Review: Nintendogs + Cats: Golden Retriever & New Friends (Nintendo 3DS)

Nintendogs + Cats: Golden Retriever & New Friends
Genre: Virtual Pet
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 03/27/11

The Nintendogs series can largely be considered an evolution of the Tamagotchi fad from back in the nineties. You raise some type of animal in both and make sure that you keep it happy and healthy by feeding it, cleaning up after it, and entertaining it in some capacity until you get bored, more or less, and while the technology and subjects have changed, the core concepts remain the same. Nintendogs + Cats: Golden Retriever & New Friends takes the original concepts of the game and adds the ability to adopt cats to the mix, as well as a few 3DS specific elements, but the core of the game is essentially unchanged otherwise. I had more or less missed out on the original series of games when it came out a few years back, mostly because after owning a knockoff Tamagotchi, I didn’t really see the point in owning a game that allowed me the option of doing something I do every day in real life. That said, I opted to give the game a shot on the 3DS, mostly because I was of the desire to test out as many launch titles as I could, and for the most part, Nintendogs + Cats (as it will be referred to from this point) is a solid animal raising experience. If you’ve played the prior games, by all indications, you’ll not be getting a whole new experience this time around, mind you, but the game is surprisingly entertaining, even if you’re not likely the sort of person to get into these sorts of games, at least for a while.

Under normal circumstances, when a game has no storyline to speak of, we tend to discuss the game modes present, but in a game like Nintendogs + Cats, that’s not an easy thing to do either, as the experience is more about just playing with your pets, not engaging in different modes of play. That said, you can interact with your pet in a number of different ways at home, from teaching it tricks to playing with it to feeding and cleaning it and beyond, and you’re given a number of different types of pets to play around with to do this thing if you wish. You can also take your pet out to various different competitions to showcase their talents, take them out on walks to meet other pets generated by the game or from Mii’s you acquire through StreetPass, take them out to practice their skills or just to play, and other such things. The experience isn’t specifically about going through different single or multiplayer game modes so much as it is about having and taking care of your pets and attempting to replicate the pet owning experience as well as it possibly can, and for the most part, it succeeds. You have plenty of options available for doing things with your pets as you wish, and the game simulates the experience of owning a cat or dog fairly well in this regard if nothing else.

Nintendogs + Cats is one of the nicer looking games on the 3DS, as the different pets you can adopt all look pretty accurate to their real world counterparts and are generally adorable. The various different dog and cat breeds are easily recognizable relative to their real life counterparts and maintain both the physical shape and appearance of the actual breeds, and the dogs and cats themselves are very animated in general. Animals that have shorter hair have an odd look to them at times, due to the general technological issues associated with making individual hairs stand out, and there are some occasional clipping issues here and there, but for the most part your pets are often adorable enough that you likely won’t care. The music that pops up in the game is largely cute and inoffensive, and while you’re unlikely to hum any of it in the shower, it’s fitting to the game and pleasant overall. The different animals all sound wholly appropriate and adorable in general, between the cute mews and purring sounds of your cats and the often high-pitched barks and happy panting of your dogs when you’re petting them, and this really adds personality to the experience. The various other sound effects that pop up as needed also sound generally nice, for the most part, and while there’s no noticeable voice acting in the game, you’ll likely not notice or care.

Insofar as the 3D effects in the game are concerned, Nintendogs + Cats is one of the more obvious examples of a game offering this sort of effect in a way where the player is likely to not get much benefit from it, even if it does look rather nice. The game makes a great effort toward presenting the visuals in a full three dimensions, and your pets really pop when running around on-screen with the 3D effect turned on. However, you’ll spend a decent amount of time having to look from the 3D screen to the touch screen to check pet stats, perform tasks, look for things to interact with, and so on, and while the 3D effect looks nice when you’re NOT looking away from the screen, switching from the 3D screen to the touch screen becomes disorienting quickly. In games where there’s minimal touch screen interaction or the buttons and options are always laid out in the same way this sort of thing isn’t a big deal, but in Nintendogs + Cats you’re always looking between the two, and it can be a headache (literally). When you’re just watching your pets goof around the 3D is fun to play with, but otherwise, it’s executed well, but not especially useful given the nature of the game itself.

