Nintendogs

Review

posted 10/10/2005 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
One Page Platforms: DS

I’ll admit, writing this review was a little daunting.  I mean, how exactly am I supposed to give my opinion of a non-game game?  Well, being a closet Harvest Moon fan helps a little, but there’s still a sizable stretch between “farm sim” and “puppy sim.”  So, I’ll give it the old college try...

Nintendogs, the big N’s latest unconventional title for their so-called developer system, initially defies defining.  Many people who see me playing it on the bus or after work say, “Oh, that’s like those Tomogotchi things, right?”  Well, they’re half-right.  Nintendogs takes the embryonic pet-simulator concept introduced with such early tries like Tomogotchi and Giga-pet, and then hyper-develops it.  Nintendogs is in essence what those primordial sims were trying to accomplish, and for one big reason: Nintendogs is based on a real animal, something we’re all very familiar with.

Let me explain further.  Tomogotchi’s were popular as a novelty and among quirk-gamers simply because they were new and different.  A blob of grayscale pixels that roughly resembles a cute little beastie will appeal to the offbeat crowd, but non-gamers won’t get it.  Here again is Nintendo’s philosophy of broadening the market.  They’re expanding an idea with a lot of promise by marketing it to people who have never played video games before, and it’s working.

The funny thing is, I’m as enamored with Nintendogs as my ten-year-old sister is, and I hope I can explain why in this review.  I have an inkling that it’s because puppies are just one of those things that are practically irresistible to any human, unless you happen to really hate dogs.  Puppies are adorable, soft, cuddly and loyal, and I’d better end this sentence before I need to take an insulin shot.  The fact is that Nintendogs recreates the feel of man’s best friend so accurately, you’ll be instinctually drawn to these virtual canines as you would a real dog. 

Yes, the Nintendogs are noticeably polygonal.  They have data points and textures like any other 3D representation, and at the end of the day they’re still stuck in your DS, behind those double screens.  But their behavior is so well done, you’d swear there was a real animal behind those screens.  The actions of these puppies is as random and dynamic as a real dog’s; they’ll jump up and paw at the back of the screen when you turn on your DS, like you’ve just come home from work.  You feel as if they’re genuinely happy to see you.

The environments are somewhat surreal; a white glow permeates every area and gives them all a comforting, serene atmosphere.  But the way the dogs interact with their surroundings is remarkably realistic, whether you’re chilling at home, at the park or out on a casual walk.  These places all have a double purpose, as they are training grounds for the contests you can enter your dog into.  For instance, the park is great for tossing the frisbee around, your house is better suited for teaching tricks, and the gymnasium is exclusively for agility exercises. 

While the scenery is rather unrealistic in some ways, the objects in this world are all very real.  I have to hand it to Nintendo; the physics engine in this game is so spot on, and yet so subtle at the same time, you’ll hardly notice it.  And that’s the way it should be.  Playing fetch with the tennis ball or tug of war with the pull rope should all feel completely natural, so that you forget that you’re playing a game.  And it does.  Of course, your pet does require some virtual maintenance to keep healthy, such as feeding, cleaning, and exercise, but another beauty of this game is that your puppy will never die.  They may get surly and take off for a while if you neglect them, but they remain eternally youthful, never develop debilitating diseases, never run into the street and get hit by a car...it’s all the fun of a puppy without any of the heartbreak.

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