Nintendogs + Cats: Toy Poodle & New Friends
Nintendo rose from the ashes on the wings of casual gaming, turning to those who don't play traditional video games for new sources of revenue. One of their most famous entries into the casual gaming market is Nintendogs, a virtual pet simulator. And now, with the 3DS making waves, Nintendo has returned to the well, releasing the first true sequel the series has ever seen, in the form of Nintendogs + Cats.
As the name suggests, this version of Nintendogs offers new experiences with the inclusion of that other household favorite, the cat. However, when you start the game, you have no choice but to get a dog (the different iterations of the game offer you different starting breeds, but ultimately you can unlock all the dogs in every version of the game). At this point, Nintendogs + Cats doesn't feel all too different from Nintendogs. In fact, if you've played the latter you'll know exactly how to play the play the former, with no real surprises.
When you first get a new dog, it will be anxious, but playing with it and petting it will calm it down and allow you to name it. At that point, you can go shopping for supplies/accessories, take your dog for a walk, or enter it in competitions. You'll have to enter the dog in competitions to make money for new dogs and supplies. There are disc throwing competitions, where you toss a frisbee to your dog to catch, lure coursing, where you reel in a toy that you have to have your dog chase, and obedience competitions which use the AR cards included with the 3DS system.
Once you have some cash, you can pop back to the kennel and get a cat. It's possible that these little bundles of fur are even cuter than the puppies, but they're a lot less interactive. You can buy toys for them to play with, and pet them...and that's about it. You can't take them out, can't interact with them in a larger sense. Nintendo has decided that the cats will remain aloof, which is a common enough perception about cats, but isn't necessarily the truth. In that regard, the cats really feel like a pointless addition, something included for marketing purposes more than gameplay enhancements. It's really a shame, because being able to interact with cats in similar ways to the way I could with the dogs was a big part of why I wanted Nintendogs + Cats in the first place.
Of course, the main draw of Nintendogs on the 3DS is to see the animals in 3D with the new processing and graphical power of the system. On that level, the game is an unqualified success. To see a dog with gently textured fur amble over to you, leap up and lick at your face is going to sell a whole lot of systems, something I'm sure Nintendo is counting on. The sense of depth is also utilized in the new dog walk system. Before, you choose the route you wished to take with your dog, and then you got a 2D side view of the dog as it walked. Now, the route options are gone, and going for a walk takes you to one of several preset destinations. And instead of a 2D side view, you now get a 3D head on view as you head towards home. On each walk you can stop at locations like the gym or park, or even a cafe with treats for dogs and their owners. While the new view makes good use of 3D, the ability to plan your own route will be missed.
In addition to regular walks, you can also use the system's gyroscope as a pedometer to measure your steps. The more you walk, the more your puppy walks, and when you re-open your system, the amount you've walked will result in presents from your pet. While the system is closed you can also send and received gifts from other 3DS owners using Street Pass. As mentioned before, the obedience trials also use the AR Cards to make it look as if the dog is performing in your own home. This is cute, but makes no sense, as judged competitions wouldn't take place in someone's house. Even better is the ability to use AR Cards outside of competition, where you can have the dog wear items from famous Nintendo characters, such as Samus' helmet or Mario's hat.
Overall, Nintendogs + Cats offers nothing substantially new for those familiar with the previous titles. The cats are cute, but significantly less fun and useful than the dogs, and the overall experience with the dogs feels too similar to the last outing to merit a new purchase. Nintendo prides itself on innovation, but with Nintendogs + Cats, the innovation has been dropped in favor of cashing in on a recognizable title. It's a shame, because this series could really shine on the 3DS, if Nintendo were willing to put in the effort.