Not long ago, I had a conversation with my coworkers about pets. The most important part of the discussion involved how many chihuahuas it would take to pull a dogsled. The consensus marked around 40 or so, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure. On the bright side, there’s Dog Sled Saga, an adorable indie for any other other strange human being that asks tough questions like my coworkers. No, you can’t have a full team of chihuahuas (DLC?) but you can manage an array of unusual breeds to bring you into musher stardom.
The game is divided into two parts. There’s racing and management. Racing is quite simple. Watch the dogs and throw them treats to keep up their stamina. There are other hazards such as rocks and trees to slow down your progress. Sometimes the dogs will slow down and you’ll have to untangle the harness, but otherwise it’s a simple timing game. The more efficient you keep the dogs fed, the faster you’ll go and the less taxing it will be on the dogs. Should you miss a throw or take too long to feed them, the dogs will develop fatigue and require more care when it comes to management. The more fatigue a dog develops the more unhappy they become. Dogs can earn fame points and specialize in their roles to gather sponsors to boost stats even more.
Managing your team is the trickiest aspect of Dog Sled Saga. In order to keep racing, you’ll have to pay your league dues or advance to the next league, which is also expensive. The more dogs and trainers you have employed the more expensive this becomes. In order to keep up races need to be won. Money is earned for coming in second or third place, but winning races is what will really put the team ahead. A day can be spend. Train it and the skill level will increase but the fatigue level will stay the same. Rest the dog and fatigue will lower but so will skill. Fatigue lowers faster than skill so it isn’t an unfair balancing act, but it still requires careful consideration.
There really isn’t a ton of game here, but there are other factors that make Dog Sled Saga work as well as it does. Thematically, dogs are one of the easiest ways to connect. There’s a level of innocence and connection felt toward pups and the fact that it doesn’t rest in realism in that there are lots of breeds to choose from the team can feel personal. For example, my team consists of a St. Bernard, Malamute, Husky, and Samoyed. Not exactly traditional dog sled fodder, but they’re my team and it’s fun having that kind of variety to differentiate the dogs. The look and feel of the game works perfect, too. It’s pixel art but it doesn’t rest on nostalgia and has simple but great animation. The music is reminiscent of Sega Genesis and fits nicely with the feel of the game.
Dog Sled Saga may not be much more than a light simulation and timing game but it never feels like it needs more than that. What could have become redundant gameplay is engaging and heartfelt. If you’re a pet owner, dog lover, indie game aficionado, or are a fan of management style games this is a great title to fill any and all of those slots. Maybe you can’t have a team of Chihuahuas (or dachshunds if we get lucky) but Dog Sled Saga still easily manages a recommendation.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), iOS, Android ; Publisher: Trichotomy ; Developer: Trichotomy ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 22, 2016 ; MSRP: $7.99 (PC), $3.99 (mobile)
“Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Dog Sled Saga given by the developer, Trichotomy.”