Historians reckon that dogs were first domesticated somewhere in eastern Europe between 18,000 and 32,000 years ago. Since then, man’s best friend has been a ubiquitous presence; dogs are friends, advertising mascots, police personnel and so much more. In short, there’s really no telling where we would be if it wasn’t for our furry friends.
As far as we know, despite their versatility and eagerness to please, dogs have never been fighter pilots. There’s probably something about trying to control a plane without opposable thumbs that doesn’t agree with them. Thunderdogs.io changes all of that by finally allowing players to take control of the best puppy fighter pilots in the skies to decide who really is the top dog.
Thunderdogs.io is the latest .io game to come to Poki. If you’re not familiar with .io games, here’s a quick refresher course. Most .io games tend to be fairly straightforward, stripped-back multiplayer affairs in which the objective is to amass points by dispatching enemies. In some .io titles, you’ll grow bigger as you absorb dead foes (don’t think about it too much), while in others the aim is simply to score the most points and out-play your opponents.
Into this latter category squarely falls Thunderdogs.io. The game was developed by Lucky Kat Studios, whose previous works include mobile success stories like Combo Critters, Road Warriors and Grumpy Cat’s Worst Game Ever. Thunderdogs.io is being launched simultaneously on mobile platforms, Facebook Messenger and on the web; you’ll only be able to play it on Poki on your browser, but the game supports cross-platform play, so you’ll be dogfighting with players from all of these platforms.
The first thing that’s worth mentioning about Thunderdogs.io is its visual style. The game utilises a modern retro pixel art aesthetic, which you’ll be familiar with if you’ve played 2D platformers like Owlboy or Dead Cells. We’re huge fans of the visuals in Thunderdogs.io; the graphics are crisp, sharp and nostalgic, and although fights can threaten to become overwhelming with the sheer number of players and projectiles on screen, the pixel visuals do a great job of keeping everything visible and comprehensible.
That’s good, too, because fighting is the beating heart of Thunderdogs.io. Like most .io games, Thunderdogs.io hides deceptive depth beneath a veneer of straightforward simplicity. The controls are pretty easy to grasp on paper: left and right arrow keys turn the plane, up arrow gives you a quick boost of speed, down arrow brakes, and space bar fires whatever weapon you happen to have at the time.
Easy to grasp doesn’t mean easy to master, though. The tutorial Thunderdogs.io begins with is welcome indeed, and it’s not obtrusive or obnoxious at all; the game simply explains the controls, then allows you to practise your dogfighting skills at leisure after you’ve shot down a few slow-moving planes to get started. The game actually does a pretty remarkable job of replicating player movement and play style with its AI, so you’ll have plenty of time to get used to the feel of the controls before you get started for real.
Once you move past the tutorial stage, you’ll be catapulted into a real dogfight with enemy players, and it’s here where the meat of the game can be found. This mode of play is the only way to experience Thunderdogs.io, so it’s a relief to report that it’s tremendous fun. There are three objectives in each dogfight: survive as long as possible, shoot down as many enemy planes as you can, and collect any bones you see lying around.
Each of these objectives feeds into the others, creating a satisfying gameplay loop in which there’s never any downtime or moments of boredom. Shooting down enemy planes yields bones, avoiding enemy gunfire means you’ll survive for longer, and surviving for longer increases your chances of both gunning down more planes and collecting more bones. Those bones may seem like a tasty target for your canine ace, but they also make your plane larger and larger with each one you collect, so you’d better get used to being headhunted.
The controls can take a little getting used to, but once you’ve got a handle on them, flying your dog’s plane is immensely satisfying. There are a good number of weapons on offer here, from laser cannons to machine guns, and they all pack a pleasing punch that makes using them a joy. Using the arrow keys to steer the plane rather than simply moving it is a novel approach, and it pays dividends, creating a much more involved and engaging feeling of control than a simple axis movement scheme might.
There’s no actual way to “win” a dogfight in Thunderdogs.io, so once you’ve died, your score will be tallied up. Score is calculated by how many planes you shot down, as well as how many bones you managed to collect, with your best sitting smugly above your current number to remind you how much better you’ve done in the past. Both of these totals are converted into coins, which can be used to collect unlockable pilots.
Each pilot brings their own plane, which has its own strengths and weaknesses; some planes are super-fast but weak, while others are tanks, capable of sustaining a lot of damage but without an easy method of escape. There’s also a levelling system in the game, which enables you to unlock perks for your chosen plane such as speed boosts and damage increases. This contributes to the feeling of depth we mentioned earlier; though the game only has one mode, and it could be repetitive in the wrong hands, Lucky Kat has created a game which stands the test of replayability.
All in all, Thunderdogs.io is a game well worth your time. Its gorgeous pixel art, satisfying gameplay and surprisingly deep customization all go towards creating a game that’s easy to get lost in. Solo players should look elsewhere, but if you’re looking to take down a host of man’s worst enemies, you could do much worse than Thunderdogs.io.