Developer Spooky Squid, known for the darkly cute They Bleed Pixels, has harnessed the adorable image of the hounds that ride Russia’s metros for food to make Russian Subway Dogs. A throwback to coin-op arcades, Russian Subway Dogs is part reflex-based and part puzzle, as you’ll need speed and cunning to get through its dozens of levels.
Russian Subway Dogs is set in a whimsical Moscow Metro. You play as a subway dog, travelling the metro and scaring its passengers to steal their food. You won’t be uncontested though, as other dogs, moose and even bears will be at the stations trying to steal the food you’ve rightfully scared away from the various types of commuters. Not only are you in the subway to survive, but you also have missions to complete for the Proletericat, your boss, an adorable cat styled after a Soviet-era Russian official. All of this is presented with beautifully animated, true pixel art and a fun soundtrack by veteran Peter Chapman.
The basic gameplay is simple: scare commuters, steal their food. Different commuters will have different types of food, or even be carrying items that can help or hinder your efforts. Barking is your main tool to scare, as well as immobile wildlife and push projectiles in a more desirable path. Your stamina will be constantly depleting if you’re not eating food. Getting hit by enemies or hazards can make that happen faster and even barking diminishes it.
But it’s not just surviving levels that you have to worry about as it’s not just a straight shot to the end of the level. Even if you manage to get enough food to survive you also have to make a grade higher than “F.” Get stuck with a fail at the end of the level and the train doors won’t open and you’ll starve to death on the platform. Such is the hard life of a subway dog. The premise is simple, but it can get hectic—and it can be unforgivingly difficult at times.
There are plenty of variations between levels, commuters and other animals to keep things plenty interesting, but challenges add an extra layer of difficulty and replayability. It’s not good enough to survive with a passing grade to progress through Moscow’s metros. Instead, you’ll have to complete a series of challenges in each level to collect bones. If you don’t have enough bones, the next station will be locked off to you until you go back and earn them. With no way to skip this requirement it can be an uphill climb.
Each level, even if it’s one you’ve played before, can be approached in many unique ways, and they can get incredibly hectic. Vodka explosions can create chain reactions, either planned or unplanned, and various food items can yield different effects either for you or other animals that eat it. Hot sauce can either leave a fire behind, or if you eat it before it hits the ground, have you literally shooting fire. Chocolate is poisonous (of course), is worth a lot of points, and can be used against your enemies. Avoid explosive vodka bottles, or use it to cook your food for greater points/stamina benefits—there are just a ton of options available to you in each level. There are also unique boss encounters that sometimes significantly change gameplay.
In addition to the campaign mode, there is also an endless challenge mode that changes difficulty dynamically based on your score. There are also different dogs to unlock as you play the campaign or conquer various challenges. These different characters don’t change the gameplay, but it’s fun to play as a tiny version of the wurm from Nidhogg 2 or the adorable characters from Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, as well as the other animals that make cameos from other games.
Russian Subway Dogs is a charming pixel art romp, and a game that is enjoyable either in binge sittings or short bursts. Though it can be frustratingly difficult, its fetching premise, beautiful art and adorable concept had me wanting more.
Russian Subway Dogs is available today on Steam.