Animal Paradise
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-11-03 Nintendo DS Simulation E (Everyone) Empire Interactive / Agatsuma Entertainment

When walking down the greeting card aisle at your local supermarket, you've probably passed by more than a few cards with the focus of a normally domesticated animal, like a cat or dog, against a white background, where the nose of the animal appears larger than it would in real life.

While these cards may be "the real thing", they are normally an interpretation of Yoneo Morita's work with animal photography in Japan. This style of photography, in which various animals are pictured with larger than normal noses is called "HanaDeka", literally meaning "Big Nose" in Japanese.

And while these images may not seem like such a big deal to most Americans, Morita's work actually has quite the following in Japan, with a "HanaDeka Club" being created to keep track of his work. In order to bring the appreciation of his artwork to American shores, Empire Interactive has worked with Agatsuma Entertainment to release a DS game loosely based around Morita's signature photographical style.

Animal Paradise places players in the role of an animal caretaker. Going to live on your uncle and cousin's farm, you are told early on that the entire family loves photography, and with your help, they plan to take pictures of every animal they can find. But in order to get an animal to sit still long enough to take their picture, you must first befriend them, which is where you really come in.

At the beginning, you'll mainly be working with dogs and cats, but by the end of the game, you'll have amassed 18 friends ranging from those simple dogs and cats, to more "exotic" creatures like pigs, horses and chickens.

In order to befriend an animal (thereby getting it to trust you so that your cousin and uncle can take pictures of it), you'll engage in a number of simple tasks, such as feeding, petting, bathing and brushing them. All of the action takes place on the touch screen, with your "friend meter" being placed on the top screen along with your cousin, who will pop in from time to time to give you her opinion on your progress with each animal.

In order to pet an animal, you simply rub your stylus over their fur, feathers, etc. and wait until little sparkles start filling the screen, telling you that the animal is satisfied with your efforts. This is the same motion needed to brush the loose fur off of other animals, and yet again the same motion needed when playing with most of them as well.

Different actions are required when feeding and walking with your new animal friends, as you have to drag food from the menu side of the touch screen onto the animals' mouths in order to make them eat it, and you have to tap on various areas of the touch screen in order to make the animal walk in that general direction.

Each time you successfully complete a task, you will be granted with one heart on your animal friendship meter. Each animal's meter contains 10 hearts, and once you reach two set levels of friendship, both your cousin and your uncle will break in to take pictures of your new friend, with most of these pictures fitting in the aforementioned HanaDeka theme.

These pictures are viewable from the main menu, and contain real life pictures of the digital animals in the game. Pictures of the Welsh Corgi puppy and the American Shorthair cat are especially adorable, but all of the animals pictured within the game are quite cute.

By making friends with different animals, you unlock access to others, until you eventually have 18 different ones to associate with. Along the way, you'll also unlock various mini games like a take on Simon Says that has you repeating tunes on a piano, and hide and seek, which resembles those "which cup is the ball under" games that have you finding an animal in the bushes after it has moved rapidly around the screen.

These minigames fit with the ease of the rest of the title, proving that this one really is aimed at the younger children in the family, which is actually a good thing, since younger children may not mind the lackluster graphics as much as adults.

While the animals themselves resemble the quality of any number of other "pet interaction" titles like Catz and Nintendogs, the backgrounds where you interact with said animals, like a grass covered prairie or sandy beach, don't look so hot, and are filled with blocky textures that do little to maintain the realism that seems to be so desperately sought after by the title.

Furthermore, the sound department is also quite good when it comes to animal noises like barking and meowing, but once again falls short in terms of the soundtrack that plays throughout. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with an upbeat pop melody, but when you have to hear it over and over and over again, it does become a bit too much like random elevator music that makes most want to scream.

In the end, Animal Paradise offers enough ease in terms of gameplay to make it accessible to even the youngest gamers in the family, but does little to keep them entertained after filling the friendship bar of all the animals in the game, a task that can be completed in as little as a couple of hours. While the minigames do a good job of breaking up the monotony for a while, they too eventually lose their shine, and I'm afraid, only help to cement this one in the rental category of DS games.

Special thanks to Kate Hancock and Empire Interactive for providing a copy of this title.