Dog's Life is a charming, silly, and easy action game from Frontier Developments, the people who once upon a time brought you the seminal spacefaring sim Elite. How Frontier went from interstellar cargo to canine hijinks is anyone's guess, but regardless, the company has provided a neat, little game in Dog's Life that's obviously targeted at kids (despite an undeserved "T" for Teen rating) and might even be an entertaining romp for older gamers as well, given its budget-minded price. The game is simply designed and has a few annoying quirks, but it's got a genuine charm that helps to balance it out.
The story of Dog's Life is straightforward. You're in control of Jake, a friendly mutt who really seems to enjoy being a dog. Jake hangs around in the sleepy little town of Clarksville, doing doggy things and pining after his best girl Daisy--until some dastardly dognappers come to town and whisk her away to parts--and a fate--unknown. Noble hound that he is, Jake sets out to find out where Daisy's been taken so that he can travel there, free her, and restore peace to his canine existence. To do this, he'll have to collect bones--scores of them, in fact--from in and around Clarksville, a ski resort, and a big city. The number of bones you have increases your abilities in a nonspecific way (that is, you don't actually see any stats increasing as you collect them). The more you have, the easier it'll be for you to complete future tasks.
As a dog, you've got an assortment of canine abilities to help you both track down bones and eventually get to Daisy. The most important one is referred to as "smellovision," which puts you in a first-person view through which all sorts of scents appear as variously colored clouds floating in the air. Collect 50 of one color and you'll get a bone. Collect eight of another color and you'll challenge the local dog to one contest or another, which results in another bone. Smellovision is an essential tool for finding clues that you won't be able to see (or smell) from the regular third-person view.
Many of the bones you'll acquire will be given to you by humans that give you small quests to complete. These are generally quite easy, so you'll spend most of your time doing things like fetching a particular item, herding sheep, running off another dog, and so on. There are a lot of other breeds of dogs hanging around, and you'll be able to challenge each one to a couple of minigames to gain even more bones. These mostly amount to tests of running or button-mashing prowess. For instance, the digging game has you hammering on the button to dig holes faster than the other dog, while pursuit has you chasing down and trying to catch a fleeing dog before time runs out. The most amusing one of the handful of minigames is the territory-marking game, which presents you with a grid and has you and a rival mutt competing to see who can urinate on enough corners to claim more space to win the contest.
What's more, after you defeat a dog in one of these games, you'll be able to control that dog for a short period of time to complete tasks that Jake can't complete on his own. The range of dogs in the game is pretty impressive. There's everything from a Chihuahua to a husky, from a Saint Bernard to a bulldog. Each one has unique attributes that make it suitable for completing a particular puzzle. The Chihuahua, for instance, is small enough to fit inside a doggy door so that it can retrieve a bone for Jake, while a dalmatian is fast enough to chase down a pesky goose that's swiped a bone. The other dogs don't play all that differently from Jake, but they do provide some nice variety.
There's another aspect of Dog's Life worth mentioning, and it's one that makes the game a rather, shall we say, accurate portrayal of doggy existence. In effect, you have to keep track of Jake's hunger, well-being, and so on to keep him performing at capacity. This entails nosing around trash cans, stores, and countertops to find food. If he gets too hungry, Jake won't be very energetic and will move slowly as a result. When food is plentiful, this isn't a problem, although if there's none nearby, it's frustrating to be so sluggish while you're looking for some. And, of course, what goes in must come out. As a result, you can (and, in fact, are required to) make Jake poop on command to keep him feeling frisky. You can also perform some other doggy functions, like peeing and begging for treats, all with some simple controller combinations. Though the food mechanic is a bit annoying at times, it does add a little extra bit of canine flavor to the game.
The graphics in Dog's Life get the job done, though they're nothing particularly special. The environments have a fairly whimsical if somewhat simplistic look to them, and the people aren't very detailed or interesting to look at. The dog models are quite nice, though, because they all accurately mirror their real-life counterparts. Frontier has done a noteworthy job on the doggy animation, so Jake runs and turns very much like a real dog, and he realistically slows to a trot before stopping when you let off of the controls. Also, smellovision has a nice washed-out look to mirror dogs' color blindness, which is a nice touch. The voice acting in the game is a bit cheesy, but it's not downright bad. (Kids probably won't mind it, anyway.) There, unfortunately, aren't a whole lot of different barks in the game, because Jake and most of the other big dogs actually use the same one. But Dog's Life has a good mixture of music--including a Eurotrash dance mix that plays during some of the minigames--that's not exactly overwhelming but has a certain likable quality regardless.
The fact that Dog's Life has debuted for a mere 20 bones (ha ha!) really works in its favor, since it's relatively short and extremely easy. It's very obviously suited for kids, based on its difficulty and doggy subject matter, which may involve a little toilet humor but is still completely harmless. Yes, you can make Jake relieve himself at just about any time, but this isn't graphically depicted, so it's definitely not any worse than what you'd see if you walked out your front door and watched some real dogs for a few hours. In any event, Dog's Life isn't a bad little game for the price. There's not a whole lot to it, but what's there is entertaining enough, and it certainly lets you do things you can't do in just about any other game.