It's a dog eat dog world out there. How does Dog's Life fare? Kikizo investigates.
By Kikizo Staff
Contrary to popular belief, a dog's life involves more than such time-honored pursuits as eating and sleeping; there are mundane fetch quests with which to busy yourself, rudimentary mini-games to participate in, idiotic humans to contend with and an inordinate amount of sniffing to be done. At least, this is the impression one gets after playing Frontier's much vaunted 'dog simulation' title, Dog's Life.
Although billed as a free-roaming action adventure, Dog's Life adheres more closely to the conventions inherent of the modern platformer than it does that of the adventure genre. Foregoing the anthropomorphic hijinks of titles such as Sly Cooper, TY the Tasmanian Tiger and Banjo-Kazooie, Dog's Life revolves around the life of a young hound named Jake, whose peaceful existence in the American Midwest is irrevocably altered when he witnesses the kidnapping of Daisy, his female dog-pal (and the object of his affection). What follows is a standard adventure romp in which Jake must trek across the country in search of the hapless kidnapping duo, subvert their insidious scheme and rescue Daisy.
Regardless of the context, the overriding motivation throughout the title is the acquisition of bones. Analogous to such artifacts as Jiggys, Shines and Precursor Orbs (in Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario Sunshine and Jak and Daxter, respectively), bones play an integral part in Jake's quest, as it is these that determine his effectiveness against the other dogs he'll encounter on his travels. Although the title possesses no 'levels' per say, players will have to make their way through a series of interconnected areas, each of which houses its own set of unique challenges. Utilizing the so-called 'Smellovision' mode, players can view the world from Jake's perspective, a first-person view in which the environment takes on a drab shade of gray and trails of smoke are highlighted in various colors -- each representing a different scent.
While an interesting concept on paper, the execution of Smellovision is sorely lacking. Effectively, all this mode does is make visible various scents that must be collected and highlight people and places from which bones can be obtained. Each area comprises no fewer than fifty purple scents (once all are collected, Jake is rewarded with a bone) in addition to area-specific scents, that, when collected, allow Jake to participate in one of several mini-games against the local dog.
These activities include bouts of Tug-O-War, leg-races, digging, territory marking, timed events in which you're required to locate specific scents and even a Simon-Says style event in which your repertoire of doggy moves is put to the test. It is here that the number of accrued bones comes into play; having more than your opponent all but ensures victory, while fewer can make it significantly more difficult, if not impossible, to win. Victory yields bones or otherwise allows Jake to coerce the animal to do his bidding (essentially, the player is given control of the animal for a limited period of time, during which their particular strengths must be used to complete a task within the given area).
When not competing against fellow canines, Jake can listen to the problems of the local humans, and by helping them, will be rewarded with, you guessed it, bones. Given that the game touts the ability for players to assume the role of a lifelike hound, one wonders why the developers insist on having the player continually help out humans. Under normal circumstances it would hardly warrant mention, but the fact that the whole game is based upon the concept of being a normal dog in a human world, it just seems rather odd that Jake is forced to collect batteries, retrieve rocket ship parts, find coats, or gather eggs for humans too inept to do it themselves. If nothing else, it certainly perpetuates the belief that playing as a dog is a marketing gimmick as opposed to true innovation.
Sniffing out a specific number of scents and acquiring bones are the predominant activities in Dog's Life, and while the challenges change in scope and difficulty, the lack of true variation results in tedious, run-of-the-mill gameplay. Although hidden under the guise of the ostensibly revolutionary Smellovision and the ability to see the world from the eyes of a dog, Dog's Life is a standard adventure game, with little in terms of gameplay to differentiate itself from other such titles available for the system.
The animation is another matter entirely. Jake's various movements are remarkably accurate, from the manner in which his front and back legs move when changing direction, to the way his tail curls up next to his body when he sits or lies down. He also becomes visibly dirty as the game progresses and stays as such until he comes across one of the Poodle Parlours dotted around the gameworld. Additionally, each individual species behaves and acts differently from one another. Large dogs have a loping, boisterous gait, while the smaller ones appear to almost waddle and are far more 'busy'; their legs move at a frantic pace when running. The modeling lacks consistency however. Some animals are spot-on recreations, while others are less so, and the faces of many animals, aside from looking rather ugly, lack the necessary detail, especially with regard to eye movement (or lack thereof) to convey emotions. Conversely, the humans are downright horrid. They move awkwardly, lack believability and are presented using some of the worst voice-acting ever to grace a console title.
Unlike more technically proficient titles such as Jak II, moving between areas results in load times that, though not overly burdensome, undermine any sense of freedom and cohesion the developers were striving for. Also annoying is the fact that much of the game must be spent in first-person mode, meaning that players are subjected to the world through the dull gray tones of Jake's viewpoint, as opposed to the colorful, and significantly more pleasing third-person view. It's not mandatory, but doing otherwise will ensure that you miss out on the many scents that have to be acquired.
From the opening cutscene, it's painfully clear that sound is, to put it mildly, not one of the title's strongsuits. While considerably more emotive than the deadpan delivery found in the likes of House of the Dead, the voice cast comprises some of the most over-acted, irksome, whiny and downright annoying collection of characters ever assembled for a videogame. While the voice-actor for Jake himself is passable, every syllable uttered by the supporting cast is enough to make your stomach churn. One can only marvel at Frontier's incompetence in this regard. The soundtrack fares somewhat better than the voice-acting, but it too comprises a selection of tracks that border on woeful.
Perhaps Dog's Life is indeed an accurate simulation of the life of an average dog. However, a boring, repetitive existence does not making for an enthralling videogame experience, whether true to life or not. A commendable concept, but the final product fails to offer anything the genre has not already played host to.
(See Latest Videos & Video FAQ Here)
|PLEASE DO NOT DIRECT LINK TO ANY MEDIA FILE ON KIKIZO|
|Dog's Life - first footage! (Direct feed).||1.06min||7.93MB||WMV|