This isn't a game.
It’s been a long time since Nintendo has had as much publicity and success as it has with the recent release of it’s new virtual life game entitled ‘Nintendogs’. With the recent popularity boost of reality TV, and other virtual life games such as The Sims and all those Tycoon games, it would seem that bringing out Nintendogs at this specific moment in time was a very smart move for Nintendo and well, it was but that’s all it is really. You see there is something new and original about Nintendogs but to be honest there isn’t that much to it at all and most of the time I found it more frustrating than cute and adorable. As a matter of fact, I began to appreciate my girlfriend’s lazy dog that does nothing all day but eat as compared to these little guys, and that’s a tough thing to do. So to be conclusive, this game was a huge let down for me, but for what reasons? Well, read on as always to find out.
1. STORY/GAME MODES
Okay so you play yourself and for some reason you want a dog. You go to the pound, buy a puppy of your choice for around $500 out of around 6 different breeds. Then everything is really left up to you and well, that’s about it. You can enter competitions to win money and buy stuff for your pups or simply decorate your home. Then it’s over. Well, it doesn’t officially end it just doesn’t prove much fun or interesting after an already uninteresting plot and lack of reason to keep playing. I feel this game could have developed more of a story in the game in some way, but unfortunately there’s none to be seen here and it drags the gameplay down.
As for game modes, it doesn’t get any better I’m afraid. Generally there’s only one mode, but within this is a few mini-modes filled with a few interesting points in gameplay, but that will be explained later. Basically, when you start up the game you won’t have any menu at all; it will just boot you straight into the game of looking after your little pups. From here you can train your guys to do various tricks, take them out for walks to the park and track etc. or do all the basic feed, bathe, play stuff associated with having a puppy. So there is a somewhat varied amount of stuff you can do in Nintendogs, what the problem is however is that they aren’t really that fun. More will be explained in the gameplay section.
Story Modes Rating: 0/5
Game Modes Rating: 2/5
Story & Game Modes Rating: 2/10
2. GAMEPLAY & CONTROL
The controls in Nintendogs are annoying, full stop. That’s if you could actually call them controls because most of the time, the commands do anything but control your dog. You can use either the touch screen to give your puppy commands or do so through the DS’s microphone, of which isn’t even that impressive. First of all, you will need to teach your dog’s tricks through the touch screen before you can use the voice commands feature so you will actually get a taste of how difficult it is to properly manoeuvre your stylus in the exact way that allows the dog to perform an action. Following this you can then repeat the tricks audio command in the microphone in order for your dog to learn it. However, because of the Nintendo DS’s poor microphone hardware makeup, it doesn’t work all that well, especially if you’re not good at pronunciating every word you say. I literally spent half an hour trying to get my stupid dog to learn its first trick of sitting down through voice recognition. Other minor things such as throwing disks and tennis balls to play with your dog or scrubbing your dog clean all work surprisingly well compared to the bad control of your puppy. It’s not all bad but one of the most prominent and important parts of the game is terrible and amazingly frustrating. Not good.
Gameplay, although very limited, can be fun and inventive at times, but it’s all really to do with the fact that it’s a DS you’re playing it on. The game features 3 different types of competition: Disk, Agility and Obedience. Each one is very different in its own respect but it all depends on your level of tolerance as to which you’ll enjoy the most. If you have a lot of time on your hands and actually enjoy repeating ‘Sit Down’, ‘Roll Over’, ‘Shake’ over and over, then Obedience Trials are definitely for you. This competition will see you performing a pre-defined set list of tricks for judges and getting a score based upon how quickly and easily you pulled them off. It’s an okay experience but can get very annoying at times and is definitely the hardest challenge of all 3. What I preferred on the other hand was the other 2 competitions. Disk is basically just throwing a flying disk for your dog to run off and catch. You’ll get points based upon how far you throw it and whether or not your dog catches it in mid-air. A generally fun but ultimately repetitive gameplay experience, however it does offer a break from the chore of teaching tricks and looking after your energetic pup. The agility trials are quite fun and consist of you going around a track and walking over see-saws, going through tunnels and jumping over hurdles. This is easily the greatest part of the competition modes and certainly gives you one of the best experiences within the game between you and your virtual puppy.
