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ups: Uses DS to its fullest, great graphics
downs: You eventually run out of things to do

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Nintendogs: Chihuahua & Friends
game: Nintendogs: Chihuahua & Friends
four star
posted by: George Holomshek
publisher: Nintendo
developer: Nintendo
ESRB rating: E (Everyone)
date posted: 11:16 AM Wed Aug 31st, 2005
last revision: 11:15 AM Wed Aug 31st, 2005

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Click to read.For some time now I have been wondering how and in what form my next video game addiction would manifest itself. Leave it to Miyamoto to get myself and a ridiculous number of DS owners hooked on a virtual pet. While we have seen virtual pets in the past, Nintendogs easily has more time and care put into its production than any pet sim before it. And designed to exploit almost all of the DS\'s features, it should definitely wake up those who still claim that the DS is a gimmick and doesn\'t really offer anything unique.

Even though the game comes in three different versions; Chihuahua, Lab, and Dachshund, they are all the same game. The only difference between the three is the six different breeds you have to choose from when you start out. But you can eventually get access to all the breeds from every version, regardless of which one you actually buy. So just pick the package you think looks the cutest. You start your Nintendogs life by selecting one of six breeds of puppies from the kennel and giving it a name. Each puppy has its own personality and look, so choose wisely. I selected a male Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and before I knew it, Link and I were playing fetch. Gameplay is all stylus and microphone based. The stylus acts quite literally as your virtual hand. Moving the stylus across your dog pets him/her and makes them happy, and if you hold the stylus in front of their nose they will lick it as if your hand were actually there. You can also play around with your dog by pulling its tail, flapping its ears, and other such actions. Throw balls, discs, and other toys by dragging the stylus across the screen and then letting go. You can call your dog back to you by tapping the touch screen or by saying your pup\'s name into the microphone, and you care for your puppy by using the stylus to put food and water out. You also use it to give him/her baths. Thankfully, this isn\'t the kind of game you need to turn on every day to give your pet food and water. Yes, when you are playing it is a good idea to provide your pooch with some basic needs to keep it happy and loyal to you, but it won\'t up and die if you don\'t.

Your dog also sleeps at night, providing your DS\'s clock is set correctly. And while it is polite to let your puppy sleep, you can always be rude and wake it up for a little late-night disc throwing.

Aside from just playing ball inside the house, you can also take your dog out and walk around town. When you decide to go for a walk, you simply draw the path you want to travel on a map of town and head out. While setting your course you can choose to stop in a variety of different places including the park, the gym, and the discount store. When you first get your puppy, its stamina will be rather low, thus your walks won\'t be very long. But as you and your pooch go for more walks, its stamina will increase and you will be able to stay out longer and go further. Walking through town isn\'t very exhilarating - the path is always linear, regardless of what the map says, and the simple, scrolling cityscape backdrop is nothing more than that, a backdrop. While going out may make your pup happy and give him exercise, the true benefit of going on walks is the opportunity to find new items conveniently lying on the sidewalk. Talk about a place to use a \"box of chocolates\" analogy. You can find anything from sticks to really cool hats to new collars just waiting to be picked up.

Simply playing with your pup is really fun, but one of the most entertaining, challenging, and rewarding activities lies in teaching your dog tricks. Using the stylus to influence your dog by raising its hand or instructing it to sit, for example, physically shows it what you are telling it to do. Then when the dog does the trick, you are prompted to say whatever you want the command to be into the DS\'s microphone to link your voice to the action. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the voice recognition worked. It takes at least three, in many cases several more, repetitions to get the trick ingrained into your dog\'s memory, but from then on your dog will happily perform the trick whenever you speak the command into the microphone. There is just something about watching your dog do a trick you taught it that makes you proud and think of it as more than a glob of pixels.

But what is the point of all this playing and teaching if you don\'t show it off? After taking your dog for a walk and visiting the park and gym, you are allowed to enter your dog in contests. The three different types of self-explanatory events are the Disc Competition, the Agility Trail, and the Obedience Trial. When you first start out, you are in the beginner class of every event. But as you and your dog win events, you qualify for higher classes, which also yield greater winnings.

As far as looks go, Nintendogs is a real winner. All the puppies look absolutely fantastic. And while the models themselves are mildly stylized but still very natural looking, it is the dogs\' behavior that really gives the wow-factor. It is obvious that the game designers studied real puppies to get things right. They are cute enough alone, but when they are in groups you can\'t help but think of them as real creatures. They bark, play, chase each other, wrestle, and just plain behave incredibly realistically. However, beyond the dogs themselves, there isn\'t a whole lot else to look at. Your little house is surprisingly unfurnished and you lack the ability to go anywhere but the living room. And the town you live in serves as nothing more than a backdrop for your walks. Nevertheless, the game\'s graphical polish is where it needs to be. And the same story goes for the audio. The puppies sound great with vocals ranging from loud barks to whines and whimpers. There is also gentle, happy music constantly playing in the background. While it is very fitting for the game, it isn\'t anything to write home about.

Obviously Nintendogs isn\'t for gamers who\'s only belief is guns = teh cool. But if you own a DS you would be seriously cheating yourself if you didn\'t at least give this one a try. These little pups will melt your heart and keep you smiling the whole time. The game\'s only shortcoming may be that there is only a finite amount of things to do with any one dog. Once you master all of the competitions, there is little left to do but give your dog a nice room in the hotel and have fun with another puppy. And since your puppies never age or wander into the street trying to get mowed down, you can always give your dogs a break from hanging out in the hotel and let them out to wrestle around together. So simply put, Miyamoto strikes again. This is a great game to play whether you want to spend an hour on the couch or five minutes during lunch. If you\'re looking for a new game to play on your DS, I give Nintendogs my highest recommendation.

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