Review: Wappy Dog (Nintendo DS)

Wappy Dog
Developer: Sega Toys
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Virtual Pet Simulation
Release Date: 11/8/2011

When you first see the header for this game, you might be wondering why Sega Toys is working with Activision rather than well, Sega – their parent company. Well, truth be told, there is precedent behind this unexpected alliance. We’ve seen it before with Bakugan Battle Brawlers and the subsequent games based on Sega Toys’ most famous product. Now the two have teamed up again to take on the virtual pet genre of video gaming. Sure virtual pets started with Tamagotchis in the mid 1990s, but it was NIntendogs back in 2005 that really proved the concept could be a billion dollar franchise. Since then we’ve seen everything from Purr Palls to Cesar Millan’s The Dog Whisperer. Heck, even Nintendo went back to the well recently with Nintendogs and Cats, so with literally dozens of games based around rearing virtual pets, what can someone possibly do to stand amongst the pack?

Well, in the case of Wappy Dog, You pair the pet sim up with a robot dog that is used in conjunction with the video game to (hopefully) create a whole new spin on the genre and a more interactive experience. So were Sega Toys and Activision a winning pair yet again, or are video game stores going to have to hold adoption events for stacks of leftover Wappys?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

There really isn’t a story behind Wappy Dog per say. He’s just a virtual pet for you to interact with. The more you play with it, the more the friendship bar fills in. Once you fill in the bar, you gain a heart and Wappy “levels up” more or less. In game it says he’s aged a year (which is a bit silly to see a dog age three years in a day) but it really should be labeled something akin to “friendship rank.” Occasionally as the bar fills up or you level up, new things are unlocked, such as tricks Wappy can do, toys for Wappy to play with, food that you can feed Wappy and even mini-games that you can play together. This is one of the big differences between Wappy Dog and something like Nintendogs in that the mini-games are thing syou play with or against Wappy. Hey, he’s a robot after all, he’s able to do that sort of thing.

There are basically two modes of play for Wappy Dog: Home Mode, where you interact with the robot Wappy Dog and Travel Mode, where you interact with the virtual Wappy. Both versions required the DS for play and both modes synch with the robot Wappy so your progress in one mode is carried over to the other. Home Mode is where the Robot Will light up, talk and do the occasional trick or song. You’ll find Wappy doesn’t move much. Its head turns, it stretches, it stands on its hind legs and that’s about it. The physical robot Wappy could have used some more articulation and movements, but it is awfully cute and it does react if you touch its nose, back or tail. Here you also use the DS to “talk” to Wappy. You can ask it questions, feed it, praise or it, play mini-games with it. The mini-games in Home Mode are very different from those in Travel Mode so there isn’t any doubling up. Wappy can even tell your fortune or sing and dance for you here. Travel Mode is where you’ll spend most of your time as it has the most options for interacting. Here you can change virtual locations, play with virtual toys, feed Wappy, groom Wappy, play more mini-games with it, or even change its virtual appearance with unlocked color schemes and graphics. You can also do tricks with Wappy here that the physical robot can’t.

In all there are roughly a dozen mini games, five personalities/mood levels and over 350 responses
To unlock. There actually quite a bit here to Wappy Dog and I was impressed with how deep it was. Little kids will especially love Wappy Dog when they first get it but the toy could have used a bit more in terms of options, poseability and movements. Still, what’s here is enjoyable for what it is and it’s neat to see such a distinct deviation from the general virtual pet pack.

Modes Rating: Enjoyable

2. Graphics

While the Wappy Dog robot is adorable, it’s the in-game graphics that counts here. I’m happy to say that Wappy Dog in all its forms looks wonderful. Wappy itself is beautifully animated and although a robot in appearance and design, it moves and reacts much the way you would expect a real dog to. The various background environments are realistic enough and the toys you can use to interact with Wappy look much like they would in the real world. It’s a lot of fun to see Wappy catch a Frisbee in mid-air or bob bubbles that you blew via the DS microphone.

