By Zach Patterson Tuesday, 13 Mar 2007

By now, most people have heard about Nintendogs, Nintendo’s ridiculously cute dog simulator. If I wouldn’t have had a DS before this came out, I most likely would have bought one for this because it seemed so abstract, and so different. This is perhaps due to Nintendo’s smart marketing of the game and perhaps that I really wanted a puppy at the time. In, reality, it is an idea that had been tried before, in smaller terms with virtual pets like Tamagotchi and on consoles with oddball games like Seaman. However, Nintendogs is probably the most compelling game of its sort to date, with lots to do and a lot of customization possible, in addition to the teaching of tricks through verbal commands and use of the touch screen to interact with the puppy.

Getting some basics out of the way, the graphics are great and very lifelike for a system like the DS. The puppy moves realistically and acts like one of the various puppies I’ve had in my life. Needless to say, very endearing. If I could fault something, it is that the backgrounds are not very detailed and sometimes come across as very bland. However, the different breeds are represented well here, and there are 18 different ones to choose from.

The control is done completely with the stylus, and it is implemented wonderfully. Tapping the screen brings the dog to you, and rubbing the screen can pet the dog, wash him, or command him to do certain tricks. Menu navigation, while certainly not dynamic or exciting, works very well and is fairly intuitive. You also use the stylus to hold the leash for the dog, throw toys and frisbees, and various other activities. These are often the most impressive, interactive parts of the game. The voice control isn’t perfect, but it is pretty great for the most part, and is a good addition. I had some struggles with it, but most people I have heard said it was pretty spot on. Given that I slur my words sometimes, I will take their word for it.

The music is seriously laid back, but for the most part it quite adeptly fits the atmosphere. You won’t find songs that are intensely catchy, but what is here is appropriate.

So what is the problem with Nintendogs? The biggest issue for me is what many people may enjoy: there’s no goal. I enjoyed the relaxing freedom of no goal at first, but eventually it became quite monotonous and boring after a few weeks. You play with the dog for 10 minutes and then the game is over for the day. I have to wash them every few days, groom them, feed/water them, walk them, etc. It is like having an actual dog, but it never grows up. You can enter them in contests, which are decently fun, but they soon become frustrating as your pup kills the competition in one match and fails miserably in the next. The game eventually feels like an obligation more than fun, which really is not what many people play games for. You feel guilty for not spending time with the dog, but at the same time, when you run out of new things to do, it really isn’t worth playing anymore aside from raising different breeds. This game, on the plus side, is targeted at both sexes, and women seem to find it especially cute, which is a plus for a guy with a traditionally non-gamer girl. It is a game for all ages, and most everyone will get some fun out of it for at least a little amount of time.

However, keep in mind that the game will become old for some sooner than others and that while it is a great novelty, it feels like it needs a bit refinement in order to be a fully fleshed out game.