So it's been more than a half year, and Nintendo has yet to convince you that its double screen, touch sensitive system can offer unique videogame experiences, huh? Nintendogs might just finally change your mind. This unique package is one of those "non game" games Nintendo hopes will bridge the non-gamers to its systems by presenting a never-ending experience that anyone can grasp right from the start. Look, it's pretty obvious that Nintendogs and its cute and cuddly experience, isn't for the hardcore action gamer, but you'd be missing out if you didn't at least give this DS card at least one shot. There's a good chance this adorable set of puppies will romp their way into your hearts and your active game collection.
Nintendogs comes in three flavors: Nintendogs: Dachshund & Friends, Nintendogs: Lab & Friends, and Nintendogs: Chihuahua & Friends, but they're essentially one and the same. The only difference between the three is the set of six puppies that are available to the user at the start of the Nintendogs experience. The choice of which Nintendogs to pick up is simply a matter of which breed you want to begin your virtual life together -- all 18 standard breeds are in all versions of Nintendogs, and when you work together with your puppy the other breeds become available in the kennel for adoption.
Nintendogs isn't anywhere near a new concept. This idea goes back as far as the Tamagotchi and probably even further than that, but no virtual pet has had as much put into its production as Nintendogs does. This experience was tailor made for the Nintendo DS system so much that it almost feels like that it was the other way around: that Nintendogs was influential to the R&D of the Nintendo DS hardware itself. Everything that the Nintendo DS is has been utilized in some fashion in the game design, from touch-screen interactivity to "pet" your puppy to the built-in microphone used to give vocal commands for tricks. And while the concept doesn't go all that far beyond a simple pet sim, it at least opens a whole new world of potential on the Nintendo DS and shows even the system naysayers that the Nintendo handheld can do so much new stuff right out of the box.
Essentially players take care of their choice of puppy and do what you would do with a real dog without the hassle of any real responsibility. Pet it, play with it, wash it, take it for a walk, enter it into competitions. What you do with your dog affects its personality, which, in turn, can affect other points in your experience with him. For example, if your dog is absolutely rambunctious around other puppies, bringing another dog into your family might make it impossible to train the new arrival. Your dogs can never grow up or die, living in a reality where they don't age, leave their owners, or get hit by cars.
The most prominent Nintendogs bullet point is the design's speech recognition technology. Without it, the game wouldn't be half as fun or interesting because, quite frankly, half the experience with a real dog is interacting verbally. The tech is capable but clearly limiting, but it does its job well in the proper environments. Any trick requires players to speak the command at least three times, and sometimes more depending on how much differently each command has been spoken in turn. The game turns those three spoken phrases into a waveform that the dog will recognize, and while it's best that the same person who recorded the command uses them, the system can certainly recognize someone else's attempt at speaking the particular phrase; and this comes into play in the game's fun "Bark Mode." The voice recognition isn't perfect, and sometimes it isn't clear why a phrase isn't registered. Was it too much outside noise? Is it because you have a cold? Is the dog just being bad? Sometimes it's all three, or none of the above, but you'll never know for sure. And it's something about the design you'll have to accept. Though Nintendo's usually downplayed the Nintendo DS system's graphical capabilities, no one can say that Nintendogs can't keep up with current generation visuals. This product features some seriously impressive 3D that really make the puppies come alive on the Nintendo DS screen. These guys (and gals), though adopting a slightly stylized look, appear incredibly lifelike thanks to the attention to detail both in their modeling and in their animation cycles. The developers clearly looked at the behavior of real puppies and employed them in Nintendogs. It's hard not to become emotionally attached to these dogs right from the start because they truly act the part of looking adorable and latching onto their owners.
What's also very impressive about Nintendogs is the physics engine employed in the environments. There are literally dozens of objects that can be found on the puppy's walk around the neighborhood, from balls to bones to toys like remote controlled helicopters. And players have the ability to use these items to interact with their pet by throwing them or moving them around the enclosed room. Each of these items reacts in their own, very realistic way, behaving as a tennis ball, soccer ball, rubber toy, stick, or other dog toy would after it's thrown and knocked around. Hopefully Nintendo can put this physics engine to use in other DS games, because even when limited, it's pulled off extraordinarily well in Nintendogs.
This virtual pet game does offer a lot of little things to discover, but as a whole there's not a lot to Nintendogs. There are only three different competitions to enter your dog in, and once the different difficulty settings have been mastered you can simply retire that dog in the Dog Hotel and work on a new puppy. So, while there's a bazillion little trinkets to collect across the hours you can invest in playing with and training your dog, you'll hit a brickwall of progression pretty early on in the gameplay.
Nintendo does extend the experience with "Bark Mode," a function that you can set your Nintendogs in that will seek out other puppies using the Nintendo DS wireless capabilities in its battery saving "Sleep Mode." This clever mode enables players to anonymously connect to other players and build up their friends list as their Nintendogs hook up automatically. Here, the other player's dog will visit your system and interact with both you and your dog. By building up the friends list, players can collect gifts traded from visiting dogs, as well as unlock the other dogs in their kennel for future training. You're obviously limited because other Nintendogs players have to be in this mode for it to work, but it's still a neat idea that adds another level of interaction to the overall product.
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