The shoot ‘em up genre lends itself well to cooperative multiplayer, but few shmups support more than 2-player co-op. That’s what makes Dogfight: A Sausage Bomber Story (AKA Dogfight) so exciting. Dogfight supports 4-player local co-op, allowing a whole team of friends can join together to shoot down the planes, tanks, and mechs of the evil Vega Nation. The sound gameplay, colorful visuals, and robust difficulty options make this a shooter that both casual and hardcore fans will appreciate.
At the start of the game, before boss fights, and between levels, a light story unfolds via still images and text-based dialog. Dogfight is a sequel to a mobile/PC game called Sausage Bomber, with the story picking up ten years after the invention of the “sausage bomb” saved the free world. This one depicts a war between nations in an alternate Europe in which places and people are all named after foods, such as Relishtonia and Brad Wurst. The writing doesn’t get much more humorous than the silly names, but mild whimsy is still better than none.
The game consists of nine levels, all of which are replayable from the map. Each level takes place in a unique and colorful environment, such as mountains, a volcanic area, and an underground cavern system. Levels culminate in fights against huge bosses, all with multiple turrets and weak spots to destroy. Upon beating a level, players are awarded a star rating. New weapons unlock at various star milestones, greatly enhancing replayability.
Before starting the game, players select from four difficulty levels and a handful of gameplay options. The easier difficulties are quite reasonable and afford each gamer a life meter and multiple lives, whereas the player dies in one hit on the highest difficulty. Dogfight also features a unique “Speedrun” mechanic that increases the game’s speed when you kill an enemy and slows things down when you take a hit. This speedrun system certainly keeps players on their toes, but it might be too dynamic for some of us. Thankfully, the speed multiplier can be turned down or disabled entirely.
Dogfight offers four selectable pilots, each with a unique plane. The planes have hidden stats, Katsu tells us, but hiding the stats negates their usefulness, if you ask me. Players can equip two weapons at once. You start with a regular gun and a Gradius-style sausage bomb, but you can equip two guns or bombs from whatever has been unlocked. The game lets players enable hands-free auto-fire for guns but not bombs, oddly. Controls are a slight issue because the button layout maps guns to the bottom face button and bombs to the right-most button (A and B on Xbox, respectively). That’s just as awkward as when games map “jump” to the right button instead of the bottom one. The control layout can’t be customized, either, though putting guns on auto-fire alleviates the issue by making “bomb” the only button that needs to be pressed at all.
Levels have a nice flow to them, with tanks and turrets attacking from the ground and various aircraft assaulting from the air. Powerups include icons that increase gun strength by up to five levels, drones that fire alongside the hero (though far less powerfully than the options in Gradius), healing items, and score bonuses. It would be nice if we could find temporary, high damage weapons during a level, but the focus here is on unlocking and then equipping more effective armaments between levels instead. A final mechanic of note is that when a player runs out of life, he or she has a brief chance to repair the aircraft and save a life by rapidly pressing the fire button before the plane actually crashes. It’s fun when you pull off a save.
Co-op players can’t revive each other or anything like that, but it’s still helpful to team up with another pilot or three. Playing with an additional friend is really helpful, and bringing the player count up to four makes enemies go down so much faster. Of course, that much player firepower on the screen at once can make things visually confusing, but that’s part of the fun. If your squad finds co-op too easy, you can always kick the difficulty up a few notches, but I love that this is a shmup that less skilled players can also enjoy.
As mentioned earlier, Dogfight’s replay value comes mainly from replaying levels in order to earn more stars and unlock new armaments. Going back to replay stages with new weapons can certainly make achieving high scores and stars easier. However, the system could use more polish. First, the way stars are earned isn’t communicated to players. Is a 5-star rating based on score, shooting down all enemies, time, or what? The game doesn’t say. Additionally, players can only earn 45 stars on one save, but it takes 64 stars to unlock all weapons. You have to play on a second save (weapons carry over) to earn more stars. The need to use two or more saves to get all the weapons and some Achievements is a bit unintuitive.
While Dogfight: A Sausage Bomber Story isn’t the most epic shoot ‘em up in recent years, it’s easily one of the more enjoyable entries that I’ve encountered. The lighthearted visuals and atmosphere, combined with unusually fair and reasonable difficulty options, make for a very approachable shmup that anybody can enjoy. Big mechanical bosses, a rousing soundtrack (see our impressions) by Dale North, a variety of cool sausage-based weapons to unlock, and especially 4-player local co-op all help make this a tasty gaming experience.
Dogfight: A Sausage Bomber Story costs $17.99 on Xbox Series S|X, PlayStation, Switch, and Steam, and $14.99 on Epic. The Steam version is fully Steam Deck compatible. Learn about the Steam Deck optimizations and more our developer interview!
Xbox and Steam codes were provided by the developer and publisher for this review.
The Co-Op Experience: Up to four players can drop in and out at any time and help drive the highscore up.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.