Nintendogs + Cats is generally played almost entirely with the touch screen and stylus, and while there are some actions you can perform with the controller and buttons, you’ll likely never really want to. You’ll start off at the pet kennel, where you can choose the dog you want to begin the game with, from a selection of nine dogs that the start out unlocked in the game. All twenty seven breeds exist across all three releases, so if there’s a particular dog you really want, you will eventually have access to it just by playing and doing well, but only certain breeds start out unlocked in each game. Golden Retriever and Friends starts out with the Golden Retriever, Shiba, Beagle, Mini Pinscher, Dachshund, Maltese, Great Dane, Pug and Cocker Spaniel breeds unlocked, so if one of those nine is the one you want to start with, you can buy this version, while if you, say, want to buy a Welsh Corgi and name it Ein (like someone at my local mall did, it seems), one of the other versions will be better for you. For those wanting to get a hold of a cat right away, you’ll have to start out with a dog and work your way toward owning a cat as well, for reasons which will be explained shortly. Once you’ve picked your dog of choice, you’ll then take it home, play with it a bit, and eventually give it a name, at which point you’ll officially begin the game proper, such as it is. Your pets are basically capable of existing without you for a certain amount of time, and there’s only so much you can do with them in any one play session before you’ll have exhausted everything you’ll really want to do, but Nintendogs + Cats is meant more as an exercise in working with the pets multiple times over the course of a day instead of spending hours in one shot with them, so it’s as low or high maintenance as you want it to be, really.

You’ll start off each play session in your house, where you can play with and maintain your pet of choice as is needed. By clicking on the picture of your pet, the game will center in on that pet and allow you to see what they’re doing at the moment. You can then click on the status box, which will tell you how heavy, hungry, thirsty and clean the pet is. Your pet’s weight can be influenced by the types of food you feed it and how often you choose to do so, so fatter pets can have some diet food, while skinnier pets can have some wet food to plump them up. Their hunger and thirst levels can easily be sated by simply feeding or giving them water, and multiple pets can eat at a time so long as they’re of the same type (dogs with dogs, cats with cats), though any animal can drink at one time if they want to. Cleanliness can be maintained with a pet brush, relative both to the type of animal and their hair length, though if the pet gets too messy you’ll have to bathe them to get them back to normal. If you don’t keep up on these things, eventually your pet will get to a point where they are unhealthy in one or more categories, and if this gets too bad, the pet will run away, though they’ll likely come back eventually even if you neglect to follow up on this. Dogs allow you to check on the tricks they’ve learned and what’s available to them from the status menu as well, and you can also check the levels they’ve completed in the different competitions they can enter. Cats, as they don’t allow the option for training or competitive actions, do not have this display, however. You can also tap on the center button to call out to the selected animal or call out the name of the pet you want to work with as needed, and the pet will generally come to you, unless it’s a cat, and I shouldn’t have to explain why this is to cat owners.

The house also allows you options to play with your pets with whatever toys they have, teach your dogs tricks, and other such things, as needed. Doing all of these sorts of things is often as simple as going to the “Supplies” menu at the bottom of the screen and choosing the toy you want to play with from the menu. Several of the things you can use for your pets normally come up during regular interaction, such as their pet brush and treats to give them as you wish. As you interact with your pet or give it toys to play with or what have you, its opinion of you will improve in general and it will be more agreeable with you overall, though the improvements in mood are generally negligible if you’re an attentive owner. You can also dress your pets up with different collars and accessories acquired from shops and presents and whatnot, and while the pets don’t seem to care, it’s cute all the same. Teaching tricks to your dog is also simple, as it’s generally a case of reviewing the trick instructions, performing them, saying the name of the trick, then repeating two more times until the dog gets it, which then allows you to have the pet do the trick at will. Nintendo states that the game makes some minor use of the 3DS capabilities, such as allowing the pet to recognize you through the camera and to react appropriately to you and less agreeably to others, but after handing the game off to other people a few times, I never noticed, as my dog and cat both basically reacted the same to everyone, though this may be a long term sort of thing. The game does make use of the AR system, however, allowing you to take pictures of your pets using this thing, which is novel, though you can take regular pictures of the pets as well if you wish.

