There's a two-headed dog lying on a bed fit for a king, both heads gently snoring as birds chirp in the background and a piano tinkles away.
The dogs' breed doesn't matter, the science behind the dual heads doesn't matter, nor does their lack of legs or (presumably) any way of voiding their bowels - this is the fantasy world of Phogs, a place where this two-headed dog solves puzzles. Don't ask questions, just wake the dogs (simply called Red and Blue) from their slumber at the base of a statue dedicated to a two-headed dog deity and help them hop and slide their way through this colorful world.
Wake them by tapping on your left and right joysticks - left for Blue and right for Red. They'll bark when you wake them, just like you startled a dog in real life. If you forget Phogs' movement demands you use both joysticks, the neglected dog will drag behind the lead dog and eventually fall asleep. As soon as you remember you need both joysticks to solve these puzzles, a gentle nudge will startle it awake again. It's as cute as it sounds.
Phogs doesn't give you a tutorial, it just shows you this sleepy, two-headed pup and hands you the reins to what is ultimately a slidy, wiggly, twitchy creature that can stretch and twist in ways that would frighten a biologist. And it's phun.
It was all a dream
You may wake Red and Blue up at the start of Phogs, but the entire game might as well be a dream. The world is a vibrant one, teeming with life and playfulness and whimsy and the kinds of things that could only happen in a dream after you ate a slightly larger portion of pot brownie than you originally planned. There are giant lilies swaying like trees in the gentle breeze, big blue ladybugs skittering away from the slaloming dogs, and massive rotating popcorn kernels begging to be gobbled up.
There are three game worlds designed around a dogs' three core tenets: Sleep World, Play World, and Food World. You begin in Sleep World, which is perfectly fine except for the screaming alarm clocks threatening to do your head in. But it's Play World and Food World where Phogs really finds its footing (sorry Red and Blue) and leans into the pastel-tinged adorableness that makes games like Ooblets so damn enjoyable.
Play World and Food World boast beautiful level design that makes the puzzles less of a bother - not just because you've gotten the hang of them after Sleep World, but because the later worlds feel more inspired. In Food World there are fruit-shaped houses, a chocolate cauldron held shut only by a marshmallow cork, and a giant ear of corn that resembles a skyscraper. The creatures wear fruit-shaped hats and neck accessories and hold giant forks while just simply staring at your bobbing dual-dog body. There's even an octopus sporting colors like a pastel kaleidoscope, wearing a chef's hat, stirring a vat of chocolate in which he himself marinates. I'm hungry.
Play World has a merry-go-round at its center, a light-up dance floor that Red and Blue can influence, and a giant piano that gives off big Big energy (the Tom Hanks movie, guys (opens in new tab)). Screw the puzzles - here you can play mini-golf and arcade games. You can ride a train, or roll around in a Zorb, or bark at seagulls until you're sick of it. The fact that you navigate between these gentle and silly worlds by way of giant worms who temporarily eat you, or via rollercoaster, is indicative of the kind of game Phogs wants to be. It's good, clean, phun.
A good kind of phrustrating
The world of Phogs is peppered with creatures who are there simply to serenely stare at you as you try to sort out a puzzle, like a senile grandmother watching her grandchildren play on Christmas Day. They won't help you with puzzles, they're just here for vibes, and to bring a smile to your face when the going gets tough.
Injecting a puzzle game with peaceful set dressing is a brilliant juxtaposition, as Phogs can be confusing and a wee bit frustrating. Attempting to move Red and Blue with any type of precision results in a variety of laughable disasters - they are, after all, legless stretchy dogs that are somehow stuck together. While the game is gentle when you make a mistake and fall off a ledge (you'll spawn basically where you were last), the lack of tutorial and restrictive camera angles makes for some seriously frustrating puzzles. I spent more time trapped in between impossibly colored trees than I'd like to admit, feebly stretching the neck (torso? legs?) of one of the dogs to try and grasp onto something - anything, really.
Phogs is phrustrating. It's the type of game that normally frustrates me to the point where I let loose a string of curses in English and Italian and rage quit - but the presence of those dang serene onlookers (many of them wearing fruit hats) and their persistent, silent gaze at two conjoined dogs shedding sweat drops from exertion is hilarious. It's impossible to get mad at Phogs - it'd be like yelling at a puppy for weeing on the floor. The thought of it is just cruel.
And that's what makes Phogs so special - sure it's a puzzle game, but it's one injected with a purity and playfulness I haven't seen from other games in the genre. It's that kind of energy that makes it okay if you can't figure out a Phogs puzzle - you're just here because the vibes are immaculate.
Phogs is available now on Xbox Series X, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Steam, and Stadia for $24.99.