IGN Review of Pet Pals: Animal Doctor
In a perfect world, Pet Pals: Animal Doctor would have been a great game. The game sounds promising on paper, taking the hands-on surgery mechanics of the Trauma Center series and replacing the ailing human patients with distressed animals. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world and Pet Pals is most definitely not a great game. Try as it might, the game is ultimately dragged down by horrible voice acting, rigid and inconsistent mechanics, and one of the worst graphical engines to ever grace Nintendo's home console.
Players begin their career as the newest recruit at a busy veterinary clinic on the verge of being shut down. The game is split into six individual tiers of five animal cases, allowing players to choose the order in which cases in each tier are tackled. This provides the illusion of non-linearity but in truth doesn't really disguise the game's extremely guided progression. There's no advantage or disadvantage to choosing one case before another, as patients will sit and wait for as long as you tell them to without consequence. They won't even make a fuss when you see the goldfish being treated for white spots on its gills over the poor cat who's just been shot by the neighbor's rifle. It's not a huge issue either way, but why give players the option when the choice doesn't matter?
When you finally do choose which animal to see, the game shifts from the veterinary lobby to the treatment room. Players will be subjected to a poorly rendered cutscene explaining the animal's symptoms courtesy of some of the worst voice acting ever subjected to human ears. To say these scenes are embarrassingly bad would be an understatement. If not for the ability to completely skip them via a quick press of the A button, I likely would have reenacted all of those news stories from the Wii's launch and thrown my Wii Remote through the television just to spare myself the horror of listening to another ham-fisted line from the world's most annoying veterinary assistants. The cutscenes provide the only real relief from the treatment room mechanics, so it's a shame that they're so difficult to endure.
There are two ways to approach the diagnosis and surgery segments of Pet Pals, and neither are frankly very much fun. The first way is to try and diagnose the animals on your own using intuition and your understanding of the game's underlying mechanics. This method is unfortunately useless thanks to the rigid and inconsistent manner in which these sections are presented. In the world of Pet Pals, there is one way to do things and straying from the strictly defined path results in failure thanks to the ever-present case timer.
Take the case of the St. Bernard with abscess masses on his back, chest and leg, for instance. The first step in any diagnosis is to locate the issue and examine it with the magnifying glass, so I zoom in on the back and check things out. There is clearly a sizable growth staring back at me, yet the game tells me everything looks fine. Okay. I check out the chest and leg growths only to get the same result. Only after examining random body parts did I find that the game actually wanted me to check the animal's head. Upon doing so, my character suddenly notices that the animal is lying down and unable to stand on his own.
Oh, really? I have to use a magnifying glass on the dog's head to realize that it is, in fact, lying down? With that miracle diagnosis out of the way, I was tasked with examining the growths themselves, but the game failed to mention that I had to do so in a specific order. Pet Pals never spells out why checking the chest mass before the back mass isn't allowed, and I'm left to assume it's merely because the game is way too strict for its own good.
Sadly, this case is not the only offender. The only way to avoid such issues is to ask the game for help, which is the second way to approach these treatment room sections. Doing so means you'll never run into issues like the one detailed above, but it also turns the game into a tedious exercise of mindless button clicking and remote shaking. Neither method is particularly enjoyable, and that's a pretty condemning fact considering that a vast majority of Pet Pals' gameplay is made up of these sequences.
If Pet Pals' gameplay can be described as disappointing, then its visuals can be considered no better than abysmal. The art design is schizophrenic, lumping together ugly 3D character models with low-resolution 2D sprites that fail to mesh with the rest of the scene. Animations are practically nonexistent; most animals will just stand or lay rigidly on the table throughout the entire diagnosis and even the surgery process. I fully acknowledge that I am not, in fact, a licensed veterinarian, but I'm pretty positive a horse wouldn't just stand stiffly in place as I yank a tooth out of its mouth.
Even when the game does try to improve its visuals, the underlying graphical engine just isn't up to the task. One particular case involving a hamster actually rendered the animal's fur instead of merely using a flat texture, causing the framerate to dip into almost single digits as I examined close up with the microscope. It should be noted that Pet Pals isn't being sold at the same retail price as Wii graphical juggernauts like Super Mario Galaxy, but that doesn't mean gamers should be subjected to this kind of visual inadequacy.
The 30 individual animal cases included on the disc will take about two hours to clear, slowly building into more complicated and lengthy procedures as time goes on. That's where the real meat of Pet Pals lies, but gamers looking for a break from the action can also participate in a few throwaway mini-games as well as provide post-op treatment for cleared cases. Neither of these options will extend the life of the game any considerable amount and frankly don't warrant any more attention than a passing mention.
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