An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs is one of those games that is not for everyone. In fact you should know if it’s for you by just watching the trailer. It is very clear what exactly it is the moment you look at it. Made by (mostly) just one person, Xalavier Nelson Jr, this is very much an indie game. Before diving into what I think makes An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs interesting though, lets just get a rough overview of what the game is.
Alien Dog Airport is a first person comedy held together mechanically with a series of small fetch quests (pun intended). You will travel to different themed airports where you interact with NPCs which are all just JPEGS of dogs. In order to progress further you will need to get the dogs at the gate for your flight different things which can be found by talking to the other dogs running the shops in the airport. There are some larger series of fetch quests with dogs asking for multiple things from multiple airports; however, your main goal is to continuously find your fiancé at different airports by completing the former series of tasks to get from zone to zone.
The fetch quests, although usually uninteresting, do have a few more fun ones that give a meaningful sense of progress. One dog wants to build a bridge to a hidden area and as you collect things for him, the bridge slowly grows. This allows you to reach the area as a reward for finishing it. Another quest rewards you with access to an underground club and gives you some fun world building.
I don’t want to come off as too negative here because I did overall enjoy the basic task of getting stuff and returning to hand in my item, but there was a lack of sense of progress with some of the side quests other than checking off an item on your list. The short term fetch quests to get from one airport to another were also generally lacking and extremely repetitive. The easiest way I can suggest of getting around this is simply to focus less on being a completionist and wanting to talk to every single dog at the first airport, and instead just take your time.
The dialogue is fun and whimsical, numerous times it had me laughing out loud or calling to my wife to come over and read some of it. Personalities include cats pretending to be dogs, a dog that is overrun with too many cabinets, and a dog who is dabbling with eldritch horrors. It’s extremely cute and has a sense of overbearing joy about it. Even the more serious or unusual parts of the game are done so in a way that still has that same optimism about it. My one complaint is that I simply wanted more dialogue, more jokes.
Most of what I have said so far has been a mixed bag, and while I think it’s needed in a game review to point out these issues, it would be doing the game a disservice to look at only the surface level negatives. Because when boiled down to its most basic element of, walk here then there, it’s not a very interesting game. So the question is how much does the personality of the game hold the basic gameplay together. I’m happy to say it does so extremely well.
Often people will point to a game made by just one person and say “sure it’s a bit rough but it was made by just one person!” And that’s absolutely a fair thing to do here. It goes without saying one shouldn’t expect a game like Europa Universals with all its complex mechanics from just one person. But I think it’s important to note the fact it was created by mostly one person for a completely different reason.
Triple A titles are worked on by hundreds of people who have to report to managers who have to report to supervisors who have to report to executives, who in turn need to keep shareholders happy. In short, there’s little room for self expression in Triple A titles. When it comes to one person projects though that changes completely because every choice is their own. The game itself can become an expression of who they are.
It’s for this reason that An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs really shines through despite the rough edges. When playing the game you really get a sense of the creator, more so than a lot of other games, even other ones made by a single person.
The most obvious way the creator shines through is with the humor in the game. It’s very reminiscent of a show like Over the Garden Wall. By the midway point I really felt like I had gotten a good sense of Xalavier Nelson’s sense of humor as well as just his conversational tone in a lot of ways. The back and forth between the dogs and the player character, albeit extremely silly, had a genuine pacing about them. The player character reacting as someone genuinely would probably do so in such a situation. In that way it comes off as feeling like honest conversations and thus, it felt like I could get a sense of the creator himself.
There are wonderful little other things here and there that give it that feeling. Some of the sound effects are obviously just Xalavier’s attempts at making noises of doors opening and teleporters. It lends to the fun charm of the game, and I could just imagine someone doing that thinking it was hilarious. It helped create a picture of the him more in my mind as I imagined him laughing between takes.
The game really feels at its most genuine when the player character interacts with their fiancé. It removes (most) the silliness from the game and feels like earnest conversations between the creator and his own significant other. It feels extremely personal, from pet names like “weirdo” to lines about their relationship. We even get some brief nuggets of a broader world view beyond just silly dog jokes.
There is a wonderful point where the player character is talking to his fiancé about if pain is inevitable and she simply says no, it doesn’t have to be. It’s a small moment and one that can be easily missed. It really contextualizes the game more so as not just a fun silly game, but one with a strong moral. It really hits home though given the intense personal feeling behind the entire game and it really adds onto that overall feeling, of the game being a reflection of the creator.
Take all of that mixed with the aforementioned graphics of the game and the sound effects that include things like Xalavier Nelson’s attempts at vocalizing a teleporter noise and you get a game with not just charm, but love. A passion project which is laid bare as one. Usually when we talk about games as art we point to the literal artwork as examples for our arguments. Or we point out the themes or the tone of the game. But so often we are unable to talk about how the game is a reflection of the creator. An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs is able to fill that void.
When looking at An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs purely from a mechanical point of view it is fairly basic and that may turn some people off, but if after watching the trailer you are even mildly interested in playing it I highly encourage you to do so. It hilarious, surprisingly poignant at times, and is a great example of how art can reflect the creator. If this game was just a series of dog puns it would be fun but not great. What elevates it is the personality and sense of self the game has.
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