Review by bluej33

"Don't buy that puppy!"

I, along with 90% of American children, wanted a dog when I was little. My three cats just didn't cut it -- I wanted a pet I could play with. Now, years later, I've got an awesome 3-yeard old rottweiler -- but before she came along, I decided to purchase Nintendogs. The DS is all about innovation, and what could possibly be more innovative than taking care of and interacting with your own virtual puppy? It was hailed by one particular critic as “all the fun of a real puppy…but without the poop”. Perfect! But as I later found out, that wasn't quite the case…

Non-games, as they're often referred to, can actually be quite good. For example, the hugely popular Animal Crossing games are huge successes, yet revolve around nothing more than interacting with others and living out a second life. Unorthodox? Certainly. But it's also surprisingly fun. But what needs to be present for a non-game to be worth spending the cash of a real game? Naturally, it's got to be engaging. There's got to be something about that game that will keep you coming back for more. Optimally, a good non-game could be an even better value, and even more fun, than a traditional game, if the replay value is all there.

Nintendogs, however, just didn't really get things right. At first, this title is a heck of a lot of fun -- you begin by picking out your own dog. There are now several different versions of Nintendogs (I can't even keep track of them all), and each of them feature different starting breeds to choose from. You'll visit the kennel and observe the selection of dogs -- there are usually a few dogs of each breed. You get to choose yours, give it a name, and take it home.

From there, the real uniqueness of Nintendogs kicks in. It's not enough just to type in a name for your dog -- you need to make sure that he responds to it! The game makes good use of the DS microphone, and you'll speak your dog's name multiple times, out loud, until he “learns” it. From there, it's pretty much up to you to do whatever you want -- feel free to power off your DS now, or you can keep up the interaction, take care of your pet, and a bunch of other things.

Essentially, there are two major courses of action you can take with this game. You could take the more linear path and teach your dog tricks, enter them in contests, and expand your space to get more dogs. Or, you could just do “normal” stuff that you might expect to do with a dog: pet it, play with it, feed it, groom it, take it to the park, and all that jazz. In actuality, however, what you'll most likely end up doing is doing both.

Regardless of how you decide to play this game, all the DS's features come heavily into play -- in fact, buttons are not used at all in Nintendogs. Petting your puppy is a rather boring activity, and really just involves rubbing the dog with the stylus -- not a lot of fun, even to a young child or a non-gamer. Pretty much all the interaction that occurs in this game is performed just to somehow touching your dog.

Additionally, there are a few accessories and tools for you to purchase. Each dog can only wear one at a time (pretty stupid, I know), and it's not even that much fun to dress your dog up. Tools include such items as brushes and shampoos for cleaning and grooming your dog, and again, all these are used just by selecting the item, after which you're taken to a screen where you use previously selected item on your dog. All in all, I'd say it's pretty boring.

So, that collectively is one of the bigger problems: while it tries hard to emulate what a real dog might do and how it would react to what you do, Nintendogs just doesn't hit the mark. These mundane actions that you might perform with an actual dog are unsatisfying and boring. They may be interesting at first, but after that, they quickly become tedious and somewhat useless, and you'll probably spend very little time just playing around with your dog.

Luckily (or so it would seem), there's that other course of action I mentioned, which gives Nintendogs a chance to redeem itself. Teaching your dog tricks is actually pretty fun at first, if uninspired. You slide the stylus around to get your dog to do what you want -- when you see a little light bulb at the top of the screen, this means that what you've just done is something that your dog can remember and do for itself. Tap the light bulb and say the name of the command, repeat, and in a little while, your dog can sit, stay, roll over, or whatever it is that you want him to do. So, for example: slide the stylus down on the screen, coming across your dog's head, and he'll sit down. A light bulb will appear on the screen -- tap it, and say “sit” into the microphone. Do this several more times, and your dog will not sit down when you say “sit” into the microphone.

There are, however, a few noticeable problems with this whole process. First off is the fact that there's no real exploration aspect to the trick-teaching process. The game actually gives you a master list of tricks, so it's really just up to you to pull it out and start ticking off items. Secondly, there's a stupid restriction on the number of tricks that your dog can learn in a single day, for whatever reason. Look, if we're going to be so brazen as to pretend that my dog can learn to roll over on its back after a few tries, please don't place this stupid restriction. It's an obvious attempt to lengthen the game, and it frustrates more than anything else.

You can also enter your dog into contests to win prize money, but again, there's no sort of challenge here at all. If you taught your dog to sit, he'll sit -- really, as long as you taught your dog all the tricks that you need for the competition (which takes no more than a few days, thanks to the restriction mentioned above), you'll win. Your prize money can then be used to purchase dog food (which, incidentally, your dog doesn't even need) and similar mundane items, or even to upgrade your house (a useless undertaking, as it doesn't affect the game at all) or purchase new dogs. Great. Now you've got two dogs to be bored out of your mind with.

All told, Nintendogs is just a dead beat. The concept of the game is simple and straightforward -- unfortunately, though, it's also broken. It's boring and ridiculously thoughtless, and is nowhere near being worth the price. There's a reason you see so many Nitnendogs games at used game stores, you know -- it's a disappointing title that, for some reason, got a lot of hype. If you're still yearning for a puppy, you'd be far better off going out and getting a real one -- it would be far more enjoyable than playing this “game”.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 01/15/08

Game Release: Nintendogs: Lab & Friends (US, 08/22/05)


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