December 23, 2005

[heading]Kat Ingersoll[/heading]

Better late than never, as the old adage goes. That’s the phrase that went through my mind as I first explored the world of [i]Nintendogs[/i].

[i]Nintendogs[/i], which was released about nine months after the DS, makes you the proud owner of a virtual Tomagotchi-like puppy. You train, feed, bathe, groom, walk and play with it. You even have to scoop its poop, lest you earn the wrath of fellow in-game trainers.

This is the first offering from Nintendo that truly utilizes all of the DS’s unique features. You use your stylus to pet and groom your puppy. The microphone makes use of voice recognition technology to teach your puppy to respond to its name and voice commands. You even use both screens, watching your puppies play while you monkey with menus.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous. The puppies primarily reside in your “room,” which is a place for them to run around in when you’re not looking. The background has small touches that fit the environment. (Such as ming vases and deer scares for the tatami room.) The puppy breeds are also beautifully detailed from curly, frizzy tails for the shiba inus to curly ears for the cavaliers to the facial markings for the huskies. There are a few cropping issues that always seems to plague Nintendo, most notably when your large-hat-wearing puppies roll over and the hat seems to disappear into the floor.

Soundwise, [i]Nintendogs[/i] does not disappoint. Each aspect of the game has a corresponding soundtrack that is pleasing to the ears, yet doesn’t distract from gameplay. Also, each breed has a distinctive bark, though it is disconcerting to hear my big, bad, wolf-blooded huskie have a more yappy bark than my sweet, loving lab. The only drawback to the sound is that you’ll probably get rapidly tired of hearing the same background music as you put your puppy through its paces.

The real meat and potatoes of this game is raising and playing with your puppy, the majority of which is done with the stylus. The touchscreen and game are responsive to the stylus and the microphone is pretty sensitive to your voice commands. (You probably want to turn your mic down because it’s that sensitive.) To list all the features and things you can do with this game would make this review pretty long. However, the game is pretty intuitive. The only real drawback is that you may find the voice training to be very irritating, especially if you tend to speak with a “mush mouth.” However, if you remember to speak clearly and enunciate so the puppy can distinguish your commands from each other — instead of yelling “stupid mutt” at the screen — you’ll probably won’t have too much of a problem.

The one thing that hurts this game is that the novelty wears off quickly. Nintendo attempts to mollify this by stuffing this game with unlockables such as different breeds, new rooms, puppy accessories, music, and toys. Some you unlock by accumulating trainer points via winning competitions and caring for your puppy. Some you pick up while walking it. Some of the rarer ones are cute enough to make playing the game worthwhile. All these unlockables affect your puppies in different ways and it’s fun to see how.

Unlockables aside, those that are easily bored will probably set this game aside when the eventual flood of games comes during Christmas. However, [i]Nintendogs[/i] is fun for anyone that’s easily amused or often finds themselves with time to kill. It’s like owning a real dog, but without the smell. (And I’m sure Nintendo will correct that oversight in [i]Nintendogs 2[/i])

[heading]Michelle Morrell[/heading]

I myself think this game is awesome, and makes it worth owning a DS for it. I do have a few gripes though, which is troublesome, since outside of these complaints, the game is excellent. It utilizes many great features of the DS, but even so, I could not ignore these faults.

I think the first problem I had was doing contests. Every time I wanted to do a contest I had to continually click through the dialogue. Once you’ve read it, you don’t have any reason to read it again. Why waste the time to keep tapping on the screen to make the conversation end when you should just be able to start the contest and go at it?

The other problem I had with the game was the inability to check all the animals into the doggie hotel. Sometimes real life would get in the way, and I wasn’t able to play the game every day. Because of this, I wish that I could have kept all of my animals in a doggie hotel instead of having to leave one at the house. Sometimes I can’t get to the game for a few days, and I don’t want to have to worry about the dog running away.

Outside of those two faults, I thought it was a great game, and I really have a hard time going more in depth since most of the points have already been covered.


[i]Nintendogs[/i] is not a great game. It’s not quite a good game, either. I wouldn’t even call it an average game.

This is because it’s barely a “game” at all. Much like other virtual pet-sims, or other “sandbox” games like [i]SimCity[/i] (or, indeed, [i]Animal Crossing[/i]), there isn’t much of a *point* to it. You feed, play with, and otherwise care for your digital dogs, training them to do well in the three contests, so you can earn money to upgrade your place… and that’s about it. No ultimate goal, no adversaries, not even any sort of head-to-head competition. It’s just you and your pup(s), simulating real life as best as the DS can, and occasionally meeting up with friends to show off your pets.

