The sheer popularity of the pet-sim is unnerving, the original Nintendogs itself accumulating sales in excess of 23 million copies that became largely responsible for the Nintendo DS’s broadened appeal.
At face value it’s hard not to make a direct comparison with Nintendogs + Cats, dtp young entertainment’s Cats & Dogs: Pets at Play looking strangely familiar. You’ll be more than used to the concept here; choose between a dog or cat breed, name them, and take them back to your virtual home where you are tasked with ensuring they are well cared for.
Whilst there are four breeds of each to choose from, between Retriever, Dalmatian, Husky, and German Shepherd for those that would like to provide a home for a dog, or Tabby, British Blue, Maine Coon and Siamese for cats, there is no customisation beyond this.
My retriever, Bolt, looks soundly content. Affectionately rolling onto his back he yearns for digital affection, waiting for me to pick up the Stylus and interact.
Initial disappointment then, but the game is geared towards players entering competitions to win ever valuable cash that may then spend on purchasing accessories to personalise their pet’s appearance – such means including glasses, hats, bows and novelty noses!
Monitoring bars, presented similarly to that seen within The Sims, is important for you to ensure the continued happiness of your pet. Low energy? Send them to bed. Hungry or thirsty? Feed them. Smelly? Give them a quick shower. You know the routine by now, with brief mini-games seeing such various tasks performed.
Aiming to differentiate itself, Cats & Dogs: Pets at Play also introduces elements such as diseases, injuries and pesky fleas. These can cause your pet’s energy and mood to decrease more rapidly and are treated through similar means to other interactions using shampoos, ointments and sprays.
Activities prove to be the most well thought out portion of the game, players able to enjoy a comprehensive range of modes including Play Ball, Hunt, Sound Memory, Tricks, Agility, Fetch and Swimming. Each uses the functions of the Nintendo 3DS to varying degrees, Play Ball seeing you slide on the touch screen to fling the toy as far as possible, whereas Tricks sees you responding to indicated gestures. Unsurprisingly simple in approach and never fully developed, but resoundingly accessible.
Whereas such scope is commendable, the key area in which Cats & Dogs: Pets at Play ultimately falls down is that of engagement. Within games such as this, it is imperative the player feels that the choices and interactions they make have an overriding result on the behaviour of their pet, yet this isn’t apparent here.
Petting, for instance, sees no noticeable response, your pet staring blankly at you as rosy hearts fill the screen in an attempt to demonstrate at least some appreciation for your efforts in feverishly swiping the touchscreen. Even when idle, your pet will go through the animations in routine rather than in a more sporadic nature – walking around, scratching, sitting down, sneezing, and rolling over.
It is such limited animation that detracts from the player’s experience, everything becoming predictable after a short while and therefore removing any sense of discovery or surprise. Still, Cats & Dogs: Pets at Play provides plenty to do, and those perhaps looking to move beyond Nintendogs + Cats will find this a worthy diversion. Just one with less personality.