Other areas of gameplay include feeding and caring for your pet which is simply simple and nothing new since those little virtual pets you got in every retail shop around the world. Your pet will get hungry every few hours or so and you’ll also have to give them water too, believe it or not. Unfortunately that’s where all the caring ends because you won’t actually know anything more about your puppy except that he will range from looking filthy to beautiful. There’s absolutely no indication as to whether or not your puppy is actually happy with your not and it really surprised me, because it should actually be a big part of raising a puppy. Add this to the fact that you can only enter each puppy in a maximum of 3 competitions per day and you have a severe amount of limitations of which hinder the game even more and make it more of a chore than actual fun gameplay. So if you’re not old enough to get a dog or you just don’t want the real life responsibilities, this is for you, but don’t expect anything that fun or even amazingly life-like about Nintendogs’ gameplay at all.
Control Rating: 2/5
Gameplay Rating: 2/5
Gameplay & Control Rating: 4/10
Visuals in the game are very bland with the exception of the dogs themselves. There’s really not that much to look at here which is a shame because most of the times, the Nintendogs themselves look remarkably lifelike, bright and alive. Going outside is nothing special, the competitions are nothing special and even the main setting: your house which looks empty and lifeless throughout, no matter how much you spend decorating it up. Maybe this was intended as a way to direct your full attention to that which matters: your dogs. I don’t care though, because they could have at least tried to add a little more of a colourful and live environment for you to share with your dog.
The dogs as I’ve mentioned more than often look fantastic and very lifelike throughout the entire game. Shout on your dog and it’ll bark and run at you and climb up to press its nose against the bottom screen waiting for you to do something. Rub their heads, bodies, legs, whatever and you’ll get an appropriate animation that simply looks adorable for most of the time and certainly makes up for their bad A.I. or ‘stupidity’. Such activities as the competitions, feeding, washing and walking your dog all play a great deal in helping recover realism points lost during the game’s bad gameplay spots and a lot of the time, they will look brilliant. There are the few occasions that do bring down the visuals when it comes to dog models. For example, when playing around with your pup, you may experience limbs going through other limbs or heads going through solid object such as disks or walls. It’s all basic 3d model clipping problems that I feel could and should have been resolved but obviously it didn’t seem to matter that much to Nintendo, and to be honest it doesn’t really do much injustice to the visuals.
So there are the odd bland patches here and there, with the contrast of the exceptionally lifelike renditions of the puppies, and all the other technical problems in-between. So graphics for Nintendogs are above average as a whole.
Graphics Rating: 7/10
Well there’s not that much of it here really to talk about. Firstly and most predictably, we have the dog noises (bark, grunt, whimper etc.). All are done very realistically and transfer on the DS’s cartridges very well with not a hint of problems. Each dog does have its own sound set from what I’ve heard and it is fairly extensive but nothing remarkable. Aside from this there is the background music which is a 1 or 2 minute low loop of typical Nintendo style harmonic elevator music and crowd noises which are all the same and that’s about it. Nope, there’s nothing else really. All human voicing is done by text and when you do finally get to say something, it’s not even that good as a result of the DS’s microphone. So what there is, it’s done pretty well, but what there isn’t, is too much. There’s nothing exciting here at all with exception of the realism given to the pup’s bows and wows.
Sound Rating: 5/10
Again, this all depends on whether or not you’re a tolerant person, which I am not. With the restrictions of only entering three competitions per dog a day, things can dull pretty soon, especially after first buying the game, putting it in and after a few hours of gameplay realising you have nothing to do but wait until tomorrow. So if you have all the time in the world I suppose this game could last that long mainly because it would take you at least 4 days in total to go through all the competitions with one dog, perfectly without failing a single round. Learning tricks and combining them all can seem daunting and frankly, pointless at times, especially when you dog doesn’t know half of what you’re saying. Hey, I think that’s probably the most realistic element to Nintendogs come to think of it. These dogs aren’t that good at following orders from humans either. I must have played this game for an hour when I first got it, then left it on the shelve for a week, hoping that my dog had ran away and at least looking for him would give me something to do, but he didn’t. Instead you're presented with a pretty much endless game that doesn’t really point you in any direction at all and gives you no motive to progress. As a result I think the novelty of Nintendogs will wear off pretty quickly and players will come to abandon their poor little pups for more fun things, like a real video game. I’m going to give this game a slightly below average score because even though it seems Nintendogs doesn’t offer much in terms of lifeline, for those who do get sucked in, it will take a long time to learn all those tricks, win competitions and keep those little guys beautiful and quenched.