The game also has mini games that you play with Wappy and food based mini games where you prepare things for Wappy. These all look good too. There’s nothing here that pushes the DS’s graphical capacities to their limit, but the food items look like food (although I wouldn’t suggest feeding a real dog cake and jelly rolls. Wappy would be diabetic and then some if it was flesh and bone) and the mini games are brightly colored and fun to play. There’s a surprising amount of detail to this game. I honestly went in thinking this would be some sort of cash grab with a robot animal gimmick and came out impressed by the work that went into this.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

The aural aspects of Wappy Dog may be the weakest aspect of the game. Wappy generally has three noises: something weird that signifies happiness (a yip?), something like a cross between a growl and a whimper to signify sadness and then a cooing. None of these are noises actually dogs makes and although they are cute, it’s sometimes hard to tell what emotion or feeling Wappy is trying to convey. When you reach higher levels of happiness with Wappy, he’ll learn songs. Again, this is somewhat cute but not something you’d ever see a dog do. Those looking for a more realistic pet simulation may be turned off by the noises that pass for Wappy’s speech, but they you have to wonder why those gamers would pick up a blue and white very robotic looking dog to begin with. I have to admit that I wish Wappy’s noises and responses had more variety to them, but what’s here is fine for the fifteen minutes to an hour you’d play with Wappy each day.

The music of Wappy Dog also leaves something to be desired. Again, it’s not bad. It’s just there’s not much here. The game mainly plays one specific track which, while soothing, can get old after a while. It does stick in my head after playing the game, and it’s catchy enough I find myself whistling it while I write this review, but any song gets old after you hear it nonstop for awhile. There are a few other musical tracks but these are limited to specific mini-games and even then, several repeat themselves. There just isn’t a lot of music in the game, with much of the background noises being the sounds of Wappy or the items youuse to interact with it.

Again, what’s here isn’t bad, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement. More sounds, more tracks and more noises could have made the game far more interesting. What’s here is decent enough, but for all the variety promised in the game, the aural bits are noticeably lacking.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

So Wappy Dog is pretty easy to figure out. You turn on Wappy, you turn on the DS, and then you go to town, right? Well, not quite. First you have to position the DS and Wappy within three feet of each other. Then you have to have your DS’ volume cranked up to the maximum. The game also needs to be played in a relatively quiet place or the physical Wappy can’t interact with the DS game. The game also has problems using the 3DS for interaction from what I saw, so I played this almost exclusively on my regular big clam shell DS. Also note that if you power Wappy off manually via the on/off switch under its chin, the age and mood information inside the robot will be reset. The only way to get this back is to turn the DS on, choose home mode and export the data back to the physical Wappy. To avoid this, you have several ways you can put Wappy into “sleep mode,” such as holding down its nose, telling it “goodnight” via the DS, or just letting it sit for three minutes. If you do the latter expect to hear whining from Wappy until it falls asleep. Either way, sleep mode saves your data but it also slowly drains Wappys batteries, so keep that in mind. I should also end this paragraph by pointing out Wappy needs three AA batteries, but does not come with any, so if you’re buying this as a gift, pick up some batteries for it so Wappy Dog can be played with right away.

The actual DS game bits of Wappy Dog are pretty easy to figure out though. In both Home and Travel Mode, you use the Stylus with the DS’ touch screen to select options from all sort of menus. In Home Mode, you pick things to say to Wappy by tapping on a specific topic option, you feed it by choosing the food icon and then selecting what you want it to eat and so on. Occasionally Wappy make a comment that shows up on the DS screen like, “I want to eat XXX,” or, “I want to play a game!” and then you can choose to do what Wappy wants or ignore it. In Travel mode you select what you want to do with Wappy from a sidebar and then make selection from the menu that invariably pops up. Much of the game is navigating menus or watching Wappy but there is a surprising amount of interaction when you get down to it.

You can pet Wappy by rubbing it with the stylus. Grooming is done in much the same manner. When you select “play” from the menu, you have various items that come up – each of which is used in different ways. For example, you blow bubbles for Wappy to catch by blowing into the DS’ microphone. You can play a trumpet in much the same way. To throw a Frisbee, paper airplane, or ball, you’ll make a flicking motion with the stylus on the touch pad. So on and so forth. For feeding Wappy, you’ll have to play a mini game based around preparing the food. For a can of dog food, you have to tap out the food from the can in time with a beat so it doesn’t make a mess. Some foods you’ll have to put and others you’ll have to squeeze the right amount of custard/cream filling out. All food games are timed. If you do it right, you’ll get friendship points and a cute animated scene of Wappy eating as best a robot can. If you manage to fail, you get a sad scene of a hungry Wappy crying into an empty food bowl. Dark.

Mini-games are nicely varied. They include catching fruit by using the stylus to slide a basket around, shooting down pirates with a slingshot cannon, an obstacle course race, whack-a-mole and more. Again, both Home and Travel Mode offer different versions of each mini game so enough variety based on what version of Wappy Dog you are currently playing but similar enough that you’ll know how to play the games almost right away. I will say that there are some control issues, such as the game not detecting your stylus movements or a bit of lag when you are playing on hard difficulty (possibly due to the enhanced speed), but these are relatively uncommon.

