Dog Sled Saga ($3.99) by Dan FitzGerald is a dogsledding simulation game that will appeal to all dog lovers out there. If you liked games like Punch Club but wish you had something a bit colder and filled with more dogs, then Dog Sled Saga will be right up your alley.
As a person who lives in Southern California, I honestly don’t know what having a real winter is like, though I wish I did, because I can’t stand being in the heat. I yearn for rain and snow, or at least some overcast, but my only salvation these days has been places with precious air conditioning. I did manage to experience snow in the mountains as a kid, though, thanks to my brother taking me out on skiing trips when I was younger. Even though I have no experience with the dogsledding sport, that isn’t going to stop me from trying Dog Sled Saga, as it at least gives me some peace of mind with the cold setting — one can dream, right?
In terms of visuals, Dog Sled Saga is beautiful, as it features a retro pixelated aesthetic that is incredibly detailed for what it’s worth. If you grew up in the golden age of gaming with all of the classic 8-bit and 16-bit titles on home consoles, then you’ll feel right at home with Dog Sled Saga. The color palette in the game ranges from softer, slightly washed-out hues to simulate the cold wintery setting, but there are some vibrant bits that stand out more thanks to the contrast with the snowy environment. Animations are smooth and fluid, and each dog is filled with their own unique personality and charm that shows through their sprite’s movements. There is also a quirky chiptune soundtrack that goes well with the game, and realistic sound effects, especially for the dogs, that make it feel more real. The text is rather easy-to-read as well, though it feels a bit small at times. Overall, the developers have done a good job in terms of how the game looks and sounds.
Since Dog Sled Saga is a simulation game, there’s only one game mode that’s available, and that’s Career. You begin as a rookie dogsledder who is just starting out, and you can have up to two game saves at a time. As you start, you’ll be asked to pick between one of two different dogsledder character models, and then you can pick your first three dogs. In order to make money, you’ll have to participate in dogsled races and finish in a ranked position to get some cash, which you need to pay your league dues and other expenses in order to make a living. In the beginning of the game, things are pretty basic — race with your dogs, make some money, train and care for your dog team, and pay your dues. But as you advance in the game, you’ll be able to hire employees for multitasking purposes for your team, get sponsorships for your dog’s fame, breed puppies, hire more skilled dogs, and more. While the game looks like it’s just dogsled racing on the surface, there is a surprising amount of depth, strategy, and micromanagement behind Dog Sled Saga, so it should appeal to any simulation fan.
While the micromanaging part of the game is easy to control (just simple taps through menus), the dogsled racing part requires a bit more involvement. As your dogs run, you’ll have to pay attention to when they start panting — this means they’re exhausted and need a biscuit for some energy. To lob a biscuit, just do a long-press on the screen and you’ll see a trajectory line appear from your dogsledder that will move back and forth. Just let go when the line is aligned with the panting dog’s head so that they can catch the treat. Your food supply is limited, but you’ll come across a few refill stations during the race, so make sure to lob those biscuits carefully. You can make your dogs jump and avoid large rocks by tapping anywhere three times in quick succession (not always successful for me). If a dog gets tangled in the harness, just tap repeatedly on them to fix it, and if the dogs are too close to each other, you can swipe on a dog to make them drift further ahead.
The controls work for the most part, though I did have trouble with the jumping part often. It seemed that the game was not as responsive during real races instead of the tutorial, as my team crashed into rocks a few times. I also had some problems with the text in the tutorial, as part of the text got covered up by the dog card when you’re rearranging the positions before a race. The game also doesn’t seem to use confirmation boxes before you make decisions, which can lead to disasters like accidentally losing game save data. I hope that the developers can optimize the controls and menus in a future update, as it would definitely help out with my minor annoyances so far.
I just started my career as a dogsledder, and despite the quirks with the controls at the moment, I’m enjoying the game. I love dogs, so how can I resist a team of cute and fluffy pixelated dogs? The graphics are gorgeous and detailed, the music is fun to listen to, sound effects are delightful and charming, and the simulation aspect can get in-depth. The racing aspect is fun as well, making it feel like an arcade mini-game in the simulation. I just hope to see better optimization in the future for controls and game menus, as well as some minor text fixes.
I recommend giving Dog Sled Saga a try if you enjoy micromanagement simulation games with a bit of arcade racing action. It’s also a fantastic game if you just love dogs in general. Dog Sled Saga is available on the App Store as a universal download on your iPhone and iPad for just $3.99. There are no in-app purchases.