When Nintendo announced that, with the release of the DS, they intended to broaden the video game market they certainly weren’t kidding.
Established franchises like Wario ware and Kirby have already attracted newcomers (and those that had given up on games) due to their quirky gameplay and the highly accessible controls afforded by the Touch Screen. But one new franchise, heralded from its introduction, has been Nintendo’s biggest hope for a gaming revolution, that franchise is Nintendogs.
From the outset it was clear that Nintendo had a potential hit on its hands; just one look at the puppies in the game is enough to melt even the iciest of hearts. The game had a simple enough premise: Choose a puppy from 15 different breeds, look after them, take them for walks and enter them in competitions. You can have up to three in your house at one time plus more at a special doggy hotel. It could have become a poor Tamagotchi clone if Nintendo hadn’t utilised the DS’s features so well. The touch screen is used to interact directly with your pup, by stroking them you can gain their trust and put them in a good mood.
Want to take your dog out for a walk? Select go out from the main menu and you can take them around the block to stretch their legs. Simply draw out the route you want to take – the distance you can go increases as your puppy gets more confident – and off you go. Eventually, you will be able to visit the item shop, to stock up on water and treats; the park, where you can practise disc throwing; and the stadium, where you can take them on a little obstacle course. Along the way, you may come across other dogs, or hidden items (represented by a question mark on the map), occasionally stopping for a toilet break.
At home you can teach them commands; whenever you see a light bulb appear above their head it means they are ready to learn a command for whatever action they’ve just performed. All you need to do is say the command out loud (which will get you strange looks when you’re out on public transport believe me!) and they will eventually learn it.
The voice recognition software is incredibly versatile and can even understand commands given by other people, although your dog can be pretty stubborn at times. If you’re really good at training, you could even teach all three of your puppies to perform a trick at the same time.
Its simplicity and widely appealing gameplay have proved to be a massive hit with gamers across the world. In Japan, Nintendogs became the fastest-selling DS game ever, shifting a massive 168,000 copies in the first week of release across the three versions. During that week DS sales soared beyond any of its competitors as sales quadrupled to 96,000 units, a fact made more incredible as it was more than all other consoles put together. In the US, Nintendogs sold over 250,000 copies in just over a week. And more recently, In Europe, Nintendo managed to sell over 160,000 in the first weekend alone. Once again DS sales went through the roof rising by 400-700% across Europe.
But why is it so popular? Obviously, the cute little puppies have something to do with it, but the strength of its appeal lies with the interaction you can have with your pup. Unlike other pet sims, Nintendogs has an unrivalled sense of interaction. You get a satisfying response from any action you perform, even washing your dog is great fun, and you are guaranteed to smile when your puppy learns a new trick.
As fun as it is to play, it’s even more fun to show off your puppy, and Nintendogs fever is very contagious. Try showing the game to anyone who generally turns their noses up at the notion of ‘silly little computer games’ and watch their eyes light up when your pup sits at your command. Maybe someone ought to show this to legal eagle Jack Thompson.
For all its appeal, it is clear this isn’t really a game in the true sense. Like other life-sims (like Animal Crossing etc.) there are no real goals and you will only get out what you put in. Hardened gamers are likely to become bored well before non-gamers, as the routines can get a bit boring after about a week.
As much fun as it is to take your doggy for walkies there isn’t a lot of variety around your virtual neighbourhood. And as demanding as your puppy can be, there is no real penalty if you neglect them, not even a virtual vet if they get sick.
Disappointingly, the many items available can only be used one at a time so you can’t feed one pup while throwing a ball for another, but this isn’t really something that most users will be bothered with.
Ultimately, though, the dogs are just too darn cute to resist. Nintendo has done a wonderful job on the presentation side of things with each puppy well represented, looking very close to the real thing and the animation is stunningly realistic. Every little quirk you could see in a real dog is in here and it’s entertaining just watching them play with a ball or Frisbee, tentatively patting it with its paw before lunging after it. And if you have more than one puppy, it is fascinating to watch them play together – their individual personalities shining through wonderfully.