A new generation of puppies and kittes is born into glorious 3D.
In 2005, Nintendo landed what might be considered the first mainstream major success story for the Nintendo DS in Nintendogs, a pet simulator with wide appeal and cute little animals. In 2011, they've wisely chosen to launch their new 3D handheld with the follow-up, Nintendogs + Cats. The game comes in three distinct flavors: French Bulldog & New Friends, Golden Retriever & New Friends, and Toy Poodle & New Friends. Although the content of each game is virtually identical, I was playing the Toy Poodle version for the purposes of this review.
As in the original, the first thing the game asks you to do is choose a pet to purchase from the kennel. After you purchase your animal, you will bring them home and, after helping them adjust to the new environment, give them an audible name. The voice recognition in this game seems slightly improved from the original, as I had little trouble getting my pets to respond when I called them by name. As before, it takes a few tries, but they will come around and face you before too long.
There is plenty to do in Nintendogs + Cats, but not many goals. The primary crux of the gameplay relies on entering your dogs into various competitions to earn money. The money can be used to buy new furniture, clothes for your dogs, and even a complete makeover for the main room in the game. While the competitions do introduce some distinctly video game-style challenges, this type of interaction is far from the highlight of the title. More often, I had fun just throwing a ball into the room and watching my two dogs and one cat fight over it, chase each other around, and generally entertain each other and myself.
The competitions come in three variants: disc throwing, lure chasing, and obedience training. Each competition has five difficulty levels, each of which must be progressively unlocked. The disc throwing competition has you tossing a Frisbee-style disc to your dog, who will earn points by catching the disc. You are given sixty seconds to earn as many points as you can. The lure chasing competition has your dog chasing a lure that you pull via a fishing rod style mechanism. The first dog to reach the finish wins the competition. The obedience training competition has you showing off how many tricks your dog has learned, with points given for variety and speed of response.
The competitions are really the only way a player can progress through Nintendogs, as much of the rest of the game is based on collecting and observing. The competitions are fairly fun, but not particularly challenging; much of the challenge is in how quickly your dog has gained skills in the various areas. You will find that as you perform lots of disc competitions, your pup will slowly get better at them, which will help you climb the rankings and compete in the harder difficulty brackets.
The game features StreetPass functionality while in standby mode. You can take your dog for a walk by closing the 3DS and walking around during the day. The more steps the built-in pedometer counts, the better the reward that you will get when you resume play. Also, your dog can meet other dogs using this method, and exchange gifts.
SpotPass is used in much the same way. During my time with the game, Nintendo sent down a Mii resembling Teddy Roosevelt and his dog Pete, whom I was able to meet on regular non-pedometer walks as I played the game.
The biggest additions to the formula, of course, are the cats. You can adopt a cat at the Kennel for 800 coins (several hundred cheaper than most dogs), but unlike the dogs, you can't use the cats to earn back their adoption fee through competition. In fact, cats are not really useable in the game for anything but eye candy. They will play with your dogs, and you can feed them, but much of the rest of the content of the game (walks, competitions, et al) is restricted to dogs.
The graphics in the game are very pretty, with the animals looking better, and fuzzier, than ever. The animation is quite smooth and realistic, and the way the animals pounce around the room is great to watch. The environments you can bring your dog into are standard; nice looking, but fairly boring. The 3D effects in the game are very subtle, but occasionally pretty neat. The labels pop on the screen as you enter a competition, and it's fun to watch your dog run far into the distance, and then run back. Most of the time, however, your animals are just hanging out in a room, which doesn’t lend itself particularly well to visual depth. The sound presentation is unfortunately a bit lacking, as the various meows and barks sound far too canned and repetitive. Nothing takes you out of the virtual pet experience like hearing the same meow sound-byte played in rapid succession for thirty seconds.
There is plenty to do in Nintendogs + Cats, but most gamers will get tired of the competitions pretty quickly. If you are the type of player who enjoys sandbox observation style games, like most virtual pets, this will be a rewarding experience. For others, it's best to gravitate toward a more traditional video game.