Whether or not Nintendogs can even be called a game in the true sense of the word may be debatable. But whatever form of electronic entertainment it technically is, it offers a fresh new take on the “virtual pet” concept, offering a new level of interaction between player and pet that only the specific hardware features of the Nintendo DS can allow. As the owner of a young nintendog (and later dogs), it is the players’ responsibility to care for their pet by feeding it, bathing it, playing with it and taking it for walks. By training dogs and entering them in contests, players earn cash to buy more supplies and accessories for their dogs, as well as new unlockables. While the concept may sound a lot like virtual pets of past, Nintendogs executes it superbly, making the reasons for its enormous sales both in Japan and the United States very obvious. And did I mention that it’s adorable beyond any one man’s ability to describe?The graphics in Nintendogs are very good as far as Nintendo DS games go and the character models for the dogs themselves are amazingly lifelike. From the way they sit to the way they take a doggie dump, the developers replicated the mannerisms of puppies perfectly in almost every way. Each breed is perfectly transformed into virtual form and comes in the usual variety of colors. The game’s environments are detailed for the most part, but are not as impressive as the dogs themselves, especially when the background phases in and out while taking the pup for a walk. Like all DS games, Nintendogs does suffer from textures appearing overly pixilated when brought close to the camera.
On the audio front, Nintendogs has good sound effects (namely barking) that compliment the game well, though perhaps it is not its ability to produce sound that is as important as its ability to receive it (but that shall be discussed later). The music is charming and suitable, though not about to knock anybody’s socks off; nor is it omnipresent, as players will often watch their pooches romp to the natural background noises of birds singing and the passing of cars.
As for controls, Nintendogs is a DS game to the fullest extent. There is no need for buttons or the D-pad; rather, players interact with their dogs using only the stylus and the microphone. In a way, players technically “control” very little since nintendogs, just like real dogs, have their own personalities and desires, though they are almost always quite obedient. Essentially, the only things the player has direct control over are his or her actions as the owner, such as feeding the dogs, giving them a toy, or throwing a frisbee.
Using the aforementioned, DS-exclusive controls, Nintendogs players (or should I call them owners?) have a huge range of options in terms of what interactions they choose to have with their pups. After choosing a puppy from among six different breeds, different color variations and different personalities, the player must give it a name. This process actually involves using the microphone to speak the dog’s name into the DS. Once the nintendog has heard its name enough, it will be able to recognize it whenever spoken into the microphone, and will usually come running upon hearing it from its master’s lips.
After adopting their puppy, players take on tasks such as choosing their food and feeding them, or giving them a bowl of water. Petting, bathing, brushing or playing with toys with the nintendogs are other easy options accessible inside the home. Taking the dogs for a walk (but sadly only one at a time) is the primary way for them to leave their home and do things such as go to the park, meet up with doggie pals and do their business. And by “do their business,” I mean “making a mess in the middle of the sidewalk.”
One of Nintendogs’ biggest accomplishments as a game is its full use of the DS’ microphone, something few games thus far have done. Aside from allowing players to call a specific dog by name (as opposed to whistling, which brings in all the dogs in the area), it also introduces an interesting training aspect to the game. By repeating the process of physically positioning nintendogs and then speaking a voice command when prompted, the game will be able to store the sound of the player’s voice giving the command, and allow the dog to perform its trick upon hearing it. The only difficulty here is that players must be sure to pronounce and annunciate the word exactly the same way every time they say it, or the DS’ microphone may not always recognize it. For the most part, this isn’t a major problem, but can occasionally be a hindrance.
The part of Nintendogs that really makes it a game and not just a virtual pet are the three different contests players can enter their pups in: frisbee catching, agility course and obedience. All three require that players train their pups in the particular event if they wish to do well in anything past the amateur class. Through contests, players earn money which can be used to buy things for their dogs ranging from basic supplies such as food and water to toys, wearable accessories or even a new apartment. This money can even go towards buying a new dog. Players can keep up to three dogs at once, though they can store many more at the hotel. Also, through earning enough trainer points, players unlock new items and even breeds of dogs that can be purchased (those from the other versions of the game). Mastering the contests is not required, but is generally one of the higher objectives in the game and the unlockables give Nintendogs its replay value.
In terms of multiplayer options, Nintendogs allows players to link up with their friends so their dogs can meet and play with one another via “Bark Mode.” Bark mode can also be left on so that players will be informed if another Nintendogs owner with their game in Bark Mode is in the vicinity. Playing with friends’ dogs is also another method by which different breeds and items can be unlocked on different versions of the game.
Assigning a numerical rating is always tough with a game like Nintendogs, since how much an individual likes it greatly depends on his or her personal tastes. For its intended audience of people who love quirky games which involve raising your own characters / critters, the rating should be accurate, but if you’re the kind of gamer who just bought “Juiced” for the Xbox, subtract about six points or so. Honestly, I think Nintendogs’ target audience knows who they are. To its advantage, it is an extremely versatile game with lots of different things to do, and some truly adorable pups. Sadly, even with all this, it may not hold some players’ attention for very long. However, its greatest weakness may be due to its irresistible cuteness. Male nintendog owners may need a hiding place for their DS in order to keep it way from their significant other.
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