Review by horror_spooky

"Nintendo is now manufacturing puppies"

Every gaming system has its “killer app”. If you aren't quite sure what it means, think of any game system you own, and then think of the game that defined that system for you. It doesn't necessarily have to be your favorite game on the console, but when you think of that console or handheld, that game sticks out as being the most important title that appeared on it. The original Game Boy has Tetris, the original Nintendo has Super Mario Bros., the Xbox 360 has Gears of War, the PlayStation 2 has Ratchet and Clank, and the list goes on and on, and may even differ based on people's personal preferences. Nintendogs: Labrador and Friends (and all the other incarnations of the game) may not be the best title on the DS, but it's definitely the one you'll think of when you think of the DS ten years down the line.

One of the reasons that Nintendogs is considered the Nintendo DS's killer app is that it makes good use of both the microphone and the touch-screen, meaning that it is actually taking advantage of the features that make the DS unique, providing a gameplay experience that was nigh impossible the previous generation. Sure, there are games on the DS that barely use the microphone or the touch-screen, and while they can still be great, do they truly feel like a seventh generation game?

In order to truly relay the feeling of taking care of an actually puppy, it just wouldn't make sense to just be pressing buttons, so it's great that Nintendogs puts the touch-screen to good use. You can interact with your dogs in a variety of ways using the touch-screen, like tapping a button in order to whistle them to attention, or actually petting them when they've done something right so they can learn do that more often.

The touch-screen is also used for basically the entirety of the game as your way of navigation through menus, which is really a welcomed break from the usual scrolling down around and tapping buttons mess that usually makes games feel a little cluttered.

Throughout the game, you will gain supplies that you can use to do a variety of things with your puppy. Some supplies are simply food to keep your puppies fed or water to make sure they're not thirsty. So, what if you just don't want to feed them? Well, this will prompt your puppies to run away, but they will eventually return, and hopefully you'll learn your listen after this incident.

You can also play with your dogs by throwing them a ball to play with or using a combination of the touch-screen and the microphone to blow bubbles at your puppies. If you wish, you can dress your animals up with various accessories ranging from things as subtle as a bowtie to things as crazy as a Viking hat.

You'll have to buy these items in order for your animals to enjoy them, but they're not the only thing you can purchase. You can buy your dogs some time in a doggy hotel in order to spend time with your other canines (you can only have three dogs in your house at once, and you can own a total of eight) and you can buy new decorations for your house, so you don't get bored with looking at the same poorly detailed thing.

I'll get to the graphics later, but right now, you're probably wondering where all of this money is going to come from. You can sell some things if need be, but there is a more entertaining way to earn money and that's by entering your puppies into contests.

Each dog you own can participate in three contests a day, which is kind of a drag. I mean, after you've entered each of your dogs into three competitions, there's really not much else for you to do except practice for the next day. That's right; Nintendogs suffers from Animal Crossing syndrome.

The contests themselves are pretty fun though. The best one is easily agility training, which works like obstacle courses you see people make their dogs do on Animal Planet. You lead the dog around a course and tap on hurdles to make them jump over them, carefully leading them on see-saws, and among other things, make them run through tunnels. Based on your mistakes and how quickly you complete the course, you are awarded either first, second or third place. You will be given money based on this, and assuming you actually rank, you will be able to take on the next course, which is significantly more challenging than the course before it.

Unfortunately, the touch-screen controls aren't always as responsive as they should be and sometimes your dog is all over the place. It is really frustrating when you take your dog to the gym to train, everything works out fine, and then when you take them to the actual contest, everything gets all wonky because of poorly implemented controls.

Another contest you can do is a disc-throwing one and it is much more challenging than the agility course. However, it is challenging for all of the wrong reasons. The disc will randomly glitch around your dog, and it can also become pretty frustrating for the same reasons mentioned above. The finally type of contest is an obedience one, and while this one isn't nearly as frustrating as the disc-throwing competition, training your dog to be obedient is a giant pain in the ass.

You didn't expect to have a free ride, did you? Obviously, you have to train your dogs for these competitions, whether that is taking them to the gym or to the park. However, for the obedience contest, you will have to teach your dogs actually verbal commands, and this is so annoying that it's not even funny. Not only does it take forever for your dogs to learn these commands, but you have to memorize little things to do on the touch-screen that further add to the annoyance of going back and forth through the menus to read the directions on how to teach them these tricks.

In order to visit these establishments to get your dogs in contest shape, you'll have to take them on walks. Depending on how old your dog is and how many walks it has been on depends on how much of a distance the particular dog can travel. You can take your dogs on walks multiple times throughout a single day, but not immediately after you finish one as the dogs get tired. As you draw your route, you will notice boxes with question marks, and by walking your dog by them, you will discover various presents that you can keep or sell or you will come across another trainer's dog which will let your dog play with them, plus you'll get some advice from the trainer.

This leads me to a mode involving multiplayer called Bark Mode. In Bark Mode, all that is done is that your dog interacts with one of your friend's dogs, but you can gain items through this mode. It is unfortunate that the multiplayer component wasn't expanded upon because it would have made a pretty cool idea.

There are commentators at the various events you can take your dogs to, and while they do repeat the things they say quite often, they are still pretty damn funny. It's great that there is some of that classic Nintendo charm injected into the title.

Graphically, Nintendogs is a mixed bag. While the environments aren't very detailed at all—to the point that some of the environment is simply blocked out by fog—the dogs are very detailed and look pretty damn good. Some of the effects, like the bubbles blowing for example, are easy on the eyes, and there is virtually no loading time with this game, even after you just start it up. The menus are simple and easy to navigate, plus there is no lag or anything of that nature. You can customize your home and your dog, meaning that you can make everything to suit your own personal interests, but in other areas the game just seems a little bland and maybe Nintendo got a tad lazy. Plus, it wouldn't have hurt to have a little more nods to other Nintendo franchises—that's all part of the fun.

Audio quality that is easy on the ears is practically a hallmark of Nintendo, and Nintendogs doesn't disappoint. It has a great soundtrack with simple music that won't give you a headache. The dogs sound great and the are other sound effects sprinkled throughout the game that really makes the entire experience come together. Who said cartridges had crappy sound?

Nintendogs is one of those games, just like Animal Crossing: Wild World, which you will find yourself coming back to each and every day. There is just so much to do, but it is annoying that you can't play very much in a single (real life) day as the game has internal restrictions. There are a ton of items to collect and competitions to master, plus you can own up to eight dogs. By playing through the game and doing well with your pups, you gain trainer points which make even more different breeds of dogs available to you.

In the end, Nintendogs isn't a mind-blowing title and it is definitely not one of the best games on the DS. There are noticeable design flaws and poor control decisions present, plus the game definitely suffers from Animal Crossing syndrome in that you are limited to how much you can do in a single day. As for providing a realistic sim for raising an animal, it doesn't do too bad of a job, but don't expect Nintendogs to be really like an actual puppy. There's a lot to like here and a lot to dislike, but Nintendogs: Labrador and Friends is a fun, quirky, and interesting title that will be remembered as THE game to have on the DS ten years from now.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/03/08

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

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