Review by midwinter
"Doggy Style Gaming"
Dogs, in my mind at least, are not what they're cracked up to be. I despise their constant need for attention, dislike the way they beg for food at the dinner table, and in all honestly, would rather they just left me the hell alone. That's right people, I'm a cat person and quite frankly, I don't see the attraction. It's come as something of a revelation then to find that Nintendogs, a Tamagotchi-esque life simulator for the Nintendo DS, has captured my heart, if not my imagination. Perhaps it's the way my Sheepdog pup gazes up at me as I bathe him, washing away the dirt and filth from a day's adventure around the suburbs. Or maybe it's how he's just learned to recognize his name, barking with a joyful glee that I, his master, should want him to fetch a frisbee, tennis ball, or some other equally as simple piece of doggy paraphernalia. No, I believe the ability to shut down the DS whenever I want and go back to a life where I am the center of my universe is what appeals the most... but that could just be me.
Say what you will about such selfish sentiments, the fact of the matter is however that Nintendogs won't be for everyone. And that's a statement that's both incredibly true, yet undeniably false. You see as far as gamers go, it's going to take a special type of player capable of getting through the daily grind of owning a virtual dog. Picking up its poo and training it to sit, fetch, roll over and shake probably won't be your cup of tea, and the sooner you realize this the better. Nintendogs is quite unashamedly a simulator, and it's one where a keen eye for detail and love of depth prove to be as essential as quick reflexes and a will to live are in other, more run-of-the-mill titles. That being said, there should be little doubt in your mind that the public at large will lap this up for Nintendogs not only goes where no game has gone before, but does so with such simple, pick up and play versatility as to ensure that no one is left behind. And that my friends is everything...
From the outset though, players must first visit the local kennel and pick out a dog all of their very own. Decisions, decisions... which of the five pups presented suits you best? Would you like a cute and cuddly Welsh Corgi? Or maybe a Toy Poodle is more to your liking? A Japanese Shiba Inu, Miniature Pincher, and of course a personal favorite, the Shetland Sheepdog help to round out the initial line-up. And if by some odd coincidence you still haven't found your new best friend, Nintendo have thoughtfully provided players with the opportunity to select from three different retail versions of the same game, each of which has a different range of dogs. How nice! A series of simple taps of the touch screen is all it takes then to navigate the streamlined menu system, eventually bringing players and their new pup home where they can get better acquainted. In other words it's time to get to work, you've got some training to do.
That however shouldn't be too much of a problem thanks to the use of some incredibly sturdy, voice recognition software. Regardless of most ambient background sounds, the system works flawlessly in conveying to the animal exactly what players want it to do and when. By combining vocal commands with a brush of the stylus, each dog can lean any number of tricks which can be used in turn to not only impress your friends, but in a variety of local dog competitions as well. After all you'll need to supplement your income now that you're a professional dog owner, and why not show off your pride and joy along the way. A simple frisbee style tournament starts things off, eventually giving way to a number of time trial obstacle courses (ala the Superdogs) and some straightforward obedience tests. No matter your results though, the rock solid doggy AI does a great job of keeping up with the action, so long as players have invested the time in order to get their partners ready for the event. But like I said, that shouldn't be too much of a problem.
As entertaining as such past times may seem, the real crux of the game can be found in its likable, "gotta collect them all" style ethos. And by that I'm not giving the lonely and disturbed permission to own some 20+ dogs. No, rather than anything that's likely to get PETA knocking on your door, players are encouraged to spend their time collecting a variety of knick knacks with which to entertain their partners, be it a tennis ball, rubber bone, skipping rope, or the like. A quick game of fetch and they're happy, a tug-of-war with a small piece of rubber tubing and they're wagging their tails. Then after all that, it's time to break out the remote control helicopter before serving up a can of yummy dog food and shipping them off for a bath. The more you play, the more you'll collect, the more things you'll have to do. That you can also find such items out in the street while taking your dog for a walk only serves to keep the surprise factor ticking over quite nicely, doubly so once you pick up a Maui head. Now what should we do with that?
Of course, all this fun and excitement would have been for naught had Nintendogs lacked the necessary visual spark needed for players to fall in love. A small problem that thankfully you won't have to worry about. Rather, let us bask in the warm glow of seeing our beloved pets playing in the park, their life-like actions seemingly picture perfect in both realism and detail. So realistic is it all that it won't be long before even the most ardent of cat lovers show signs of softening... as has happened to my good self. Before we get too carried away though, this hight level of visual love has come at a price, and it's one that sadly limits the game's overall appeal (albeit in a shallow, superficial kind of way). For it's the limited selection of background environments that come as the biggest disappointment, often to the point of fueling tedium. And while such a concession is certainly understandable in the face of the otherwise smoothly animated brilliance, one can't help but wonder how much more interesting the game could have been had some sort of work around been found.
Even still, Nintendogs is a winner. It's a unique piece of entertainment that opens up the medium far beyond the usual crowd of casual gamers that fill out our ranks. Be it your sister who wants a dog but is sadly allergic to your mother who simply finds such a concept oddly fascinating, the mass market appeal of Nintendo's latest creation is certainly without equal. The gameplay is deep, oh boy is it deep, that it rewards players who stay the course with an increasingly varied range of activities is great as well. And though the more hardcore of gamers will undoubtedly cop some flak from their mates for partaking in this experience, it won't be long before such idle ribbings fade away, only to be replaced by the soothing company of a new best friend. Nintendogs isn't for everyone, it's also one of the most marketable games ever created. If you're willing to take a chance and try something different, or just really, really love man's best friend, then this is the game for you. Prepare to fall in love, then by all means check it out...
* Nintendogs is perhaps one of the most complete dog sims around
* There's an incredible variety of items and accessories to find around town
* Voice recognition is strong and sturdy
* A range of tournaments provide the means with which to gauge your progress
* Each dog has its own distinct personality
* A streamlined menu keeps things simple
* The more you play, the deeper the game gets
* The life-like graphics are a joy to behold
* These dogs become truly endearing
* Backgrounds have been sadly limited
* You friends will hack on you
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/01/05
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