Nintendogs: Dachshund and Friends
Reviewed by Michelle Thurlow
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2005-12-01 Nintendo DS Simulation E (Everyone) Nintendo

I must confess, I have always been somewhat of an Animal lover: Animal was by far my favorite misfit on the Muppet Show, with his fly-away red hair, wide eyes, and slack-jawed grunting of "Woman!" every time any being even remotely female passed within his sights.

Okay, corny joking aside, allow me reiterate that I truly am one of those people who harbor a special fondness for our non-human animal companions. Without degenerating into too much sentimentality, I must admit that it has always amazed me how beasts who don't even belong to our species can become such loyal friends, offering a love that is at once wholly unconditional and at times even heroic to those who laughably designate themselves these creatures' masters.

Thus, given both my enthusiasm for animals and the fact that I haven't owned a pet since I was a child, I was very anxious to get my paws on a copy of Nintendogs for my campy metallic pink Nintendo DS. Once into the game, I was permitted to observe three pups at play, contentedly frolicking in the cheerful sunshine and pixelated green grass of the kennel's backyard. I smiled wryly to myself as I thought that this little scene was like a Hallmark greeting card had exploded all over my DS's touch screen: all that was missing was a message in scrolling script above this adorable image announcing, "For a special girl who's turning eight."

Once I had decided I was indeed ready to adopt a pet, I was shown a screen offering various choices regarding my dog's breed and sex. I had known even before I bought the game that I wanted to take home a small wiener dog, or as it is more formally termed in this title, a Miniature Dachshund. Anyway, my original plan was to foster a roan colored female and name her Penny due to her auburn coat and diminutive size. It turns out the only specimen available with reddish brown fur was male, so I was required to come up with a more gender friendly moniker. I settled on the similarly themed Copper, and proceeded to whisk away my sausage-shaped pooch to start his canine boot camp training.

As the irony gods would have it, however, I was in fact the one instantly inundated with commands, tips, and advice regarding the tuition of my puppy. After a whirlwind tutorial effectively consisting of the following instructions: "feed, water, brush, wash, walk, train, praise, play," I was assured that help was always readily available in the form of pet maintenance guides accessible in the Supplies section of the game's main menu.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that there were occasions when the information conveyed in the pet care manuals was not only vague, but - even worse - inaccurate. In one instance, my dog training guide counseled me to teach my pooch the Jump command by having Copper stand in front of me while I tapped the space above his head with my stylus. Literally dozens of failed attempts later, I eventually discovered through trial and error that I could instruct my pup to complete the Jump manoeuver when he started from a seated position. Perhaps I sound like I'm nitpicking here, but you'll recall that the only way players can earn significant amounts of money in the game to purchase supplies, new pups, and furniture is to win obedience trials and other competitions.

Incidentally, the aforementioned canine centered mini-games are quite amusing and challenging, with each option offering five different levels of difficulty. The disc competition directs players to toss a frisbee as far as they can for their pups to catch and fetch for points. The obedience trial contest allows you the owner to show off how well trained your dog is by coaxing it to complete certain series of commands within a pre-set time limit. Finally, the canine agility mini-game requires players to navigate their dogs through an obstacle course comprised of seesaws, hurdles, weave poles, running tubes, and similar obstructions.

From a technological perspective, the way the touch screen and stylus are utilized in this game is nothing short of impressive, so much so that I think it will be difficult for the developers to top Nintendogs' clever application of hardware. The stylus is not only used for the banalities of making menu selections, but also for tracing out routes on the cyber-neighborhood's map allowing players to detail where exactly they will take their dogs out for a walk. Additionally, the stylus is the means by which you stroke your dog or lob around tennis balls, frisbees, rubber chewing bones, terry cloth teething cubes, and other bouncy projectiles.

Probably the highlight of the game is being able to clown around with your pooch with the various toys the game has to offer, especially the bubble blower that Copper exhibited a rather hilarious ambivalence to. Still, I was quite disappointed at how quickly he became bored both playing with his novelties and training with me. After learning a couple of voice commands, I was rather brusquely informed that Copper was "too tired" to continue learning additional tricks. Excuse me? With an indignance that can only be attributed to my Patton complex, I wagged a finger at my mutt and scolded, "Now listen here, soldier..." Copper merely sneezed at me defiantly and returned to his infinitely more interesting empty juice bottle. It would appear that my bluster is not as intimidating as it once was.

Essentially, Nintendogs is a warm, gentle pet sim when you're in the mood for a diversion in that mild style. Though I clearly have several bones to pick with certain aspects of the title's gameplay, these problems do not ultimately neuter the game's fun factor. Micromanagement enthusiasts and animal lovers alike will want to adopt a Nintendog or three this holiday season.