Pet Pals: Animal Doctor DS
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-02-17 Nintendo DS Simulation E (Everyone) Legacy Interactive / Majesco Entertainment

Pet Pals: Animal Doctor (originally a PC game) is based on a simple premise: you take the role of an inexperienced veterinarian in a busy animal clinic, where you must diagnose and treat a variety of animals ranging from your basic cats and dogs to fish and snakes.

The game is split into levels, with multiple patients per level. Of course, as the levels progress, the difficulty of each case increases, allowing you to become not only a better in-game veterinarian, but also providing interesting facts and educational tidbits about some common, and not-so-common ailments faced by our friends in the animal kingdom.

Gameplay is performed in a step-by-step series of events, with points being provided after every correct action, and vice versa. You must first meet with the pet''s owner to discuss the reason for their visit, and to ask any vital questions that might provide clues as to the cause of the illness, disease, etc. With dialogue taking place on the top screen, you are offered a set of five questions to ask, but only three pertain to the case at hand.

By asking the right questions, you earn some quick and easy points, but asking either of the two useless questions causes you to lose points just as quickly. Luckily, the difficulty level found throughout the game is slight, and the two useless questions are very easy to pick out. "What?s Happy''s favorite color?" as an example.

After gaining some background on the patient, you go to work administering tests and prescribing medications for each animal, if needed. Over 40 tests and tools are at your disposal in each case. While the sheer number of options might sound a bit disheartening if you have a minimal knowledge of both the animal and medical kingdoms, the easiest difficulty mode highlights the next tool you should use in the menu bar located at the bottom left of the touch screen.

After choosing the appropriate tool, the case log on the top screen will offer a small explanation for the appropriate uses of said tool, and where one should apply it. You then tap on the correct part of the animal''s body and perform the appropriate actions. For instance, to use a magnifying glass or scalpel, you simply follow a dotted line on the animal with your stylus. For another example, applying an oxygen mask or administering certain medications requires a calm hand, as you must keep the stylus within the diameter of a moving circle for a set amount of time. While taking care of each animal sounds simple enough, unfortunately, some things are easier said than done.

While each tool is relatively easy to use, with the exception of the gloves and stethoscope, which we''ll get to later, the stationary camera angles provided by the game tend to do more harm than good. For instance, when checking the temperature of dogs and cats, you would need to go through their rear, but when the tool menu covers up the rear portion of the animal, tapping on the right area can be very troublesome. And while you are randomly tapping all over the screen trying to get the game to register, you are losing points for hitting the wrong spots.

This complaint can be carried over to the gloves and the stethoscope that I alluded to earlier. These tools require you to quickly tap the center of circles that pop up randomly over the animal''s body. While the tapping is easy enough to accomplish, more often than not, the glove or stethoscope will cover up the next circle, and by the time you see them, it is too late to tap them. Again, missing any circle results in a loss of points.

If, by some stroke of luck, you can complete every task with 100% perfection, you will receive 1000 points for the level, as well as a specialized trophy. The easiest levels to acquire said trophies are those that deal with rats and fish, as they deal with very specialized tools, and normally, not the glove or scope. These trophies aren?t really useful in the big scheme of things, but they do give you an incentive to do your very best in each level.

Other extras in the game come in the form of mini-games, playable on the computer in the office lobby. There you will find a memory matching game, a tile slider puzzle, and loads of general trivia questions about the species found within the game. These trivia questions are obviously great for those who have an established interest in animals, but can also serve as tips for those looking for their next pet, as some deal with temperaments and healthcare.

Apart from these mini-games and the general treatment of over 20 patients, you will also have to take care of the animals in the recovery room by cleaning their cages, feeding, bathing, and playing with them. When an animal is well enough to go home, you receive bonus points. In the end, the amount of points you earn will determine whether you will be given a permanent position at the clinic, at the end of the game.

In terms of the graphics seen here, they follow the lead from the rest of the title in that they are presented with as much realism as possible. While the detail is lacking on far away shots, the stationary close-up images on each pet do offer quite a bit of texture for a DS game.

As for the sound department, the music is slow and mellow, in a very elevator music sort of way. The sound effects themselves range from occasional barks and meows to beeping when using certain machines. All in all, there''s nothing spectacular about them. Luckily, since all of the dialogue is accomplished through text bubbles, there is no incentive to keep the volume on at all, which helps save your DS''s precious battery life.

Overall, while certain tools could have been designed more efficiently, Pet Pals: Animal Doctor is by no means a bad game. In fact, I would highly recommend it for the potential vets you may have in your family, or for anyone with a passion for animals in general, as it provides a worthwhile, educational experience appropriate for gamers young and old. Just don''t expect perfection.

Special thanks to Audra McIver and Majesco for providing a copy of this title.