Every once in a while, usually an unfortunately long while, a game appears from out of nowhere, with no fanfare, no coverage, no nothing, that is wildly innovative, unique, and like nothing else on the market.  Games like ICO, No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, and Vib Ribbon answer the cries of gamers everywhere for more innovation and for something unlike “everything else”, only to languish on store shelves, unloved and unnoticed, shunned because of their unique nature.  Unfortunately, I fear Dog’s Life will meet the same fates as those games already mentioned and a handful of others like them, unless you dear gamer, take a chance on this little gem and give it the love it deserves.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, when I first heard of Dog’s Life, it barely registered as a blip on my gaming radar and I’m the type of gamer hopelessly drawn to the quirky, different, waaaay out there games.  I quickly dismissed it as typical “kiddie fare”, despite its Teen rating, pumped out without conscience to the unsuspecting and less demanding youth gamer.  Boy was I wrong.  Dog’s Life is truly unlike any other game on the market, which is a complete pleasure to play with its witty, if not sophomoric humor and innovative gameplay.  Who knew being a dog could be so much fun?  Well, okay, I kind of knew.  I mean, who hasn’t looked at their dog and thought about how nice it would be to lounge around the house all day, being fed and babied by a loving family?

In Dog’s Life you don’t just control a wisecracking dog named Jake, you become Jake, seeing and manipulating the world and its inhabitants with a truly “dog’s eye view”.  The story behind the game is that your love interest, Daisy, has been dog napped, and it’s up to you to find her and to unravel the schemes of the nefarious Miss Peaches.  Okay, so there’s a certain 101 Dalmatians type of vibe here, but trust me, they couldn’t be more different.  You begin the game at the scene of the crime, Daisy’s been dog napped by the bumbling Wayne and Dwayne.  Being the chivalrous dog that you are, you rush to her rescue only to be caught yourself.  As Wayne and Dwayne make their get away over a bumpy country road, your dog taxi bounces out the back of the truck unnoticed by your captors, and here starts your adventure.  You have no idea who took Daisy, why they took Daisy and tried to take you, nor do you know where they have taken her, so it’s up to you to answer all of the questions, as only a dog could.

You play the game from both a third dog and first dog perspective, with the ability to switch on the fly.  With that said, you will have to play the majority of the game in the first dog perspective also known as “Smellovision”(SOV), and this is where the game’s high innovation quotient comes into play.  A dog’s nose is the most sensitive and most used part of his body, and it’s no different here, as you’ll have to rely extensively on Jake’s sense of smell.  From SOV, you not only see through his eyes, but the developer has addressed the dog’s sense of smell in a most innovative way, the different odors of Jake’s world are represented by different colored clouds of stank and this is from where a bulk of the gameplay is found.  By trailing or collecting a certain number of smells, you are awarded with bones.  And just as bones are important to dogs, they become very important to you, because the more bones you collect the more likely the other dogs you’ll cross paths with will be submissive to you.  Every dog, including Jake, has a bone rating.  If a particular dog has a higher rating than you, he’ll be aggressive and uninterested in helping you.  However, if your ranking is higher, you’ll be able to take control of the other dog in order to complete tasks better tailored to that specific breed.

Beyond the sniffing mechanic and the bone ranking, you’ll also compete in mini-games against the other dogs for more bones, and most times, completion of at least one of these mini-games is required to take control of the new dog.  These mini-games cover various dog behaviors from digging up more bones than your competitor, to a race, to my personal favorite, the peeing game.  Yes, that’s right, the peeing game.  In this mini-game the object is to mark, and therefore own, more territory than the other dog.  Brilliant!  In addition to all of this, Jake can also poop and fart on command, as well as perform a wide variety of tricks (some of which are learned from other dogs in an almost DDR like mini-game), which comes in handy for getting treats and snacks from the humans you’ll come across in the game. (Treats=health)

The game also features a pretty decent graphics engine, far surpassing any expectations I had for it.  The environments that Jake finds himself in are very lush, well detailed and animated.  From wide-open fields, to quaint little farms, to cities, to a ski resort, all of the environments are varied and outstanding.  The non-human characters in the game are also well done, with each canine featuring their own, individual look and mannerisms consistent with their breed.  The animation of the dogs is also spot-on, with very different movements that match the mood and circumstance of the dogs.  The humans in the game look very good at a distance, but once you get an up close look at their faces and facial expressions, a little, not much mind you, is lost.  I had trouble putting a finger on it exactly, but by the smallest of margins, they just don’t seem to match up as well as everything else in the game.