The game isn’t all about your house, of course, as you can do various things outside of the house. The game offers you four options for pet interaction when you want to go somewhere else: take a walk, go shopping, go to competitions, and use the pedometer to go on walks. Going shopping is a fully inclusive activity, as you can bring all of your pets out to peruse the shops. You can look at the local pet supply shop for more stuff for your pets, the pet accessory shop to customize the look of your pets, the secondhand shop to sell stuff or buy used goods, the home furnishing shop to review things to add to or change your home, the local kennel to adopt a new pet, and the local pet hotel to put pets into storage, as you can only have three pets available at once. Going on walks, either alone or with the pedometer, and taking on competitions are activities you can only take your dogs out to do, as your cats are apparently untrainable and lazy, so at least they’re realistic. When you take your dog on a normal walk, you’ll be able to have them run into other dogs (either computer generated or acquired through StreetPass), find you presents (which are mostly for them of course), go to the park and gym to practice for competitions, and find extra shops to go to, among other things. The dogs you run into may or may not get along with yours, and if the dogs do get along, you might get an invite to take them both to the park to play around together, if you want. You’ll also have to be mindful of things in the roads you don’t want your dogs playing with (like trash) as well as the “special presents” they leave behind and try to avoid and clean them up, respectively. The Pedometer walk works in a similar fashion, except that you needn’t even pay attention to it; you simply set up the walk, close the lid, and walk around, and depending on how far you walk you’ll get presents from your dog for a job well done.

Competitions are going to be something you’ll be working with readily in Nintendogs + Cats, as they’re really the only way for you to make significant money with which to support your pets and keep upgrading things in the house. Your dog can take on one of three competitions: lure chasing, disc tossing, and obedience challenges. Lure chasing has the dog chasing down a fluffy lure on a string that you draw them in, which you have to keep at the right distance. Too far and the dog loses interest, while too close and the dog will catch it and force you to pull it away. Disc tossing is what it sounds like, as you’ll toss a Frisbee and your dog will chase and attempt to catch it. The further out the dog catches it, as well as if they perform any jump tricks in the process, determines your points. Obedience challenges ask you to set up the AR Cards so your dog can perform a trick on one of them, at which point the game will ask you to have your dog perform various tricks they’ve learned. Each competition has various tiers, each of which pays out different amounts of money the higher up on the chain it is, and as you can enter your dog in each competition twice per day, it’s of benefit to spend a good amount of time focusing on this to bring money into the household to adopt new pets, change the layout of the house, and buy supplies. This also plays into the weight and health of your dog, as over or underweight dogs or dogs that are unhappy are less likely to perform well in these events than well maintained dogs will.

As this is essentially a life simulation game, it’s really never ending all in all, and since you can adopt different dogs and cats from the local breeder, you can play around with different dogs to your hearts content. The dogs act noticeably different from one another, and the game makes it a point to tell you up-front what the personalities of the different animals are like before you adopt them, both so that you don’t end up in a position of adopting incompatible pets and so that you get a pet that’s best for your personal interests. As such, you’ll find that you can adopt various different dogs that are actually different instead of the same dog with different models. The various different competition levels you can take on, tricks you can teach your dogs, house styles you can attach to your house, and so on, make for a good amount of replay value, as does the fact that, as you do well, you’ll unlock the different dog breeds available for adoption, thus expanding what you can adopt. Taken at face value, even if you’re not the sort of person who wants to keep a virtual pet alive, you’ll find that Nintendogs + Cats has a lot of personality and style to its presentation, enough so that the game can actually be appealing to someone who isn’t really in its target demographic, at least for a while.

