come in handy as he runs from place to place, gathering clues about the dog thieves.
Performing tricks or other tasks for your human friends will net you tasty bones, and the number of bones you have determines how other animals view you. Another neat trick is smell-o-vision, a first-person (first-dog?) view that lets you "see" various scents lingering all over the place that you can move over and suck up with a whiff. The smells are all color-coded, and important objects will stand out glaringly, as well as a light column for humans with treats. If you go around and collect full sets of certain colored smells, you can challenge local dogs to a contest.
The contests, of course, all revolve around important dog skills. There's racing to get treats, pee-marking contests, digging contests, tugs-of-war, and so on. If you succeed in defeating the other animal, he'll acknowledge your top-dog status, and from then on you'll be able to dog-jack that particular animal for a limited amount of time.
Depending on the dog you're controlling, you'll be able to pull off different things; controlling the Chihuahua, for example, means you can pass through a tiny dog door with ease and go where Jake cannot. Controlling the sheepdog lets you herd sheep into their pen for a yummy bone reward from the shepherd. (For some reason, the other dogs will do all your dirty work, but Jake reaps all the rewards!) Playing as other dogs is fun, and it also helps you net important clues about what's happened to your stolen friend.
The game even features a nurturing element centering around Jake; if you keep running around ceaselessly, you're going to start getting...you guessed it, dog tired. Fortunately, you can easily pick up the pooped pooch by eating various foods that are scattered around the levels. There are all kinds of dog dishes filled with food, countertops with edibles carelessly left in dog-view, and trash bins that can be knocked over for the easy removal of foul-smelling delectables that will perk Jake right back up. You'll even get visual clues as to Jake's mood; when he's well fed and happy, he frisks about with high energy while running, wagging his tail, and moving alertly. As he tires, he'll start to droop a bit more and move with distinctly less pep, which lets you know he needs a scooby snack; food items are prevalent, so it's easy to get him back up to speed.
Visually, the game focuses around the various breeds of dogs: how they move, how they act, and how they control. The dogs all look very good and (aside from Jake, the mutt) all are good representations of various breeds. The little dogs scamper about like little dogs, the big dogs lope around, and even the bulldog waddles like a bulldog should.
The landscapes are simply designed and easy to navigate, and the small towns look suitably quaint. You'll hear a lot from Jake as he wanders around, gleefully enjoying various smells and activities, and all the voice work is well acted. The music is an assortment of lazy tunes for the countryside and peppy tunes for the various challenges, which suit the various scenes nicely.
There are certainly enough games out there that feature humanoid protagonists; it's time to give the dog his due. Animal lovers and younger gamers looking for a lighthearted adventure will be drawn in by this title, and it's a cute romp for others, as well. We'll have more on this game as it approaches release on the PlayStation 2 at the end of this month.