The future is bleak. Humanity is gone. Japan has become a desert wasteland, patrolled by vicious mechanical monsters. But in this post-apocalyptic world, an unlikely hero emerges. Pochi, a Shiba Inu with a machine gun, is on the warpath, and nothing can stand in his cute but deadly way.
The long-running Metal Max series of JRPGs isn’t one that’s made much of an impression in the West. To date, we’ve only received English translations of Metal Saga for the PS2, and Metal Max Xeno and its sort-of remake Metal Max Xeno Reborn on the PS4. Nonetheless, it’s a series I’ve been meaning to try, and what better way to dip my toe in the water than with this spin-off title?
Stepping away from its JRPG roots, Metal Dogs offers a different kind of experience. You’ll start off as Pochi, a Shiba Inu who gets revived by the mysterious Dr Mortis. With the good doctor’s help, Pochi gets himself kitted out with a deadly arsenal of ranged weaponry, all the better to shoot down the hordes of vicious monsters that now roam the lands. In time, Pochi is joined by two other canine companions – Bell the Doberman, and Bonanza the bulldog.
Gameplay is simple and straightforward. The game is divided into a series of missions, each of which takes place in a procedurally-generated dungeon packed to the rafters with enemies. Each dog has three slots in which to equip weaponry, with a typical load-out compromising of machine guns for deadly bursts of quick-fire, cannons for slower, stronger shots, and guided missiles to make sure you really hit home. Later on, you can also swap out for some slightly more exotic options, like a flamethrower that will set your enemies on fire. Dogs can also equip collars that allow you to build up a powerful special attack, and armour that provides various defensive effects.
Thus equipped, your mission is to make it to the end of each dungeon, perhaps defeating a boss or fulfilling some other requirement along the way. It’s simple stuff, but it’s fun – you get to be a dog and shoot everything that moves. There’s a reasonable variety of enemies on offer, and a mix of status effects and environments helps to mix things up a bit, and encourage you to take on ‘just one more’ mission.
That being said, Metal Dogs is clearly a budget title, and it shows. There are many things in the game which are just about fine, but could have been so much better. I’ll list a few of them below.
- You ultimately unlock three different playable dogs, but gameplay differences between them are superficial. Compared to Pochi, Bell is meant to be faster but more fragile, while Bonanza is supposed to be more of a tank, but the difference really is minimal. If you equipped all three dogs with the same weaponry, the gameplay experience would be identical.
The two additional dogs also each join at Level 1, so there’s little incentive to switch over to them instead of just sticking with Pochi.
- Despite this, it’s also a shame that there are only three dogs. Even if the differences were only cosmetic, it would have been nice to unlock more breeds and maybe even a variety of coat colours.
- Weapons and armour each have attribute slots which can be upgraded, adding effects such as increased damage or reduced reload time. This all sounds great, except it’s only in late game that you have much control over upgrading – before then, your upgrade results are random.
- At the same time, the drop rate for new weapons is ridiculously high. There’s not much advantage to keeping a huge range of backup weapons, so you end up selling them – but then you have more money than you could possibly spend at the game’s limited shop. It would have been much more satisfying if you could turn your unwanted weapons into upgrade points that you could spend on enhancing your favourites.
The game is also pretty easy overall. Up until the last few missions and the postgame EX missions, I only died once, and I never felt like I had to play particularly well in order to win. Healing items are inordinately plentiful, and there were often times when I would make a lazy mistake and not suffer any real punishment.
One notable omission is the lack of any kind kind of co-op mode. This games feels like it would be perfect for co-op, and this might even be an incentive to level up the other two dogs. Unfortunately, we can only hope that this might be added in a future update.
Metal Dogs is a budget game, and visually, it does look like one. There’s not a huge variety of dungeon environments, and the assets within each one are pretty generic. Enemies are more varied, although there’s still a fair amount of palette-swapping going on.
Performance-wise, the game generally holds up well, although in later levels, the sheer numbers of enemies around do cause some framerate drops. This was especially noticeable during the final battle, where the boss was spawning enemies who were themselves spawning smaller enemies.
Overall, I rather enjoyed the game’s soundtrack, which is available for sale on Steam as DLC for the main game. Admittedly, the hub town music can get a bit grating, but once you’re out on a mission, the energy of the in-dungeon tracks will get you pumped up and ready to shoot down whatever comes your way.
Despite no expense have been spent on its production, Metal Dogs is still a fun little game. If the thought of playing as a cute dog with an arsenal of deadly weapons is at all appealing to you, you’ll certainly derive some entertainment from this title.