Straight-up fact: I have no street cred. Zero. In fact, I actually enjoyed Vanilla Ice’s movie trainwreck Cool as Ice. Yet in spite of my lack of urban savvy Snoop Dogg’s new rap-rhythm-fighting mashup earned my admiration. But, crucially, while Way of the Dogg has the street smarts to snag a certain audience, like Snoop himself it lacks the polish necessary for it to gain wider critical respect.
America Jones fights because it is the only thing he knows. When his girlfriend disappears he must seek the help of Snoop Dogg and descend into the city’s underworld in an adventure that mixes rhythm action with lots and lots of punching people in their faces. This framework gives Snoop a chance to play philosopher-king and spout things like, “Finding the way means finding the beat that drives the fight.” It’s the kind of kung fu spiel you’d expect someone to invent around a Wu Tang album, but it’s also clear somebody put a decent amount of energy into fleshing out Way of the Dogg’s world and characters. If you’re keen to know more, extensive character and location bios are unlocked as you play.
Over 19 chapters you guide AJ as he punches, kicks, and body-slams through a series of fights choreographed to slices of Snoop Dogg’s west coast rap. Your success at tapping and sliding the onscreen prompts in time to the music determines whether you deal damage or take a fall. Levels are, literally, impossible to fail: hit zero health and the song ends and you’re delivered to the next stage. It’s clear that developers Echo Peak are aiming for an audience outside of core rhythm action fans, and they’ve succeeded—but they’ve also succeeded in negating the point of the game itself. Why wasn’t this just a movie?
Taken as a movie, Way of the Dogg becomes more tolerable. It’s a good-looking beast, with dynamic cel-shaded animations during the fight scenes, although the art director must have really really liked Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. The game is fully voiced, and the roles of Snoop Dogg (as himself) and AJ are especially well done. With more attention paid to the core game this could have been a cult App Store gem, like some mystical gangsta martial arts movie epic. The overblown cheesiness of its presentation charmed me even as the action put me to sleep.
Though the gameplay fails, Echo Peak have also in a sense succeeded, as they created a product that is capable of entertaining people like me who might otherwise be turned off by a straight Tap Tap Revolution: Snoop Dogg Edition. Despite my discontent with the rhythm action shown here, I hope that future developers will consider taking this artist specific, story-based approach to their rhythm games. It fails to live up to expectations in key ways, but Way of the Dogg is so brash and unusual that it deserves consideration. Intriguing, though not essential–kind of like Snoop’s reggae career.