And for its part, the DS serves admirably. The voice recognition via the built-in mic (while admittedly spotty at times; I have some issues with siblants not being picked up, making commands like “sit” dicey) brings the level of interaction to a level previously only attainable via niche titles and specialized peripherals — like the Dramcast’s [i]Seaman[/i] or (and this is a stretch), [i]Hey You! Pikachu![/i] for the N64. The stylus interface isn’t quite as revolutionary when you consider the various applications of the PC mouse over the last decade or two, but still a huge step for handheld gaming.

But there are some basic flaws with the program that prevents it from being all it could be. You can’t have more than one supply out at once, so once you get beyond your first adoptee, you end up with your dogs fighting over the toys; even though you’ll probably wind up with a half-dozen tennis balls in your inventory, you can’t actually *use* any more than one. While watching three pixel pups trample over each other trying to get to a jerky treat is amusing, it is a strike against the “realism” — in the real world, dog owners can fling out more than one treat at a time. You can’t “dress up” your pup in more than one accessory (which spans everything from collars and bows to hats and sunglasses), which is a bit of a shame.

There are several nice designs available for upgrading your otherwise sparse living environments, but it’s all just so much wallpaper. The actual at-home play area is a circular space, often bounded by invisible walls, in which your pack of domesticated wolf cubs is confined. My current home is the “Seaside”: graphically, it’s a nice beach, complete with wide expanses of sand and surf; in reality, it’s an invisible kennel fifteen feet in diameter with no access to the water, pier, or even any simulated sand for digging.

I could go on. But nitpicking like that is what kills the magic of [i]Nintendogs[/i]. All [i]Nintendogs[/i] asks from you is about an hour or so (possibly less) of your time a day. Give them food and water, bathe them when it looks like they need it, and have some fun. If you want to get competitive and strive for championship-quality performances, that’s your option, but it’s hardly necessary. [i]Nintendogs[/i] is a great consolation prize for anyone who can’t (or possibly shouldn’t) own an real dog: it doesn’t take up any space, it doesn’t get sick, it doesn’t cost you anything more than the initial $30 (more if you don’t already own a DS) and electricity… and they’ll never die — in any real, emotional way.

On that note, however, there is one aspect of owning a real dog that is sadly simulated in [i]Nintendogs[/i] as well. Often times, once the shine and excitement of owning a new puppy has worn off, interest starts to fade. Before long, the dog has become a burden on its young owners. Not to the point of outright neglect (usually), but no longer special either. Once you grow tired/frustrated with the competitions and lost interest in unlocking breeds and items, [i]Nintendogs[/i] regrettably reaches that same level. Whether or not you feel guilty about treating [i]Nintendogs[/i] like a chore is really the defining experience of the pack: if you do, then maybe [i]Nintendogs[/i] achieved it’s goal after all.

It made you fall in love with puppy-shaped pixels. You wouldn’t be alone.


It appears that this will be the most difficult review I’ve had to do. After all, look at everything that I have to follow? Geez. Don’t leave a guy anything to work with here. 😉

Most of the main points have already been brought up, but there are a few things I would like to reiterate. [i]Nintendogs[/i] is fun. [i]Nintendogs[/i] is unique. [i]Nintendogs[/i] is one of the few games to fully utilize all of the capabilities of the Nintendo DS. Those are major reasons why I enjoyed [i]Nintendogs[/i].

I think perhaps the biggest problem with this game is longevity. Sure, as mentioned, there are plenty of unlockables. The thing is though, I can only do so many contests and take the dog on so many walks before I start to get bored. I played [i]Nintendogs[/i] for about a month straight, but I literally haven’t touched it in about four or five days.

As mentioned (yet again) the nicest and most aggravating thing about the game is the doggie hotel. You can keep up to five dogs there. The problem though is that you can’t keep them all there, so if you don’t play for a great length of time, there’s a chance your puppy could run away (or so the other trainers in the game warn me).

In relation to that, there were times where it really did feel like it was a chore to play the game. It felt like I was playing only because I had to, and not so much because I wanted to.

Of course, here I go blabbing about the problems with the game, but I suppose the better a game is, the more critical you are bound to be. In the end, I think [i]Nintendogs[/i] is a great game, and the beauty of it is that it targets a wide audience. You’re just as likely to find an eight year old boy playing this as you would be to find his mother playing it when he’s not. It’s a great game that aims at the widest demographic possible. That is why there has been such success with [i]Nintendogs[/i].

Kat’s already mentioned it, but [i]Nintendogs[/i] truly is a case of “better late than never.” This was the system selling title that Nintendo needing for the DS to be widely accepted by as many people as possible.

If you have not played [i]Nintendogs[/i] yet, you should at least give it a shot. Perhaps borrow it from a friend or something. Overall though, I am not disappointed. I played this game every day for a month and really enjoyed it. In my opinion, I got my money’s worth.

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.