My dogs can jump rope, break-dance, and play soccer, but they’re afraid of bubbles.
Hey, come over here and meet my puppies.
They’re sleeping now, so I can talk about them for a while. The one in the back is a Siberian Husky that I named Wolfpup. He’s the newest member of the family. The kennel just got the huskies in a couple days ago. The one on the left is Shaggy; I’ve had him for a few weeks now, and he’s an energetic Shetland Sheepdog. And that little ball of fur curled up next to him is my Yorkshire Terrier, Lucy.
"This can make you crazy. Can it tweak your reality where you start obsessing on it?" –Bob, 52
No Bob, I know they aren’t real, although I have been obsessed at times. I am talking about my puppies on a videogame website, after all, and despite a common belief out there (started by Nintendo, actually), I think Nintendogs still qualifies as a game. However, Nintendogs is much like Animal Crossing in that it’s open-ended, focused on maintaining your dogs in real-world time, and has a ton of random collectibles.
The difference between Nintendogs and every other virtual pet out there is that they look and act just like real puppies – not some scribbly nonsense you’ve never heard of. They chew on each others’ ears, get scared of unfamiliar objects, howl when sirens go by, and run away from you to go chew on something. Everyone knows how to interact with a puppy – you put food and water out for it, give it a bath, brush its hair, play fetch, talk to it, pet it, go for walks, and pick up after it. And everyone that I’ve shown my puppies to takes to them instantly, as is evidenced by the quotes interspersed throughout this article.
"Cute and adorable, this makes me miss my real dog less. Kudos to Nintendo for creating such an authentic looking, sounding, and reacting puppy." –Amanda, 29
What makes Nintendogs such a perfect application for the DS is that the touch screen and microphone make the entire experience feel natural. If you want one of your puppies to come to you, just say its name. Then you can rub its head or have it lick your hand by touching the screen. You also use the touch screen to throw flying discs, tennis balls, or play tug of war with the pull rope. Everything is very intuitive, and the game walks you through the basics and has a number of care manuals on different topics in the menus.
"I wish I could train my dog like that." –Anita, 40
Training your dog various commands is one of the coolest parts about Nintendogs. Basically, when your puppy does something that it can be taught, a light bulb appears. Tap that light bulb to record your voice command, and after doing this a few times, your puppy will learn something new! By touching your dog you can coax it into simple positions like sit, lie down, or roll over. Then with some creativity -- or help from Nintendo’s official message boards -- you can start to combine the basic tricks to teach your pup advanced tricks like handstands or back flips. There are also tricks like howling, digging, and sniffing that you can only teach your dog by leaving it alone and watching for it to do those things on its own.
"I’ve got the real thing at home, but it won’t do back-flips and it won’t break-dance." –Adam, Actor
There are some tricks for players to get the most out of the voice recognition, though. You need to do your best to use the same intonation each time, since the software is attempting to match what you say against how you said it before. It can also get similar sounding commands confused; so, as you teach your dog more and more tricks (each dog can learn up to fourteen), it helps to use longer phrases, rather than simple one or two syllable commands. For instance, my pup Shaggy, had back flip, handstand, and breakdance all mixed up. So, I re-trained him on two of the commands, using “do a handstand” and “back flip for me” as commands instead.
However, the voice recognition isn’t always to blame if your pup isn’t listening. Puppies get tired of sitting around hearing you bark orders, and when you browse through the dogs in the kennel, you’ll see that some are more disobedient than others. Getting a disobedient dog requires more patience all around – they often ignore your voice, they stop frequently during walks, and they don’t do well during the competitions. However, with a lot of time and care, those dogs can come around. The other side of the coin of course, is that if you aren’t giving your puppy the attention it needs, even an obedient dog will start getting ornery.
"Make sure you pick up after them." –Robert
In addition to everything you’ll do inside the house, taking your puppies on walks is also important. You’ll draw a route on the map for your trip, and there are several key locations to visit, such as parks where you can train for the disc competitions, a gym to train for agility competitions, and discount shops, which sometimes get in new toys or treats. The distance your dog can walk is limited, but its stamina will slowly increase if you walk it a lot. As you go, your dog will mark its territory on the map, and drop a few… things for you to pick up from time to time. If you don’t pick up after your pooch, you’ll get a talking to from some of the other trainers in the game, and your trainer score will suffer.
Also on the map are mystery spots where you’ll find either another trainer walking a puppy or a special item. Many of the things your dog finds are useless old boots or disposable cameras, but the vast majority of the great items are found on walks. Some of the rarest goodies are found in gift boxes not shown on the map, but that you’ll spot as your dog walks by. You’ll have to tug on the leash quick to make sure your pup notices and brings the present to you.
That leads us to the collection aspect of the game. There are a ton of crazy items hidden in Nintendogs, for your puppies to play with, wear, or listen to. Some of the wackiest things I’ve found so far are a broken wall clock that you can use as a flying disc, a pair of “party glasses” that make your dog look a bit… inebriated, and a lion’s mane. There are also cool things like jump ropes, remote controlled Mario Karts, spiked collars, Mario and Luigi hats… The list keeps growing, and we keep finding great new things.
"That’s tight. I want to get two for my daughters." –Juan, 26
So what do you do with these things if you already have an item or don’t think a husky looks good in a purple flower collar? Well, you can earn a bit of cash at the second hand store, or you can give it away to a friend (in exchange for something you’d like, of course). Nintendogs features Bark Mode, which uses the DS wireless technology to search for other dog owners, even if you fold up the system and put it in your bag. When it finds another person, the two systems will bark at each other, signaling a data transfer. Then, the next time you open your DS, the other person’s puppy and trainer info will be there, and they may even leave a gift or a recorded message. It’s a great way to meet other Nintendogs owners or trade items with friends, and if the other puppy is of a breed that you don’t have in your kennel yet, that breed will be unlocked in your copy.
Speaking of breeds, there are eighteen main breeds in the game, but only six breeds are available at the beginning. To make sure everyone can choose a breed they like, though, Nintendo has produced three versions of the game with different starting line ups, which can be found in our game profile. If you’re looking for a particular breed, you’ll definitely want to make sure you get the right copy of the game, because it can take about a week to get enough trainer points to unlock your first new breed. There are also an unknown number of secret breeds in the game, such as the Dalmatian, which is unlocked if you find a Firefighter’s Hat.
Nintendogs is designed to be played in short bursts over a long period of time. This pace is reinforced by several limits: a dog can only learn three or four tricks in a day; you have to wait half an hour between walks; and dogs can only enter three competitions in a day. When you begin the game, it doesn’t seem like you’ll be playing much at all, but as your dog goes on longer and longer walks, and as you start buying more dogs to manage, you’ll suddenly find hours and hours slipping away.
"It’s absolutely adorable. I love it. As an adult, I would go out and buy this. It’s not offensive, and I think it’s a great tool to teach youngsters how wonderful animals are and how to interact with them properly. It’s especially great for kids who are allergic to dogs and can’t have one of their own." –Debbie, Animal Rescuer
Overall, while the items and competitions will keep you involved, what really makes the game is, of course, the puppies. Talking to and petting such lifelike little cuties fosters an enormous sense of attachment, and it’s amazing how one of my dogs can make me break into a smile simply by looking at me as we walk.