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WarDogs: Red's Return

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: QUByte Interactive
Developer: Mito Games
Release Date: April 29, 2021


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Switch Review - 'WarDogs: Red's Return'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 13, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

WarDogs is a beat-'em-up game inspired by classics of the genre, where you can fight against hordes of enemies with different combinations of punches and kicks to perform special moves to defeat all the bosses.

Aside from the anthropomorphic dogs brawling in the streets, two things about WarDogs: Red's Return immediately catch your attention. The first is the price. At $3.99, it is a tempting proposition for those looking for a quick beat-'em-up fix. The second is the fact that it's a single-player-only game. For a genre that is synonymous with co-op play, offering a solo-only mode is a bold risk. Unless you absolutely need a multiplayer co-op experience, those two things might be tempting enough to give it a look, and your opinion depends on how forgiving you are of the game's many quirks.

Despite the presence of anthropomorphic dogs and the description on the store's page, don't expect much of a narrative in the game. You play the role of Red, a former gang member and protector of his neighborhood who tried to go legit in the world of organized fighting. After an incident that forced him to get out of the public spotlight for a bit, he returns to his old neighborhood to find that the gang wars have escalated. With things getting bad due to the involvement of a shadowy figure trying to make things worse, it falls on Red to single-handedly bring some normalcy to the situation.

Genre fans will find many familiar elements in WarDogs. Take a few steps, get stopped by a bunch of enemies that need a good kicking or punching, and repeat the process until you reach the level's boss before doing it all over again throughout the game's eight stages. The environments range from an underground lab to unkempt streets, and enemies vary from regular cannon fodder to very tall guys that hit hard. Except for some enemies equipped with drones, you're not going to find anything wild here.

Your arsenal of punches and kicks delivers some good combos, but you have more moves at your disposal. You can block attacks, which is a rarity in the genre. You have a rushing tackle that's good for hitting multiple enemies in a row and a spinning lariat that's good for killing anyone around you. Both moves have cooldown timers, but there's no other limit to how many times you can use them. Weapons found in crates are scarce, but all of your attacks build up a meter at the bottom of the screen that gives you the choice of applying a 50% boost to your attacks for a limited time, a decently sized health boost, and a powerful ground pound to hit all of your surrounding foes with one shot. All of those attacks are available at the beginning, with your arsenal only changing closer to the end, where you'll acquire a rampage mode that puts you in a super-powered state for as long as you have energy on the meter.

Based on what's here, there are some good building blocks for a competent brawler, and when you look at the overall game, that's exactly what you get here, since most hits feel significant. Slowly but surely, WarDogs starts to show some quirks that make you feel that the game needs more polish. Get in a good combo on a bunch of enemies, and you'll see a slow-motion effect when landing the final blow. It gives you a false sense of accomplishment when none of the enemies have died. During fights, there are moments when you'll get caught up in juggle combos or be propelled forward with your attacks, eventually placing you out of contact with enemies. The time it takes between an enemy falling and letting you know they've died takes longer than expected, so you think you need to execute a final blow but then realize that you're whiffing at air. The timing between killing the final enemy in the area and getting the notice to move on is also out of sync, as you'll get the warning to move before the final enemy even shows up.

Throughout the game, the menu systems make it difficult to determine which option you've picked. The feeling of jankiness is amplified when you beat a level, as the game takes you back to the title screen before bringing you back to the main menu and the campaign menu instead of taking you directly to the level select screen.

Of all of the mistakes shown off, the one that stands out the most is the upgrade system. Both in the store and at the end of levels, you're given the chance to obtain different chis and cores that augment base stats, such as attack effectiveness and health. The problem is that none of these things are ever shown to you, so you have no idea if these things are even being boosted. To compound the issue, you can never tell if any of these things make a difference in combat. No tangible differences are seen during gameplay, so it feels like busy work with a false sense of progression to make the game feel deeper than it is.

The campaign isn't very long, as you can knock it out in about two hours. Beyond this, there's not much else to do in the game except for playing the campaign again at a higher difficulty level. Five of the stages can be replayed with special objectives to tackle. There's also a horde mode, where you can beat the crap out of enemies until your health meter is depleted. Other than that and trying to buy all of the cosmetics, don't expect to spend a great deal of time with this title.

Like the rest of the game, the overall presentation is mixed. The character models look fine enough, as do the environments, but they start to look the same after a while due to the grime filter applied to every stage. The foreground elements are plentiful, but at least they don't do anything to block the action, while the camera zoom seems to be so tight that merely jumping will make the camera bob up and down. It also doesn't help that the game stutters when there are enough enemies on-screen, robbing the title of feeling fluid. Audio-wise, the soundtrack is good, but there are moments when you forget that it exists; the sound effects vary wildly from having some real punch to being muted, even during the same attack type and sequence.

WarDogs: Red's Return is enjoyable but messy. The fighting is fine, but the little things, like the delayed indication that an enemy has died, the unnecessary slow-motion sequences, and the instances of getting stuck in a juggle combo make it feel unpolished. The upgrade system would be fine if it worked, while the short campaign and lack of modes make WarDogs a disposable title that's good for an afternoon. Thanks to the price, WarDogs is still worth checking out if you want to build up the list of games that you've completed over your lifetime.

Score: 6.0/10

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