Fresh powder and frisky pups await in the charming Dog Sled Saga

Mush to victory, make the right calls, and pet some digital doggies.

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These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.

Video games make it possible for us to experience things that we never could—or would—do in real life. Now, commanding a dog sled is one of those things. Frankly, it’s not something that I’ve ever aspired to do, and the whole enterprise seems exhausting, immensely challenging, and unavoidably cold. But wrap it up in an adorable iPhone game and I’m there with my fuzzy pixel boots on. 

Dog Sled Saga is the game in question, and it’s the first one I can recall that has ever tried to recreate the centuries-old ritual of sled dog racing. It’s not all that realistic of a simulation of the sport, however, instead splitting its approach between two types of play: the arcade-style races themselves, which find you tossing out snacks to keep your pups lively and energetic, all while avoiding mishaps. And then the rest of it is a management sim that has you oversee your team while managing the business that grows around your success.

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Toss out energy-packed snacks to keep your pups moving at top speeds.

It’s all pretty lightweight and calming, meaning the game is nowhere near as strenuous as the real sport—but it’s a fun little pick for on-the-go sprints and decision-making, no matter your surroundings. Intrigued? Here’s a look at why this adorable indie game is worth its weight in dog biscuits.

It’s dog sledding kept simple: Riding a real dog-guided sled must be incredibly challenging, what with needing to keep the dogs in formation and sprinting forward, surveying the terrain, and staying upright all the while. By comparison, Dog Sled Saga isn’t all that difficult to grasp or maintain. The dogs automatically zip ahead, and your primary task is keeping them energized by launching snacks towards their panting faces. Holding down on the screen expands out a throwing arc, and releasing your finger tosses the dog biscuit.

ysp dogsledsaga leap Trichotomy

Everyone at once: Leap!

You have a pretty limited window of space to actually reach each dog’s mouth, so there’s some skill involved with timing each throw, along with resource management—and not accidentally tossing the biscuits into tall trees. You’ll also need to leap over rocks, create space between dogs when they get too close, and tap to untangle the line when a dog gets caught up mid-run. It’s really pretty straightforward and simple, but if you can keep tabs on everything, you’ll be rewarded with success… and the races only become faster and faster as you move up through the various leagues.

Cuddles and contracts: Digital dogs might not live and breathe, but they still need a lot of TLC to thrive in this grueling sport. Between races, you’ll need to rest and train them, as well as monitor their fatigue and happiness—and they have preferences and special abilities, too, the latter of which manifest themselves during races. You can hire new dogs or even breed them, as well as bring on human employees to help with care.

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These pups are seriously skilled... and seriously adorable, too.

Getting to that point takes time, however. When you start out, you’re a total novice with untrained pups, and you’ll gradually earn money, sponsors, and skill en route to entering more challenging leagues and beating your showy, recurring rival (“that jerk,” hilariously). You’ll earn money and then spend it, reinvesting in your business as you climb the ranks of sled dog racing. It’s not particularly heady or complex stuff, but it requires some thought and planning, and the off-the-track elements really help to flesh out the overall experience.

It’s immensely likable: As noted before, nothing about Dog Sled Saga is hugely challenging or overwhelming, but still the game maintains an agreeable allure. It’s quiet, it’s offbeat, and it entertains all the while—plus the 16-bit-esque graphics are a delight, especially for the dogs themselves, along with the peppy tunes. There’s even a bit of story along the way, as you learn about the Mount St. Something region and a legendary dog from its past. Taken all together, it helps give Dog Sled Saga a pleasurably warm and cozy sensation; not what I’d expect from the sport, but a welcome surprise all the same.

Developer: Trichotomy
Platform: iOS (Universal)
Price: $4

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