If there's one game that defined the original DS, Nintendogs
is probably it. The game that started Nintendo's relentless push towards a
family-friendly market that no other publisher really even thought of,
Nintendogs proved that games could be a success outside of their traditional
safe audience. Having sold over 22 million copies so far, there's little
denying Nintendogs was a runaway success, and Nintendo will certainly be hoping
that their latest in the series will do the same for the 3DS.
Sticking to the same tried and tested formula, Nintendogs + Cats has obviously been created from the same mould, as theres not really that much difference between the original game and this one. Of course, while with many other games, that would be a bad thing, if you, or your little ones loved the first game, or youre looking for an excuse to own a virtual puppy or kitten again, then it's practically guaranteed that you'll be infatuated with this.
They all look a lot
more realistic, too, with fur that actually looks furry, and the biggest,
roundest, softest I can never say no to you ever again eyes thatll make you
feel guilty every time you shut your 3DS. Its enough to melt even the coldest
of hearts, and were sure will lead to plenty of softies like us buying a 3DS
just so they can coo over the digital doggies and computerised cats.
After much umming and ahhing (believe us, were awful at things like this), we eventually settled on a female King Charles Spaniel, which certainly seemed eager to explore our in-game house. After a brief circuit, she ran towards us, and, with 3D on, actually appeared to put her paws on the 3DS screen. Its a strange effect, but an effective one, which prompted much cooing from anyone who could see. You interact with your puppies by touching the silhouette of them on the bottom screen with your stylus, stroking behind their ears, tickling their bellies, and trying not to accidentally pull their tale. Its surprisingly easy to do, as we had wondered whether wed find ourselves constantly looking at the touch screen rather than the top screen, but its easy enough to do. And our puppy liked it, anyway. After getting to know each other a bit more, a box popped up on the screen, prompting us that the time had come to name our new pooch. After a brief pause, we settled on the incredibly feminine sounding Geoff. She seemed to like it, anyway.
But rather than just entering a name using an on-screen keyboard, in Nintendogs+Cats (that's Nintendogs AND Cats, not plus cats, you stupid advertising narrator), it's equally important that your new friend can hear and respond to your voice, and knows to come when its called. What this means is you'll have to sit there, as a fully grown adult, cooing your new puppy's name into your 3DS built in microphone. OK, so you'll likely get a few stares (possibly more than a few if youve chosen something inappropriate, like most twelve year olds will), but that didn't stop us - even if the game seemingly didn't want to listen.
You see, speech recognition is a pretty important part of the game, as not only
is it used to call your puppy towards you, but its also used for tricks. When
you're teaching a dog a trick, for example, you'll have to perform a gesture on
the screen (sliding the stylus down to make your dog sit, or holding its paw in
the air to get it to shake), before saying a word/phrase that you want to
associate with that action. The only problem is, it doesn't really work. The
voice recognition seems to be incredibly hit and miss, and despite the game
managing to play you back exactly what you've just said, proving that its
received it properly, more often than not, your dog will end up with question
marks flying around his head, rather than barking in understanding. It's
frustrating, and, sadly, it's likely to frustrate younger players even more...
Thankfully, theres plenty to do in Nintendogs+Cats that doesnt revolve around shouting at your pets. Easily the biggest change for the 3DS sequel comes with the addition of cats - much to the joy of crazy cat ladies everywhere, and also much of the internet. With three different types of kitten on offer (Normal, Oriental, and every Bond villains favourite, the Longhair), there's a decent range to choose from, although there's nowhere as much variety as with the dogs. It's disappointing, too, that you can't choose a cat you begin with - you've got to start off with a dog, and then slowly save up to afford a cat and once youve got it, well, it doesnt do very much.
With a dog, you can take it for walks, enter it into various competitions, and teach it various tricks. The cats, on the other hand, would rather sit around doing nothing. Of course, theyre all too happy to be stroked if you want to give them a bit of fuss, but otherwise, theres nothing to them. Theyre more of a side attraction than a proper part of the game, and thats a hugely missed opportunity. Why couldnt we do something silly with them. Enter beauty contests. Agility shows. Anything thatd let us actually do something with the cats, like we can do with the dogs.
While most games offer a true progression through levels, or stages, Nintendogs + Cats simply lets you take things at your own pace. Theres no end to the game, and no goals to really accomplish all you really need to do is put the cartridge in, and stroke your dogs and cats for a bit until you get bored. The only problem is, keeping animals costs money in the game, just as in real life, and a regular trip to the shops will be required to keep your pets in food and water. That, in turn, costs money and that requires you to enter competitions.
As mentioned above, you can only enter your dogs into the competitions, which are split into three categories Disk Competition, Lure Coursing, and Obedience Trials. The Obedience Trials are the most disappointing of the lot, even if theyre also technically the coolest. Using the Augmented Reality cards that came with your 3DS, you point your 3DS at one of the cards, only for your dog to magically appear on your table/kitchen sink/bed/belly/wherever else you decided to put your card. All you have to do then is get your dog to perform tricks which, as we explained earlier, we simply couldnt make work. Lure coursing is another weird one, which requires you to quickly wind in a lure, which your dog chases round a course. Its a question of rhythm in winding in the lure more than anything else, and is quite tricky to get right. Frisbee, on the other hand, is the Ronseal of the competitions, and simply requires you to chuck a disk for your dog to fetch, with extra bonus points being awarded for jumping catches, and catching the disk within a certain area. Each competition has several levels of difficulty, which unlock as you complete the lower tiers, and make the tasks more challenging, while upping the rewards.
Of course, the first time you attempt a competition, youll likely not be very good at it, and this is where practice comes in. When you take your dog for a walk, as well as coming across various people youve met during StreetPass, who usually reward you with a present for your time, youll come across various signs that let you access different areas whether its a stroll by the beach, a coffee shop for dogs, or a gym, where you can practice your lure coursing, you can brush up on your skills while out on a walk. Its a bit disappointing, though, that while your dog quite obviously does get better as time goes by, theres no distinct levelling system. Theres no progress bar to check your dogs skill, it doesnt earn Frisbee XP, so its kind of hard to judge when its ready to take on the next tier of competition.
No matter where you come in an event, youll be rewarded
with some prize money (at least a tenner for coming last), which ought to buy
you enough food for your puppy and kitten for the day. You can enter each event
twice a day, so even if you come last in all of them, thats £60 a day, but it
still feels awkward having to constantly spend what little money you earn on
food and water for your dog. OK, so its the same as in real life, but
Nintendogs is a game and if I want to just sit around and stroke my dog/buy
him some fake glasses without worrying about where his next bowl of foods
going to come from, I think I should be able to.
The main problem with Nintendogs is that there's really not all that much to it. How much fun you get out of it will depend entirely on how much you like stroking and playing with virtual dogs and cats. In the terms of everyone we've showed it to, that seems to be a huge amount, as Nintendogs + Cats has been the one game we've shown off that's never failed to go down a storm. While some features may put off the younger players its
arguably aimed at, the simple ability to play with incredibly cute looking
puppies and kittens should secure it some solid sales. Nintendo will be keeping
their fingers crossed that this is the game thatll sell the 3DS and so will