Over all, Wappy Dog plays surprisingly well, although parents will have to explain “Sleep Mode” to children as well as reminding them to transmit “Wappy’s Heart” aka the data to the robot each time they power it up.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

Like most virtual pets, you can come back to Wappy Dog every day for a while and find something new to do. Maybe you’ll unlock a new trick, a new mini game or food product. Perhaps you’ll get a new color for the virtual Wappy or get your friendship level high enough that the robot Wappy will learn a new song. Things like that. Of course, at some point you’ll max out your friendship level with Wappy and have unlocked everything there is to see or do, but that’s true of any virtual pet. Much like Tamagotchi or Nintendogs, there’s a lot of short term replay value in Wappy Dog. Not so much long term. I mean, Nintendogs may be the third best selling game of all time, but not a lot of people played it weeks or even months down the road. Same with Animal Crossing. Wappy Dog will face the same fate, but at least there’s an actual physical component to keep kids interesting. They’ll see Wappy on a shelf looking forlorn and start playing with it again. Compared this to a little DS cart that it filed away with other video games and forgotten, and you can see just how important the physical robot/toy component may be to the this next phase of the virtual pet genre.

So, while you should be able to 100% Wappy Dog in a few weeks (depending on how long your play spurts are), Wappy itself is cute enough to come back to every now and then, especially if you are a long kid. There are enough thing to do to keep a young gamer occupied but the older the gamer, the quicker one will grow bored with this.

Replayability Rating: Enjoyable

6. Balance

Although Wappy Dog is designed for all ages, the game really is for younger gamers, mostly between the ages of three and twelve. It’s a cute little pet sim with mini-games to keep one’s attention on the game even when a gamer gets a bit bored with petting or feeding Wappy. The good news is that each of the mini-games has three difficulty settings and that one hard, some of them provide enough challenge to adult or long-time gamers. Not enough that you’ll lose mind you, but enough that things will seem close. As well, there was one or two times where I lost because I wasn’t aware of the goal or controls. Take the pirate ship mini game. You are to shoot cannonballs at targets. Some are evil looking sharks, others octopi and others are of Wappy. You would think, as I did, that you are too shoot the mean looking aquatic life forms and not the targets with Wappy’s face, but you’d be wrong. I figured this out in time to miss the goal by 100 points (one target), but that and one time where it stopped recognizing my stylus in the “Fruit Catch” mini-game where I lost.

Of course the point isn’t to “win” Wappy Dog. it’s to experience. Little kids will want to raise their friendship level with their robotic puppy and will delight in both the physical and virtual Wappy learning new tricks and songs. The game has no real learning curve and it is quite instinctive to play through. It’s a very well made game that gamers of all age can have fun with. For how long depends on their love of animals, the virtual pet genre and mini-games.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

Virtual pet games are a dime a dozen these days – especially on the DS which has been flooded with them since Nintendogs. In many respects, Wappy Dog IS just another pet sim. You raise a virtual version of an animal instead of the real thing and you play mini games to achieve that goal. Where Wappy Dog goes the extra mile is with the physical toy aspect. A huge part of having a pet is the tactile aspect. The petting, the hugging, the snuggling. Games like NIntendogs are cute, but it misses out on this all too important aspect. When you pet or hold Wappy, the robot responds and it’s a far different mental/emotional reaction when you actually touch something than using a stylus or button to simulate physical affection. The fact that Wappy moves and responds (although not very much) to physical touch as well as video gaming is just what Wappy Dog needs to not only stand out from the pack of pet sim titles, but to be a big success in this upcoming holiday season. It’s definitely the most original pet sim I’ve played in a while. It hasn’t reinvented the wheel and it keeps all the things people love and find familiar about this genre of gaming, but then it takes things to a whole new level by providing a physical Wappy and added the toy/DS interactivity.

Originality Rating: Above Average

8. Addictiveness

Look, I’m not in the target age group for Wappy Dog. I’m a thirty-four year old man who has two house rabbits and a cat in my home. I don’t need a virtual pet as I have real ones that I can pet or harass as I see fit. I also have never been a fan of pet sims. I never understood the point of them. I’ve always thought, “Get a real pet. Save an animal from being destroyed or a life in a shelter and give your time and attention to something that will appreciate it (and possible love you in return).

