Review: Nintendogs: Chihuahua and Friends (DS)

Nintendogs: Chihuahua and Friends
Genre: Pet Simulator
Platform: Nintendo DS
Rating: E (Everyone)
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 8/23/2005

Ah, remember the days of your first dog? I do. Sure, I was wheezing the entire time because of my horrible allergies, but I loved my Dalmatian Moo. I had to get rid of him though because of the whole not breathing thing. Those Koreans are so clever. Finger licking good.

Much to my surprise, you cannot eat your puppy in Nintendogs. There are many things you can do with your puppy though. I took an instant liking to my new puppy a sheltie named Carfood. Sadly, my dog could not run out into a highway to become food for a car. Damn it. I pushed away my crushing disappointment to try and put out a good review for you boys and girls.


Story

There isn’t much to Nintendogs in terms of story. You buy a puppy, you love it, it loves you back. What really wins Nintendogs some points is how your puppy develops over time, and how it progresses in competition. People will treat you and your puppy differently on walks if you don’t feed it or clean up it’s ghastly defecations. Conversely, it seems less likely that they will praise your care as a handler even if your puppy has won a disk championship (jealous bastards). Over time though, you can notice some changes in how people treat you and your puppy. It’s a subtle growth in the game, but it is a growth nonetheless.

The other major part to the “story” is the competitions. At the competitions, you’ll face randomized judge’s scores or point totals depending on what type of competition you’re in. What really ends up being the most enjoyable part of the competitions is the commentary by dog experts, Ted Rumsworth and Archie Hubbs. Despite the fact that Archie quickly starts repeating himself, especially if you’re doing the maximum amount of competitions with more then one dog a day, he still manages to have quite a few amusing lines. It’s just that you wish there was more for him to say.

Besides the relationships you form with other trainers, there is the physical relationship between you and your dog. The more time you spend with it, the more it will love you unconditionally. Nintendogs manages to garner a level of attachment that has not been seen since everyone’s favorite surly fish on the Dreamcast, Seaman. Your puppies are cute and exist to be cute, but it is the relationships you form with them that makes this game truly worthwhile. Caring about the primary characters is the basis for any engrossing story. Nintendogs is no different. Despite not having much for a story, what is there is very valuable.

Score: 7 out of 10


Graphics:

Nintendogs won’t blow you away with how it looks, but it is certainly cute. The primary focus of the game is the puppies so the backgrounds are all very muted. Even when taking your puppy for a walk, backgrounds are static and almost dreamlike in their haziness.

This simplicity in the background contrasts greatly with the brightness and motion that the puppies are constantly exhibiting. The puppies are incredibly lifelike and move with a fluidity you’d expect to see from a real dog. Despite this, there still seems to be a limited amount of actions they’ll do, especially on walks. Your puppies aren’t as limited in motion at the park or with other dogs, but you’ll notice the same six actions on a walk give or take a few.

Ultimately though, the graphics serve Nintendogs the way graphics should serve any game. They enhance the experience of Nintendogs without taking away anything from the game. They do not push the DS to its technical limits though, and it won’t be winning any style points for originality in graphics. What the graphics are though is incredibly functional that adds a bit of charm to Nintendogs. They’re cute and are part of the appeal of the game. The graphics just won’t light the world on fire.

Score: 7 out of 10


Sound

A tale of two games comes into play more in sound then any other section of Nintendogs. On the one hand, the sound effects are all very well done and are charming in their own right. On the other hand, this is one of the most disappointing soundtracks Nintendo has put together for a game in a long while.

Let’s start with the negative first. The music in the game isn’t really that bad, it’s just really unexceptional. The music of Nintendogs just sounds weak and unexceptional. There’s really no other way to describe it. I don’t think I’ve ever been more indifferent to a soundtrack in a game I really like.

Thankfully, the sound effects are very good. It captures the sounds of dogs and presents a very realistic sounding dog. Additionally, each breed has a different sound to it’s a really varied collection. A chihuahua sounds different from a pug and so forth. Sound effects for the various toys also have a good variety along with a realistic sound to them. Tennis balls sound like tennis balls and when I throw a stick it sounds like a piece of wood hitting the ground (or hitting my puppy Carfood).

Perhaps the most innovative feature for Nintendogs is the use of the microphone. This is one of the first games on the DS to really make use of the mic for something besides blowing. Besides being able to record your own personal greetings for people playing over the wireless connection, you can also teach your dog through a variety of voice commands. The microphone picks up sound moderately well. It is about on par with a standard Xbox Live Microphone.

