Available for: Nintendo DS
The virtual pet market has been ablaze since the advent of the Tamagotchi in 1997, but the 8-bit pixilated toy is a joke when compared to Nintendo’s latest invention: “Nintendogs,” the first killer app for the DS system and the ultimate test in masculinity. Unfortunately, unless you’re an emotionless bastard, it’s highly likely that you’ll be drawn into the world of these computer-generated puppies as if they were the real thing. Complete with lifelike fur, the ability to learn tricks, participate in contests, and respond to their master’s voice, these dogs are both realistic and addicting to play with. The game is also being offered in three different versions: Lab & Friends, Chihuahua & Friends, and Dachshund & Friends, with each title containing six breeds to choose from. This is probably my biggest complaint with the game, since you’re bound to only really like one or two breeds per title, but unlikely to purchase all three versions.
Once you’ve chosen which version suits you best (I’d suggest picking up “Chihuahua & Friends” for nothing more than the cute white Chihuahua on the front cover), you’ll then be assigned to pick the breed of your dog, as well as its color and personality; laid-back mutts are easier to train, while stubborn puppies offer more of a challenge. After this, you’ll have to give your pet a name, and then repeat that given name into the microphone until your dog understands you. Once it recognizes whatever stupid moniker you’ve given it (my Miniature Schnauzer is called Pork Chop), your puppy will respond to only that name. The rest of the gameplay can get pretty monotonous from here: feed your dog, take it for walks (don’t forget to pick up its poop), train it to do tricks, and register him to compete in Disc Contests, Agility Trials, and Obedience Tests. The better you do in each competition, the more money you’ll earn. You can then buy more toys for your dog to play with, or heck, buy even more puppies to take care of.
One of the coolest features of “Nintendogs” is Bark Mode, an option you can turn on (even when you’re not playing) that will search for other dog owners in the area via the system’s built-in Wi-Fi. When another “Nintendogs” player is in range, your puppy will bark (like it’s just seen another dog), and can then play with another owner’s puppy. This feature, along with the voice recognition software and the use of the stylus to pet, brush, and shampoo your dog, is what makes “Nintendogs” one of the most original games ever created; and it couldn’t have been played on any other system. Nintendo is notorious for offering up innovative titles, but rarely do they ever enjoy the same success in the West that they do in Japan. “Nintendogs” is one giant exception to this rule. Everybody loves puppies, especially when you only have to love and take care of it 10-15 minutes of day. That’s the way real pets should be. Don’t ya think?