That said, if you’ve played any of the previous Nintendogs releases, you’ll find that this game doesn’t do so much different as to feel like a new experience. While the addition of cats to the mix is cute, the cats don’t do much, and while that’s fine if you own a cat, as a digital simulation of such an animal, they seem like interactive decorations rather than actual pets in your home like the dogs do. Further, the game mostly borrows its concepts almost entirely from the original series of games, and while you have new dog breeds, most of the rest of the game is almost identical. Yes, it looks better, and yes, the 3D effects are nice, but if you’re already bored with the original games these games aren’t going to do anything to change your mind, and the other 3DS mechanics, such as the AR Card interaction, frankly don’t work so well as to be a good idea that revitalizes the game or adds much to the experience. While the different dog and cat breeds are cute and different enough in personality to be fun, the game shows you almost all of what it has to offer early on and doesn’t add a lot as time progresses, so the experience can become boring after a while. It also bears noting that, for as well as the voice recognition and AI work, when they don’t, it’s obvious and annoying. Trying to get your dog to do a trick when the game is having an issue recognizing your clear and obvious commands, trying to use the voice commands anywhere mildly noisy, or trying to teach the dog a trick they simply aren’t getting can make the game frustrating for anyone, and removes the desire to really do well at the game since the bare minimum effort will keep your pets happy and healthy. With no motivation to do anything beyond the minimum, well, there’s not much point beyond personal guilt to keep the pets going, and eventually, it makes the experience a chore at times.

The bottom line is that if you’re new to the Nintendogs experience or you love the original DS games, Nintendogs + Cats is a fun and well developed life simulator that works nicely, though it will do little to impress if you’ve done this all before. The pets you can adopt look close to their real life counterparts and are adorable, the game sounds great between the believable pet sounds and the cute bits of music that pop up, and the 3D effects are well done all around. The game is easy enough to play that anyone can do it, and you’ve got a lot of options for what you can do with your pets and your home they live in. There is also a good amount of variety to the experience and a lot of unlockable content as you progress, so those who want a reason to keep going can look forward to higher levels of competitions, new house patterns, new dog breeds and other fun things to unlock as they go along. That all said, cats are basically something of an afterthought as the game is all about the dogs, relegating the cats to furry decorations more than actual pets you can do a lot with, and the 3DS additions, such as the 3D visuals and the AR Card and camera support, are often either negligible or not as well implemented as they could be. Beyond that, the game is largely a retread of the original DS games with prettier visuals, and while that’s fine for addicts or new players, those who are tired of the game won’t be coming back. On top of this, some other minor technical issues, such as voice recognition hiccups and some AI concerns, can occasionally annoy the player. The bottom line is that Nintendogs + Cats is an ambitious, and generally good, pet owning simulation that allows players to pretend to own a pet about as well as one could possibly hope to, and it’s a fun and adorable game for anyone to play, but how long you’ll stick with it depends entirely upon how much you want to do with the game and how much exposure you’ve had to the original games.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: CLASSIC
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GOOD

FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Nintendogs + Cats is an adorable and fun pet care simulation that anyone who loves dogs or dogs and cats will have a lot of fun with, but the game doesn’t do as much as it could with the concept and isn’t likely to wow players who’ve played the original DS games as much as new players. The game looks and sounds great and the different pets you can adopt seem very much believable, and the 3D effects are well done from a technical perspective. The game is very easy for anyone to play and offers lots of play and replay value, between the different animals you can adopt, the different customization options you have available, and all of the competitions you can compete in to earn money to play around with things. However, cat lovers will have to deal with the fact that the game is focused on the dogs first and foremost, as the dogs get the lions share of the gameplay options, relegating cats to somewhat of an afterthought in some respects. Also, the 3DS functionality isn’t implemented as well as it could have been, the game mostly rehashes the elements from the original DS releases almost entirely, and there are some occasionally annoying technical hiccups with the voice recognition and AI that can be vexing. Nintendogs + Cats is a good game, certainly, and if you’ve not spent time with the original games or love them to death you’ll love this just the same, but anyone who drove those games into the ground isn’t likely to take away much from this game, as it’s more of the same, admittedly good, game.

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