The game also fairs pretty well in the sound department.  The ambient sounds of the environments are especially noteworthy, with a cornucopia of realistic background noise to be heard.  The voice acting is also pretty well done, but if there is one annoying thing that sticks out in the game, it is that some humans constantly, and in the case of the lumberjack at the mill annoyingly, repeat the same lines over and over and over, without provocation.  If I have to hear, “I looooove my axe!” one more time, it’ll be too soon.  Beyond that gripe, everything else is solid.  It should also be noted that some of the comedic lines delivered in this game are laugh out loud funny.

In closing, I really cannot say enough good things about this game.  A certain degree of this I’m sure is due to the fact that this game greatly surpassed my already low expectations, but there is no denying that this is one solid, outstanding game.  The fact that this game is so different from anything else out there and revels in that fact is only icing on the cake.  The developer has truly created a dog simulator here, with an attention to detail, second to none.  The various aspects of the canine world and the ways that they are implemented shows that the developer truly set out to make something unique and authentic, succeeding wildly.  Which creates a conundrum in and of itself.  How do you rate this game since there is nothing else to compare it to?  The only way to do it is to score in relation to what they were obviously trying to create and most important of all, whether or not it is a compelling and fun experience.  The answer is a resounding yes.  For those gamers tired of the “same ‘ol, same ‘ol”, give this game some serious consideration, you won’t be disappointed.  And for those of you that scream for innovation in games, yet do not support the innovative, here is your chance.  If we keep ignoring games that try to answer our cries and demands, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves for the formulaic games we buy by the droves.  This game deserves our attention.

Gameplay: 9.0
Short of actually getting down on all fours and sniffing rears for yourself, this game has perfectly captured what it must be like to be a dog.  The control is responsive and easy to learn, although some of the tricks take a little bit of doing.  The “Smellovision” aspect of the game is incredibly innovative, giving the gamer a good look at the world through a dog’s eyes and nose.  The puzzles included in the game are well designed and fit into the game world effortlessly and the mini-games are strangely addictive, if not a little easy.

Graphics: 8.5
The graphics engine does a great job of creating a believable, immersive world.  The dogs and animation look great, capturing each individual dog and breed.  The only drawback is the people contained in the game and the way their faces animate.

Sound: 8.5
The ambient noises are great, as is the voice acting.  There’s a fair bit of humor delivered in the lines, which is always appreciated.  Repeated lines by a couple of the characters is a wart, but not enough to detract from the overall experience

Difficulty: Medium
The game has a nice balance of challenge and difficulty from beginning to end.  Some parts can be a little simplistic, but for the most part it falls squarely in the medium range.

Concept: 10
I’m a sucker for innovation and this game just absolutely oozes it.  They’ve created a simulator that as far as this reviewer is concerned recreates the life of another being with great proficiency.  The developer, in creating this game and it mechanics left no stone unturned, which is admirable.  The various aspects of a dog’s life woven in the gameplay is staggering.

Overall: 9.0
This is a quality title that deftly accomplishes what the developer set out to do.  It is a unique, wildly enjoyable game that does its very best to be different from the usual game concept.  Dog’s Life is probably a game most people will overlook and pass over without a thought, but they do so at their own risk.  We as gamers crave unique experiences and perspectives in our games and this one delivers.  About the only people I can imagine not enjoying this game are die-hard cat people (Dog’s rule, by the way).  Give this game a chance, you won’t regret it.