I’ll admit, writing this review was a little daunting. I mean, how exactly am I supposed to give my
opinion of a non-game game? Well, being
a closet Harvest Moon fan helps a little, but there’s still a sizable stretch
between “farm sim” and “puppy sim.” So,
I’ll give it the old college try...
the big N’s latest unconventional title for their so-called developer system,
initially defies defining. Many people
who see me playing it on the bus or after work say, “Oh, that’s like those
Tomogotchi things, right?” Well, they’re
half-right. Nintendogs takes the
embryonic pet-simulator concept introduced with such early tries like
Tomogotchi and Giga-pet, and then hyper-develops it. Nintendogs is in essence what those
primordial sims were trying to accomplish, and for one big reason: Nintendogs
is based on a real animal, something we’re all very familiar with.
explain further. Tomogotchi’s were
popular as a novelty and among quirk-gamers simply because they were new and
different. A blob of grayscale pixels
that roughly resembles a cute little beastie will appeal to the offbeat crowd,
but non-gamers won’t get it. Here again
is Nintendo’s philosophy of broadening the market. They’re expanding an idea with a lot of
promise by marketing it to people who have never
played video games before, and it’s working.
thing is, I’m as enamored with Nintendogs as my ten-year-old sister is, and I
hope I can explain why in this review. I
have an inkling that it’s because puppies are just one of those things that are
practically irresistible to any human, unless you happen to really hate
dogs. Puppies are adorable, soft, cuddly
and loyal, and I’d better end this sentence before I need to take an insulin
shot. The fact is that Nintendogs
recreates the feel of man’s best friend so accurately, you’ll be instinctually
drawn to these virtual canines as you would a real dog.
Yes, the Nintendogs are noticeably
polygonal. They have data points and
textures like any other 3D representation, and at the end of the day they’re
still stuck in your DS, behind those double screens. But their behavior
is so well done, you’d swear there was a real animal behind those
screens. The actions of these puppies is
as random and dynamic as a real dog’s; they’ll jump up and paw at the back of
the screen when you turn on your DS, like you’ve just come home from work. You feel as if they’re genuinely happy to see
environments are somewhat surreal; a white glow permeates every area and gives
them all a comforting, serene atmosphere.
But the way the dogs interact with their surroundings is remarkably
realistic, whether you’re chilling at home, at the park or out on a casual
walk. These places all have a double
purpose, as they are training grounds for the contests you can enter your dog
into. For instance, the park is great
for tossing the frisbee around, your house is better suited for teaching
tricks, and the gymnasium is exclusively for agility exercises.
scenery is rather unrealistic in some ways, the objects in this world are all
very real. I have to hand it to
Nintendo; the physics engine in this game is so spot on, and yet so subtle at
the same time, you’ll hardly notice it. And that’s the way it should be. Playing fetch with the tennis ball or tug of
war with the pull rope should all feel completely natural, so that you forget
that you’re playing a game. And it
does. Of course, your pet does require
some virtual maintenance to keep healthy, such as feeding, cleaning, and
exercise, but another beauty of this game is that your puppy will never
die. They may get surly and take off for
a while if you neglect them, but they remain eternally youthful, never develop
debilitating diseases, never run into the street and get hit by a car...it’s
all the fun of a puppy without any of the heartbreak.
As I said, the realism of the dogs lies in their personality
more than in their appearance. There are
twenty breeds in all, each with their own distinct attitudes, likes and
dislikes. You get six breeds at the
start, and the types depend on which version of the game you bought. All twenty are eventually unlockable, but
linking up wirelessly with a friend who has a different version is a more
expedient way to complete your list of available breeds.
have your new friend purchased and at home, naming is taken care of with the
microphone. Your dogs will actually
respond to your voice, be it a simple call of their name or instructions on
performing a trick. Thankfully, tapping
the screen is just as effective as calling their name, so playing in a public
place is possible. As you interact with
your dog, he or she will become more accustomed to you and more obedient, and
thus more receptive to learning tricks and commands. Some dogs are more stubborn than others, and
some of this depends on breed, so be prepared for a training challenge if you
pick a rowdy pup.
As you and your pet become more familiar and
comfortable, you’ll also grow in confidence.
It takes consistent practice in a number of areas, but eventually you’ll
be able to enter your dog in competitions.
The disc contest is self-explanatory; throw the frisbee and your dog
will fetch it. Distance thrown and
number of catches within the time limit determines score. Agility trials are a little tougher. You’ll have to train your dog in the gym to
leap hurdles, navigate tubes and zigzag through a series of poles.
obedience trials take the most effort.
You’ll have to teach your pet a solid list of increasingly complex
tricks, and not only that, but they’ll have to do them well and precisely on
command too. If you have a particularly
inattentive puppy or one that’s easily distracted by a cheering crowd, this
contest will be a hard one to beat. All
of the trials are worth it, though, as they award you with big prize money. The cash is in turn used to purchase
necessities such as food and water, as well as more puppies. You can have eight dogs at one time, three in
your home and five in the convenient dog hotel.
In the end,
this is all Nintendogs really has to offer.
Its relative simplicity makes it easy to pick up and play, but sim fans
hoping for a deeper experience may be disappointed. It’s a double-edged sword, really. Non-gamers won’t be intimidated, but the
hardcore might consider Nintendogs a little anticlimactic.
But is the
game worth the money? Definitely. There’s still plenty to keep long-time
players busy. One of the game’s main
attractions is finding items during walks, such as new toys, collars or the
ever-popular Mario hat. The wireless
“Bark Mode” offers considerable replay value, and an opportunity for virtual
dogs and owners alike to play together, swap items and data. Bark Mode will even search for active DS
systems in its Bluetooth range, so if you’re in a crowded area you just might
find a fellow Nintendogs player.
replay value, however, comes from just firing up your DS and interacting with
your puppy. If I’m bored I’ll pull out
the tennis ball or just scratch my dog behind the ears with the stylus. No matter what, your Nintendog will always be
happy to see you.
Nintendogs is the most developed pet simulator to date. Itâ€™s a lot more interactive than the Tomogotchi of old and not creepy like Segaâ€™s Sea Man, and it accurately portrays one of the worldâ€™s most loveable real animals. The experience as a whole isnâ€™t terribly deep, but itâ€™s still a great example of the â€œnon-gameâ€ genre and the potential of the DS hardware. Itâ€™s perfect for quick bursts of play and non-competitive interaction with friends.