When is a game not really a game?
I don’t know. It’s one of those stupid questions like “how many roads must a man walk down”? There isn’t an answer to it, I suppose; but for argument’s sake, I think Nintendogs is as close to a game that’s not a game as you can get. And that’s not a bad thing…I think…I might have confused myself…anyway. We treated ourselves to a Dual Screen with a couple of games, and the one game I HAD to get (or I’d be in trouble) was Nintendogs: Lab & Friends.
Now, for those of you who’ve had your heads in a bucket of fish eggs for the past year or so, Nintendogs is huge. No, actually, Nintendogs is absolutely massive. In Japan, it’s the biggest thing since, erm…chopsticks. Well, all I know is that they simply can’t get enough of it! At the moment there are (at least over here) three different packs you can get, each with a different variety of dogs, and each one has sold a shitload.
There is no aim to this game. You get a puppy, you look after it. Take it for walks, teach it tricks, clean up its crap when you go for a walk. You can enter your pooch into competitions (disc catching, obedience, and agility) when you’ve taught it how to do things properly. You can head down to the park while your taking him/her for a walk and practice throwing the disc, or there’s a gym sorta thing where you can practice the agility events. It takes your little fluff ball a couple of goes to learn each trick, so don’t expect perfection first time. This is really the only “game” element of Nintendogs; you compete in the competitions (obviously) and if you place high enough, you earn a bit of dosh. This can be used to buy another puppy, or renovate your pad so there’s more room to move. Apart from this, the rest of your time will be spent messing around with your dog(s).
An interesting element of this is the voice recognition feature. That is, when you teach your dog a trick, you tell him/her what the trick is (e.g., sit, lay down, jump, don’t fart, etc.), and after a couple of times, your dog will respond to your command. This is what you need to work on to compete in the obedience trials. You can’t help but love it when you call your dog’s name, and it runs over looking all stupid and fluffy… it’s so tempting to flush it down the toilet—which, unfortunately, you can’t do.
I’ve played Nintendogs for nearly five hours now, and I’ve competed in all the events. Some I placed first, some I didn’t qualify, but you get more than one go obviously. Thing is, I’ll think to myself, as soon as I get home, oooh I can take the dog for a walk! I know, it’s sad, but it really is relaxing and satisfying. It’s also a hell of a lot cheaper than a real dog, and I’ve already got a three-year-old, so I don’t need another thing that eats and shits, thank you very much.
The graphics are very well done. They don’t push the DS to its limits by any means, but it’s amazing how damn cute that little polygonal mutt is! They clearly spent a lot of time getting the movements and behaviour of the puppies correct (they even lay there and lick themselves…erm…downstairs), and it came off because you can’t help but go “Awwwwwww…” when you see your puppy messing around. Also, everything is clean and clear, which is definitely a good thing with those niiiiice DS screens. : )
The sound is functional. There are distinctly different barks and noises for each puppy, the menu sounds have a nice sound to them, and the background music isn’t intrusive at all. You’ll actually find yourself humming along to it, probably.
To control this game couldn’t be simpler. You only use the stylus, and there’s nothing overly complicated about it. Some of the agility events will take a couple of goes to get it right, but that’s just your puppy doing it wrong (well, that’s what I say, ’cause it can’t argue back, can it?).
You can quite easily get lost in this game for an hour and not notice. I actually find it therapeutic to take my little electronic friend for a walk, which you might think is sad, but play it and see what you think! It’s really difficult to put a score on this game for replay, ’cause I think it’s mighty close to perfect. You’ll find it impossible to resist taking him/her just for a quick walk around the block. I know I’m having problems getting on the DS, as my wife (by the way, I got married in September!) is hooked on it as well! Whether I’ll buy the other two games or not remains to be seen. There’s a pretty good chance that we will… Dammit.