(PAW PATROL is out now for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows. Distributor provided review copy.)
Teaching an old dog new tricks
Making games for children is hard. I’m not talking about making games for teens or even pre-teens—things like MINECRAFT or MARIO, which are splendid and remarkable achievements in their own right. I mean games you can plonk an eight-year-old in front without worrying about them getting stuck, bored, or traumatized. To fill that hole comes PAW PATROL, based on the massively popular line of toys and TV-series. With no children of my own, and with everyone still in lockdown, I gave the anticipated spinoff a try myself.
The first thing to catch my eye is that PAW PATROL has an ample selection of voice and subtitle options to choose from, including the often ignored Finnish. While most readers here speak both, it’s a common question whether or not they come subtitled or fully translated. The dub is nice and lively and should please fans of the franchise. Likewise, the English language version is a positive experience, with pleasant voice acting and music throughout.
Lots to do
PAW PATROL isn’t particularly long, but it’s just varied enough to keep younger audiences entertained for some time. There are seven stages to work through, each filled with collectibles and various things to do. The platforming is a breeze for adults but should provide kids with just enough of a challenge to keep engaging. There isn’t a fail state, and you can’t jump overboard the platforms, which makes the game quite forgiving at every turn.
Unlike the LEGO games, which might be the closest thing to rival PAW PATROL, there isn’t much in the way of hidden trophies or secrets in general. The exploration rewards players reasonably quickly and easily, but I’m not exactly the target audience here.
The mini-games and mission objectives are also more in line with subject matter suitable for the family’s youngest members. They include things like setting up cones for road safety, cleaning up trash, plowing snow, or generally ensuring that everyone is healthy and happy around town. These challenges are a pleasant diversion from the usual antics aimed at younger audiences, relying entirely on compassion and problem solving rather than violence.
Mini-games, likewise, emphasize inclusive fun rather than direct competition, and it’s a nice change of pace from the mainstream. The dancing sections are simplified versions of stuff seen in other games, but they too are well designed and never dull.
Looking the part
The big picture is helped along by an adorable and well-animated presentation, which feels right in step with the animated series. The characters are lively personalities that are fun to play as, and each is different enough to make them feel like unique experiences. It will be a treat for fans of the show to spend time with their favorites during the adventure.
PAW PATROL also comes with a co-op mode that works like a charm, although oddly there’s no split-screen, and instead focuses the camera on the first player at all times. Meaning the second controller is essentially tied to their partner, which, especially during platforming, is not an ideal solution.
Nevertheless, PAW PATROL is a happy surprise. I rarely play children’s games, and even more rarely get to see what they’re up to these days, but PAW PATROL swept me along for the ride. It reminds me of when I was the target audience for this stuff in the best possible way. The smart design choices are thoroughly admirable, and never feel like they’re dumbed down for younger generations.
Instead, PAW PATROL is the rare kind of children’s game that I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of the canine-powered franchise. It’s a lovingly crafted piece of joy that might not last very long but is so charming and delightful that you’ll want to revisit it all over again.