That said, I enjoyed my time with Wappy Dog. Wappy itself was adorable and the mini games were fun casual fluff that I could waste fifteen minutes or so with. Then I’d go on to something else and see Wappy sitting on a bookshelf and that would give me the impetus to fire up my Nintendo DS and spend some time with it. I spent more time with Wappy Dog than with the three of the other four DS games I picked up this year: Aliens Infestation (which sucked), Okamiden (good, but not my thing) and Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Osborne House (Good, but short and no replay value). Only Pokemon Black and White spent more time in my DS this year. I’m not sure if that speaks of the quality inherent in Wappy Dog, or the lack of quality in the vbast majority of releases for the Nintendo DS in 2011…

Anyway, I found Wappy Dog to be a fun diversion for fifteen to thirty minutes a day. I got to see a virtual dog do cute things while the flesh and blood pets were sleeping and then I’d move on to other things in my day. I’ve had the game for a few weeks now and I still turn it on every day just to fiddle with.

Addictiveness Rating: Enjoyable

9. Appeal Factor

As I said earlier, I’ve never been a fan of pet sims, but they are obviously big business. NIntendogs is the third best selling game of all time after Pokemon Red/Blue/Green and New Super Mario Bros. so obviously people love it. Based on the sheer number of copycats and clones, it’s easy to surmise the entire industry is big business. I can also see why it’s a good choice for young children and even some adults. Maybe the gamer in question is allergic to real pets but still has always wanted one. Maybe the gamer in question lacks the time or money to properly take care of a real pet. Maybe they lack the physical skills or emotional maturity to take care of one. Perhaps they are simply too young to understand how to or the responsibility that goes along with pet ownership. In all of the above cases, a pet sim is ideal as it gives them a chance to simulate pet ownership without the risk of injury, neglect or death of a real animal. In this respect, pet sims are great and Wappy Dog doubly so as you get the pet sim and a toy robot dog to add in the tactile sensations of pet ownership. The toy aspect will also make the Wappy Dog game even more appealing when kids see commercials for it or on the shelf of their local video game store.

I have a feeling that if Activision and Sega Toys promote Wappy Dog properly, it will be one of the better selling DS games this year. Casual and young gamers alike love their pet sims AND their DS, and this is definitely geared towards both. Throw in a smattering of cuteness and you have a game both demographics will be strongly tempted to pick up, even if it’s not something they will stick with for the long term.

Appeal Factor Rating: Enjoyable

10. Miscellaneous

With a price tag of $49.99, Wappy Dog is twenty dollars more than the average new DS game. As such, some people might find the price tag a bit too high. Remember though, you’re not only getting a DS game, but a fully functional physical Wappy Dog that interacts with the DS game. Yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but one that works well and adds in a tactile component to the genre that it has long been lacking and was sorely needed. Wappy Dog really is the next stage of this genre and it will be interesting to see if other developers/publishers continue to play it safe by sticking to the same old conventional pet sims, if they will emulate Wappy Dog, or perhaps even take it to the next level with more functions, options, and depth. Hopefully they’ll at least include more articulation things in the physical toy as well.

Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable

The Scores:
Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Good
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Good
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Wappy Dog is the next (and much needed) evolutionary step in the pet sim genre. It includes all the things people already love about pet sims but provides a tactical component in Wappy, a little robot dog that not only interacts with the DS via wireless communication but also to you depending on how you touch and treat it. Sure the physical Wappy could use a bit more articulation and perhaps the ability to fully move, but what’s here is a nice change of pace from the Nintendogs and Petz games. The end result is sheer adorableness and helps to make Wappy Dog one of the better DS releases this year.



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6 responses to “Review: Wappy Dog (Nintendo DS)”

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  4. William Gooch Avatar
    William Gooch

    I am still a huge fan of Wappy Dog to this day, but there’s no denying it failed to revolutionize the pet sim genre. It seems to have no coherent fanbase, and I have met very few people who recognized the name when I brought it up. I can’t even find r34 or the darned thing!

    This disappoints me, because I always enjoyed this game much more than Nintendogs, or any other pet sim for that matter. Its minigames were better than a lot of similar DS minigames, such as those found in Super Princess Peach. The robot is very cute, too! She’s still sitting on my shelf for just that reason.

    1. Alexander Lucard Avatar
      Alexander Lucard

      I agree. I’m disappointed more people didn’t give this a try. I know Activision didn’t even try to market it, which is a huge part of it. This was a fantastic pet sim and it deserved so much better than the reception it recieved

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