Lifeline Rating: 4/10
6. DIFFICULTY BALANCE
It’s hard to give this type of game a difficulty balance score because you could simply play around with this game for months without actually doing any of the tricks or competitions. It would be pretty dull, but you could. What I will mention however is that this game is terribly annoying. As I’ve said before, voice commands are impossible to perfect, and even the touch screen alternative is picky and unforgiving. So seeing as this game is primarily marketed at children and most likely girls who don’t really play that much video games, I feel it all might be a little too much for them. Who knows though, they’re probably better at it than me, it wouldn’t be hard. Competitions will get harder as you along and they do actually progress at a rather steady pace, not jumping too far in difficulty each time, so that is done well. As I said, it’s hard to give this a clear rating so instead I’m just going to give it an average 5, for steady progression in competitions, yet bad user interface problems that can lead to more than a few temper outbursts.
Difficulty Balance Score: 5/10
Let’s face it, Nintendogs isn’t original at all. I mean, take away the touch screen and microphone and you pretty much have Pocket Monsters or whatever those little things were called. Place it all into a world where The Sims is topping the charts, and people are watching more and more reality TV and you have a game that’s pretty much born into a world surrounded by brothers and sisters. I will give it points mainly because it’s on a handheld video game system for the first time, and the inclusion of the whole trick system, which in itself is probably the biggest element of the game so I will reward points for that. Again however, it leaves Nintendogs falling short and really failing to impress me.
Originality Score: 5/10
To put it simply, if you’re above the age of 13, you probably won’t enjoy it as much as someone younger than you would. This is a game for kids, and perhaps the odd full grown man or woman… but generally, it’s not one that could be enjoyed all day and everyday. Instead you will need a break every now and then, whether you’re forced to or not, it doesn’t matter. Young girls will probably love this game, but I let both my younger brothers of ages 6 and 12 play it and they both hated it as much as I did. So again, it’s all rooted in your personal taste and more likely, lifestyle. Objectively however, I think Nintendogs has so many restrictions and annoyances that the average player won’t have that much fun with the game at all. Instead the entirety of Nintendogs feels more like a chore and didn’t impress me at all (perhaps you hadn’t noticed already). So personally this game scores low in enjoyment levels, based upon the fact that for around the 10 hours of gameplay I had with his game, I enjoyed about 2 of them altogether and that was mostly the Disk Throwing and Agility Trials.
Enjoyment Score: 2/10
FINAL SCORE: 4.3/10
Nintendogs is game for people who don’t really play that many games. Instead it's simply a really successful marketing ploy feeding off on the public’s fascination with cute puppies and life simulation games. I personally can’t see why this game got such a high rating on so many reviews as all this game was to me was one big waste of time, endlessly performing tasks that I had no real desire to do and when I did do them, I got no satisfaction out of it all. Instead one of the most common emotions I felt while playing Nintendogs was frustration. Not just frustrated at my tone-deaf dogs, but at the fact that I bought into the entire fad that is Nintendogs. If you have a baby sister or child of your own, by all means get them this. It will probably save a lot of talk about getting a real puppy for the time being and keep them occupied for quite a while. If however you have an attention span at all and you’ve read reviews on this game and actually thought it looked impressive, think again, put your money back in your pocket and walk away.
In some ways I feel in the wrong for disliking this game because so many people seem to have enjoyed it. However, all these people have been distant and everyone who I have had direct contact with doesn’t seem to enjoy Nintendogs that much at all. Personally, I feel this game is not worth your money, especially if you regard yourself as a ‘game’ player at least, because this isn’t even a game. It’s a cartridge of meaningless chores. Do yourself a favour and don’t play this game, unless you really really really want a dog. In that case… go buy a Tamagotchi. They were much better.
You have been warned.