When the original DS launched in 2004, it was a unique entity in the gaming market. This was before every handheld electronic device could play games and featured a touch screen, so this tiny dual-screened system was something of a revelation. However, sales didn’t really take off until a year after release, when it finally got a game that really showed off the potential of the system’s various features. That game was Nintendogs.
Nintendogs made full use of the system’s then-high-for-a-handheld specs to give us some of the most realistic canines ever seen in a game. We could pet and play with them using the touch screen, and even teach them tricks with our voice via the built-in microphone. The way it utilized all of these features in a family-friendly package led Nintendogs to critical acclaim and great commercial success.
My dog, Pickles. Imagine this, only jumping out in your face!
Fast forward to the Nintendo 3DS launch, and we have a similar situation. As a marquee game in an admittedly slim launch lineup, it’s again up to Nintendogs to prove why the world needs the new capabilities offered up by Nintendo’s latest handheld. It delivers in this department, even if sacrifices had to be made to make full use of the 3D effect. Keep in mind that this is really the same game as the DS original, but with better graphics and new features.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the premise of Nintendogs can’t get much more basic: you’re an animal lover who devotes every moment of your life to your pet. There’s no story to speak of: once you choose a dog from the local kennel, you’re let off the leash and allowed to do what you wish. There are plenty of fun things to do with your dog (not so much with a cat—more on that later), such as playing with toys, going on walks, teaching him or her tricks, and entering competitions to win cash to purchase supplies or new friends. In a fun addition, you can press a button to take a 3D picture of the action at any time, and even use the system’s AR (Augmented Reality) cards to make it look like your puppy is sitting on your real-life floor or bed.
At GamrReview, we typically save our judgment of a game’s presentation for the end, but I’ll talk about it here, since it actually affects the gameplay in a noticeable way. The sound is nice and crisp, with various yips, yaps, and mews coming in at every opportunity, and chirpy musical beats play when you enter a new location or go for a walk. The slight problem lies with the graphics. In the original game, the dogs could appear on either screen, but when you were petting them, they stayed on the touch screen so that you could physically touch them with your finger or the stylus. In Nintendogs + Cats, Nintendo wanted to make a showpiece for the 3D capabilities of the 3DS’ top screen. It can’t be denied that the effect is stunning—my guilty pleasure when turning on the game is when my Golden, Pickles, sees me, bounds toward me, and literally jumps out of the screen to lick my face. This is all aided by the gorgeous fur effects and realistic animations that really emphasize the technical advantage that this console has over its predecessor. However, this emphasis on 3D actually removes some of the immersion. The dogs never appear on the bottom, touch-enabled, non-3D screen. Instead, you get these strange silhouettes reminiscent of early iPod commercials. You’re forced to pet this silhouette while the dog on the top screen responds. This removes a layer of immersion, as it feels much less like you are actually petting an animal.
Is Trinket here being pensive, or just plain ignoring you? You decide.
There are quite a few extras in the package to help make up for that deficiency, the most prevalent of which being the titular felines. For better or worse, when you buy a cat in this game, it is just like owning a real cat. Are they cute? Yep. Do they prefer to hang out by themselves in the corner? Yep. Do they avoid you almost all the time unless you are feeding them or throwing a toy? Yep. Can you take them on walks, teach them tricks, enter them in contests, or otherwise do anything useful with them? Nope. The game doesn’t even let you pick a cat as your first pet, as you would have no way of earning more money.
The game also uses the 3DS’ tertiary functions in appreciable ways. While you can take your dog for a walk the normal way, by guiding his leash with your stylus, you can also put your 3DS in Sleep mode and take it for a walk via the system’s built-in pedometer. The more steps you take, the better the present your dog will have found when you return. You can use the system’s wireless StreetPass functionality to play with the dogs of people you pass by. The game even has SpotPass features, wherein Nintendo sometimes adds new things to your game when you pass by a wireless network. The other day, I saw my system’s Notification light blinking, and found that Teddy Roosevelt and his dog Pete had come over for a visit!
Who says this isn't an action game?
The game’s longevity is similar to that of other virtual pet games. You can only participate in any contest twice a day per dog, so play will likely be in the form of small bursts every day or so. You’ll likely do some contests, go for a walk, feed and water him, bathe him, play for a few minutes, and perhaps buy a new toy. I can’t imagine anyone playing this for more than twenty minutes a day once the dog knows all possible tricks. It really depends on whether you can see yourself turning this game on consistently for the next several months.
With all the added features, Nintendogs + Cats is definitely a superior game to its predecessor. While some immersion is lost due to not actually having you physically touch your pet, pretty much every other aspect is improved. The touch controls are more responsive, the microphone does a better job at recognizing words, and the game is more polished overall. With this in mind, I would recommend the game to any animal lover who never got around to playing the original. If you have, keep in mind when making your decision that this is essentially an upgraded version of the same game. In short, Nintendogs is once again a great showpiece for a new Nintendo handheld, and while the new features may not be enough to warrant a purchase from those who still own the original cartridge, its endearing subject matter makes it worth a look for any other animal-loving 3DS owner.