So to recap, the music is completely and utterly trite and lame. This is made up for a bit by the sound effects and a bit more by the microphone capabilities. There are still some serious things that Nintendo needs to look at music-wise for the inevitable sequel.

Score: 6 out of 10


Control and Gameplay

Nintendogs is often one of the most frustrating games to control that has ever graced the DS. Of course, this isn’t exactly a bad thing considering that the game becomes progressively easier to play the more time you spend with your dogs. Nintendogs above all else rewards players who are willing to spend more time with the game.

Nintendogs is controlled through both voice commands and the touch pad. The touch pad is responsive and the microphone manages to pick up commands even with a decent amount of peripheral sound. Navigating menus throughout the game is easy as well because their design is also very intuitive. The only aggravating part of the control is that at times it is difficult to throw the disc, especially in the competitions. Excluding that, this is an incredibly difficult game to find fault with in terms of the gameplay.

Score: 9 out of 10


Replayability

You can play this game forever. Between raising the initial six breeds, each with distinct personality types, and unlocking the thirteen other breeds (six from each other version and a special hidden dog type) you can literally play this game for years. Between the staggering number of items to unlock (some exclusive to each game), the sheer volume of dog breeds there are to train, and the amount you can customize your dogs with accessories, there really is no way you can stop playing this game over the issue of lack of depth.

Pure and simple, this is as deep a game as PokÃÆ’©mon was when it first came out. I have played few games that even begin to approach the amount of replay value that Nintendogs has.

Score: 10 out of 10


Balance

Another aspect that is striking about Nintendogs is just how well balanced it is. Aside from the disc competition, the game is never really hard per se, but it can be challenging. This is one of the few games that I can think of that actually becomes easier the more time you spend with it. Since Nintendogs is without a real set objective, the game manages to offer other rewards to keep you going at the beginning.

Nintendogs is able to strike the delicate balance of being an enjoyable game no matter what level you’re at. While eventually everything gets to be a bit too easy, I see no difference from this and any RPG where you level your characters. The difference is that with Nintendogs, the rewards are more consistent with the amount of time you put into the game. This is an incredibly well balanced game.

Score: 9 out of 10


Originality

This is not the first pet simulator that we’ve seen before. It is the most interactive I’ve ever seen though. The addition of the touch pad allows players to do more then the traditional voice commands. It’s also worth giving points to Nintendogs for being the first DS game to really make use of the microphone.

While it does nothing we haven’t seen before in a few different pet simulation games, it does manage to finally combine all of the elements perfectly. It’s an incredibly well executed game in a genre that doesn’t get a lot of love because of a general perceived lack of interest in the genre. It is more original then 90% of the games on the market.

Score: 8 out of 10


Addictiveness

Oh boy, it is tough to put this game down once you really get into it. Between the contests, walking your puppy to try and find presents, and just basking in the cuteness of the game, I can’t emphasize how fun this game is. The one problem with addictiveness is that eventually you will get bored with this game if you aren’t an overly obsessive gamer.

Nintendogs turns into the type of game you go and spend an hour with every couple of days. It’s a fun game and it is easy to fall in love with your puppies, but it begins to wear a little thin. It’s a game that you can spend a lot of time with, but you don’t have to. It’s a great game for the casual gamer. Nintendogs just isn’t the type of game you’ll want to play forever despite there being near infinite replay value.

Score: 7 out of 10


Appeal

This is the only game I’ve ever owned that every member in my family has enjoyed, including my 63-year-old father who hasn’t played a video game since Golf on the NES. In all my years playing video games I have never ever played a game that has had the appeal of Nintendogs. It appeals to gamers both young and old. If anything, this game will end up appealing more to women then men. More importantly though, this is the type of game that will draw in new gamers from all walks of life.

Score: 10 out of 10


Miscellaneous

Nintendogs comes in three flavors, as you probably know. The one exceptionally good thing that Nintendo has done with Nintendogs though is that you do not need to meet someone with all three versions to unlock all of the different breeds. Each breed unlocks as the game progresses making the only difference between versions a few exclusive items. This is a truly wonderful decision on Nintendo’s part because of the fact that the DS is still not in that many households. It’s a great bit of a game company not going out to screw gamers while still trying to provide several options. Bravo Nintendo on this move and bravo on Nintendogs.

Score: 10 out of 10


Final Scores:
Story: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 6/10
Control: 9/10
Replayability: 10/10
Balance: 9/10
Originality: 8/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal: 10/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10

Total Score: 83/100
Final Score: 8.5 (GREAT)