Different versions of Nintendogs contain different breeds. Don’t worry if your fave isn’t on yours—hook up with friends and their breeds will become available in your kennel.
SHOE: Good thing Bob Barker and his ball-bustin’ crusade to “fix” the world’s pets doesn’t reach into the virtual world—otherwise my new best friend, an adorable corgi pup named Corky, might’ve never been born.
Before I lose complete credibility amongst my more masculine peers out there, you should know this “game” (I’ll explain why that’s in quotes in a bit) isn’t just about making sure you’re grooming and feeding a pretend dog like it was some advanced, fuzzy Tamagotchi. It’s about watching him develop from a clueless, seemingly deaf ball of fur to a smart, obedient, Frisbee-catching ball of fur. You do this by educating your dog in the ways of the DS: You use the stylus to get him (or her) to move a certain way (or just to rub his belly for some feel-good encouragement), and you speak into the built-in microphone to teach it commands, from a simple “sit” to a more provocative “booty call” (my self-named command for getting Corky to shake her thang). Repeat several times and you will see your companion evolve and mentally grow over time. It’s quite impressive—especially when you realize it’s all a “game.”
Oh yeah, about that “game” thing.... You teach your dog tricks, take him for walks, and enter him in agility, disc-catching, or obedience competitions. It’s not really gaming, per se—just a lot of activities to keep you and your puppy busy. Nintendogs does offer a collectible aspect, however; you can get and trade a hundred random items ranging from squeaky chew toys and clothing accessories to controllable RC helicopters. But all they do is entertain your pal in new ways, or make him look funny ’cause, hey, a dog wearing glasses is pure comedy gold.
So once I cut my emotional ties with Corky (named after a personal fave TV character, by the way), I won’t be Nintendogging any longer. I do have to give the game huge, huge props for being so technologically cool and for getting me hooked for even a short little while. But it won’t be long before you’re looking for something much deeper with longer-lasting appeal. Animal Crossing DS, perhaps?
JENNIFER: As a lover of portable gaming, dogs, and cute things in general, I was predisposed toward this one. My high expectations weren’t exactly exceeded, though—not by a mile-long walk with two poop breaks.
I adored teaching my dogs tricks, scrubbing their coats till they sparkled, and taking them on long walks where they played in the park and brought me the most darling presents (loved the tissue box, ChiChi!). The competitions are super-simple, but they’re highly addictive; they also happen to be where Nintendogs is at its least cute and cuddly. Three meets a day isn’t enough—mostly because even when your dogs are well-trained, well-practiced, recently bathed, and pampered with top-quality canned food, treats, and positive feedback aplenty, they’ll behave startlingly unpredictably just when it matters most. Poor Penelope, my prize boxer, would enter the disc-tossing championship with everything going for her but come home an open-class loser at day’s end. I understand it’s something of a stamina issue, and this game does an amazing job creating a realistic pet you care both for and about. It’s just stuck halfway between sim and silly.
If it’s supposed to be realistic, then let me truly train, discipline, and breed my dogs. If it’s just a quirky game, I want to drive those puppies to compete till they bring home a first-place trophy we can both be proud of. (Either way, that dorky precompetition banter should’ve been skippable.) I really hope the next game works out these identity issues; then Nintendogs will be best in show.
KATHLEEN: To protect its property from dirty pirates, Nintendo gave us special sealed DS systems to review Nintendogs. Now that we’re done they plan on taking them back, so I just want to say this to those puppy-snatching bastards: Cheesy likes when you scratch under her chin, but Gouda doesn’t. Dairy likes to play with the balloons, but it scares Cheesy when they pop. Cheesy doesn’t like Charlie, and Aster got in a fight with Dairy over her new rainbow wig, so be sure to keep them apart.
Each of my dogs has its own little quirks and qualities that I enjoyed discovering. It was surprising how quickly I found myself unabashedly praising Cheesy for sitting on command and catching Frisbees, then delighting in her response of wags and happy kisses. Gouda, on the other hand, had the enthusiasm for agility-based competitions but totally lacked the speed and coordination for catching anything. We went to a disc-throwing event and couldn’t even place out of the amateur class.
With all of those unique traits, I wish there had been more ways to show off my little troopers. An Animal Crossing–style society and level of interaction would have been a perfect fit. Also, the walks around town occasionally got a bit dull, since we often ran into the same people. (That Billy is such a brat, and his bitchy mother thinks she knows everything!)
So, farewell to you, my wee wagger brigade! I will do my best to ignore the DS-shaped hole that Nintendo has ripped out of my heart....
Good: These puppies sure are cute....
Bad: The puppy love may be short-lived
EGM Pups: Corky, Benny, Bertha, ChiChi, Baxter, Gouda, and Cheesy
THE VERDICTS (OUT OF 10)
Nintendogs is a one-player game, but put it in bark mode and your DS will send out wireless signals looking for other nearby Nintendogs players doing the same thing. If you hook up, your puppy can give his new friend one of your items, and you can get one in return. Just don’t get upset like Shoe did when Kathleen’s dog brought him a dirty ol’ stick. Yeah, a stick. She just wanted to show off Gouda’s new rainbow Afro wig, is all.
Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.