It is a well-known fact that (Ninten)dogs are regarded as man’s best friends, and Nintendo has once again set about capitalising on such fact by marking the return of their popular pet-simulation games for the launch of the Nintendo 3DS in the form of Nintendogs + Cats.
Upon booting the game up, you’ll first be faced with having to choose from the adorable array of canines currently housed at the Kennels – one of which is soon to become your virtual companion throughout the first portion of the game. Selectable choices are dependent on whichever of the three versions you purchased – French Bulldog + New Friends, Golden Retriever + New Friends, or Toy Poodle + New Friends – yet additional breeds will later become available to you once you are able to utilise the Nintendo 3DS’ StreetPass functionality with other players who own a differing version.
Having chosen your dog, much of your early time with the game will revolve around spending quality time with him/her in the confines of a virtual room, which may be customised once you’ve saved money to purchase new decor. Here you will find yourself monitoring factors such as their physique, hunger, thirst and coat quality to ensure that they are getting enough exercise, food, drink and enough grooming respectively. Hunger and thirst are easy enough to be countered, placing water or dry food respectively for your pet to eat, whereas physique will necessitate regularly taking them for walks or participating in competitions. Grooming also plays an important role (nobody likes a filthy animal, do they?!), and will require you to wash and shampoo your pet or to brush their coat to ensure it’s kept in the best condition.
Each day, in real-time, you are also able to teach your dog up to three tricks, with the first trio being Sit, Left Paw and Right Paw, before they start becoming progressively more advanced. The reward here is for continual daily play, even for just half an hour, with the opportunity of training up your virtual pet to be a real pro in a relatively short space of time. More impressively, is that when teaching new tricks the game requires you to say the relevant command clearly into the microphone, and from this, you’ll be able to utilise voice commands whenever you wish your pet to perform said trick. The accuracy here is particularly admirable and adds to make the experience ever the more engaging – especially to the younger audience. Doing so serves a higher purpose too, as certain tricks are necessary for your pets to be able to succeed in a variety of competitions – which we’ll touch on later.
In further occupying your time, you’ll be able to participate in a number of activities with your faithful hound, accessed through the “Go Out” menu on the touchscreen. The selection available to you, however, is surprisingly narrow. Here, you’ll be able to choose between Walks, Shopping, Competitions and Pedometer.
Walk, unsurprisingly, offers the chance to take your pet on a virtual stroll, randomly selected from a variety of scenic routes including towns, mountains and beaches. You’ll bump into other Mii’s and their pets on your travels, and more importantly, those that you meet through the StreetPass functionality will also appear here. Such ventures also allow your dog to discover hidden presents, but also to relieve themselves, in a manner of speaking, with your responsibilities also involving the aid of a poop-a-scoop (we’re aiming for authenticity here, remember?). You can also find a Cafe, Gym and Park, allowing you to further interact with your pet.
Similarly, the Pedometer combines such elements with the gyroscope functionality of the handheld. Entering the activity and having closed your handheld, each step that you take corresponds to the length of walk you take your dog on. You’re able to receive rewards that your faithful hound is able to sniff out.
Shopping, as can be expected, will allow you to visit various outlets – incorporating Barc, Coletta, Modo Home, Mr. R, Nintendogs + Cats and Hotel Altesse – to purchase supplies, accessories and decor, or to sell excess items and even place your pets in the care of others if you’re expecting not to play the game for a while.
Ensuring your supplies are well stocked is a fundamental element of the game, not only in terms of taking care of your pet as mentioned previously but also making sure that you have a more varied experience. It is important to purchase items such as Water, Milk, Dry Food and Biscuits, but buying accessories such as the Tennis Ball, Flying Disc, Boomerang, Balloon or Bubbles opens up a whole realm of activities for you to engage with your virtual pet in.
The 3D effect adds depth to such activities, with the Boomerang seemingly flying off into the distance before returning towards you, whereas the balloon may be increased in size by blowing into the microphone, expanding as if it was right in front of your eyes. It also helps in allowing each pet to seem ever the more lifelike, heightened by the improved graphical capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS.
Competitions will allow you to pit the skills of your canine against other A.I. owners, across Disc, Lure Coursing and Obedience Trial. Each ranges in five levels of difficulty depending on the type of Cup you enter, from the lower ranks of the Junior Cup right up to the Nintendogs Cup. The aptly titled Disc Competition sees you utilise the touchscreen to throw a frisbee, with your dog scoring points for each successful catch. Lure Coursing sees you wind a retractable lure that your dog chases around a course, with care being needed not to move it too fast otherwise your poor pet will be left lost and confused. However, it is the Obedience Trial that impresses the most, using the AR Card to transport your dog into your own home environment, as you call voice commands in an effort to make them perform relevant tricks.
Continuing the trend of AR Card support, you are also able to utilise the various Mascot cards that came packaged with your Nintendo 3DS system. These allow you to dress your pets in themed hats, including Kirby, Metroid and Mushroom hats for example. Such support is fantastic, and the mind only boggles at what Nintendo could do with other franchises in the future.
Disappointingly, the introduction of Cats to the series doesn’t seem to marginally affect it in any way. They can’t be taught tricks, taken for walks, entered into competitions and, understandably from those facts, can’t be chosen as your first pet. Therefore, even owning one doesn’t seem particularly necessary, as they lounge around, generally ignore you and only interact with your other pets on the rare occasion.
As a launch title, Nintendogs + Cats makes impressive use of all facets of the Nintendo 3DS’ unique technology. Whilst pet simulation may not be everyone’s idea of fun, there’s no denying that Nintendo has once again delivered in style for those that invest a little time with their virtual pet.