As someone who has missed flights in the past at great personal expense, I’m not sure why I was so keen to review a game about running through airports. I suppose that’s less of a mystery than why the surreal airports in this new indie title are operated by spacefaring dogs, or why I am one of only two people left alive. The other survivor is my better half Krista, with whom I catch up in airport lounges scattered across the galaxy.
This is a joke game, obviously, and the traditional problem with joke games is that the thrill of the absurd premise has to give way to something more substantial, which can be a struggle. Airport Dog Game – developer Strange Scaffold is happy for everyone to abbreviate it so – inevitably flirts with this risk. The main joke here is that you are navigating a world populated by floating stock photos of dogs. The sight of these is absurd enough, but then some of them have elf ears, or bodybuilder arms stuck to the sides, and they generally speak in Reddit-friendly internet patter. If you don’t find the idea of a dog called Jimmy Doughnuts who sells doughnuts intrinsically farcical, this probably isn’t the game for you. But if you’d smirk at a husky with Ziggy Stardust eyes called David Bonie, then welcome in.
Apart from enjoying surrealist banter, Airport Dog Game is about meeting up with Krista and solving canine problems, and this is where it might lose you still. Some dogs need things, so you have to keep an eye out for them as you visit the peculiar and weirdly romantic airports of Phobos, Elf Planet, Beachwell and their neighbours. These puzzles are rarely difficult, but require observation and legwork, which starts to feel repetitive and long-winded after a few hours. As the work of a small team, it’s understandable that shops and eateries are repeated in different locations, but it does mean that opportunities for humorous new interactions thin out quicker than you’d like.
Hang in there through the repetition, though, and it turns out that there’s more to this than internet dog jokes and fetch quests. The combination of wandering and postmodernism put me in a contemplative mood anyway, presumably by design, and the wistful conversations with Krista, in which the couple gently nurture a long-distance relationship, have tenderness and pathos that kept me coming back. As a joke game, this has the expected issues, but ultimately it’s a flight I’m glad I didn’t miss.