Image courtesy of Digital Eclipse
“102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue” is a wonderful platformer released for PC and PlayStation in 2000. It’s loosely based on the “102 Dalmatians” live-action movie, but not really since the plot is completely different. You play as the puppies Oddball and Domino as you race to save your siblings from Cruella de Vil, who kidnapped them to use as toys. The 20 levels take you from the puppies’ home in London to de Vil's Toy Factory, where you finally confront and defeat de Vil to stop her evil plans. Despite the title, there are actually only 100 Dalmatians in the game (including both player characters).
The game begins in Regent’s Park, where you meet some of the friends who will be helping you along the way. The best part of Regent's Park is the super-secret out-of-bounds area that can be reached by jumping over the fence. This viscous void is hyper-realistic and reminiscent of crushing existential nothingness and the futility of life. Going the wrong way here only returns you to the start of the game, so it’s much better to just hang out and enjoy the lack of attainable goals. It’s the perfect way to start off a game.
In subsequent levels, you go through all the famous parts of England: Piccadilly, Big Ben, the Underground, the… Ice Festival? Even though it’s summer everywhere else, winter is in full swing for this one level, complete with evil snowmen and slalom races. From there you move on toward de Vil's manor and the final confrontation at the Toy Factory. By the last few levels, you can tell that the game designers were getting tired. The textures don’t always meet up completely, and you might find yourself in places you were never meant to be. But hey, they tried.
They also made some innovative choices that really enhance the playing experience. If you roll into object edges, you might find yourself stuck inside the object forever. And if you try to finish the Toy Factory level by walking in the middle of the path, you fall through the floor and get to start over! Except nothing works so you can't! It must be an ingenious mechanic meant to teach the perils of taking the obvious path. Even the enemies teach you important lessons about life. The teddy bear loudly proclaims “you’re my best friend” and then tries to attack you. Friendships don’t get much healthier than that.
The game also includes a variety of minigames, where you can do things like press random buttons to music and dig holes. The mini golf game is particularly good, and I happen to be something of an expert at it. It takes you through many of the levels that are visited in the main game, plus some others: despite setting the game entirely in England, the designers felt that mini golf would be incomplete without an Eiffel Tower stage.The holes are arranged in no discernible order, because difficulty and story definitely weren’t taken into account. Mini golf is also a nice, compact length, being completable in an officially verified time of one minute and 42 seconds. It’s a perfect substitute for mindless phone games when you want to put way too much of your life into something that doesn’t actually matter.
The verdict: “102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue” is a gem of a game even 19 years later. The gameplay is flawless, the graphics are stunning, and the minigames will keep you coming back for more. This unexpected depth in a children’s game is impressive. Unfortunately, it’s only seen significant play in recent years by speedrunners and victims of nostalgia.