Review: Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer (Nintendo DS)

Is that you God?
Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Imaginengine
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 10/14/2008

Oh the evil Nintendogs hath wrought. With Nintendo’s oh-so-fuzzy pet sim being the 2nd best selling game of all time (soon to be #1 as Pokemon Red/Blue is only beating it by around 50 thousand copies at this point) gamers have been hit with a deluge of lousy 3rd party pet sims, most of which are about as fun as shoveling out your cat’s crusty litter box. I provide the following list of pet sims released on the DS in the mere 3-years since Nintendogs came out as a public service to gamers. If the video game industry ends up going through another catastrophic crash like the one of the mid-1980s, you need only show people this list and they’ll immediately understand where things went wrong…

Animal Genius, Animal Paradise, Animal Paradise 2, Animalz Marine Zoo, Catz, Championship Pony, Dogz, Dogz: Happy House, Dolphin Island, GoPets, GoPets: Vacation Island, Tigerz, Hamsterz Life, Puppy Luv, Puppy Luv: Spa and Resort, Horsez, Horse Life, Imagine: Animal Doctor, Littlest Pet Shop: Garden, Littlest Pet Shop: Jungle, Littlest Pet Shop: Winter, Love Cat Life, My Best Friends: Cats and Dogs, My Animal Centre in Australia, My Horse and Me, My Pet Dolphin, My Pet Hotel 2, My Riding Stables, Pawly Pets: My Pet Hotel, Pawly Pets: My Vet Practice, Paws & Claws Pet Resort, Paws & Claws Pet Vet, Paws and Claws Pet Vet 2, Paws and Claws: Dogs & Cats Best Friend, Pet Adoption Center, Pet Pals: Animal Doctor, Pet Shop, Petz Bunnyz, Petz Dogz Fashion, Petz Rescue Endangered Paradise, Petz Rescue Ocean Patrols, Petz Rescue Wildlife Vet, Petz Wild Animals: Dolphinz, Petz Wild Animals: Tigerz, Petz: Catz 2, Petz: Dogz 2, Petz: Hamsterz 2, Petz: Hamsterz Life 2, Petz: Horsez 2, Pocket Pets, Pony Friends, Pony Friends: Mini Breeds Edition, Pony LUV, Puppy Luv: Spa & Resort, Puppy Palace, Purr Pals, Zoo Vet: Endangered Animals

…and I’m sure I missed a few dozen. Anyways, into this fray steps Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer. Could it possibly measure up to other DS pet sim gems like Petz Dogz Fashion and Pony LUV? LET’S FIND OUT!!!

1) Modes

You only get the one main mode in which you’re tasked with solving the behavioral problems of a series of different dogs. There are a fair number of different activities involved in this (walking, rollerblading, playing, feeding and more) but if you’re hoping for a mode where you can just interact with the dogs freely you’re not going to find it here.

Modes Rating: Decent

2) Graphics

Surprisingly this game is pretty darn good looking. The dogs themselves aren’t as aw-gawrsh cute as the ones in Nintendogs, but the backgrounds are actually significantly better. The puppies in Nintendogs seemed to exist in an eerie ghost world with the draw distance only extending a few feet around the puppy and walks consisted of a slideshow-like series of sterile backgrounds. Dog Whisperer’s backgrounds on the other hand are far more detailed and walks feature some of the best 3D visuals I’ve seen on the DS (at least on a technical level). Plus this Latin charmer is always flashing his pearly whites at you from the top screen…

Who let the dogs out?!  HA HA HA!
He’ll whisper to your dog, then to your pants.

Graphics Rating: Great

3) Sound

The music is simple, upbeat stuff and there’s plenty of realistic sounding barking and yipping, but the highlight is that the game actually contains a surprising amount of voice work, with Cesar Millan himself almost constantly piping up to give advice, encouragement or spout off random slogans.

Sound Rating: Decent

4) Control and Gameplay

Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer may not be exactly what you were expecting. It isn’t just another game providing virtual animal petting for little girls and people living joyless lives, it’s actually an educational tool of sorts that tries, and largely succeeds, in creating a game based on proper dog training techniques.

The game presents you with 40 “cases” in which a dog is exhibiting some sort of objectionable behavior that you have to correct. Once you diagnose the problem you have to go through 3 steps to fix it. First is exercise in which you either walk or rollerblade with the dog, next you address the problem itself (obsession, fixation, separation anxiety or fears) and finally you finish by either feeding or playing with the dog. In every one of the steps you have to keep an eye on the dog’s “calm” and “submissive” meters, with your goal being to reduce the dog to a calm-submissive state of mind. You do this through a series of mini-games, but these games aren’t merely random screen tapping, they actually mirror real-life training exercises. For instance the mini-game that deals with obsession has you approach the dog gradually (approach too fast and the dog will run off with the object it’s obsessing over) then once you get close enough you have to correct the dog whenever it turns to obsess over the item and give it affection when it pays attention to you instead of the object. The mini-game is set up in such a way as it could actually help a person dealing with a misbehaving canine in real life.

The controls are almost entirely touch screen based, and work just fine. My one complaint is that the mic isn’t used much. I choose to take the title of this game entirely literally and if this game gets a sequel I demand you be able to actually whisper to the dogs through the mic.

Little dog, big dog
Psst, hey…stop eating your own poop.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5) Replayability

Okay, so far this review has been pretty positive, but unfortunately this is where this dog breaks its leash, takes a dump on the floor and humps the neighbor’s Chihuahua. There are basically 8 different activities this game lets you engage in (walking, rollerblading, dealing with obsession, fixation, separation anxiety or fears, feeding, catch, fetch and hide and seek) and once you’ve done all these things there’s nothing new to see. Every case just requires a different combination of these 8 activities with no real variation or increase in difficulty. After 30 minutes you’ll have seen all this game has to offer and by the hour mark you’ll be stone bored.

Replayability Rating: Awful

6) Balance

This game never really gets any harder; once you know how to properly play a training mini-game you can essentially perform it perfectly every time. Later cases simply require a greater number of steps to complete making them merely tedious rather than challenging.

Balance Rating: Bad

7) Originality

While on the surface this may seem to be yet another creatively bankrupt Nintendogs cash-in (and let’s be real, to a certain extent it is) I do have to give Ubisoft some credit for trying to do something a bit different. By taking a more educational rather than shallow “look at the cute fuzzy thing!” approach they have set themselves above most of the pet sims stinking up the DS section of your local game store.

Originality Rating: Above Average

8) Addictiveness

I probably spent longer reading this game’s manual than I did being entertained by the game itself.

Addictiveness Rating: Awful

9) Appeal Factor

Just look at the game’s cover image again. Combine the dashing picture of Cesar (complete with angelic glow emanating from behind him) and not one, not two, but 3 cute doggies and you’ve got a game that’s sure to sell half-a-million copies at least.

Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average

10) Miscellaneous

In addition to the mini-games being based on real training exercises the game also contains the “Cesarpedia”. No, it doesn’t teach you how to combine vodka with Clamato juice; it’s a neat little collection of Cesar Millan’s dog training wisdom. It doesn’t really add much to the gameplay, but it’s a nice touch.

Learning can be FUN!

Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Great
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Awful
Balance: Bad
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Awful
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Mediocre Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Despite the low score, I can’t really say I disliked Dog Whisperer. In fact I would even recommend it as a rental to someone who’s having trouble with their dog as I think it could be genuinely useful in its training. It’s just not much of a game, and certainly nowhere near full-featured or deep enough to be worth 30 bucks.



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