The Nintendo 3DS is home to the second iteration of the popular virtual pet franchise. nintendogs + cats comes in three flavours; Toy Poodle, French Bulldog and Golden Retriever and as its title suggests, now includes cats. While each version of the game contains nine unique dog breeds, all offer the same three cat breeds to chose from.
nintendogs + cats closely follows the concept laid out the previous versions for the DS, and revolves around feeding, cleaning, playing and competing with your puppy. Voice recognition is central to the game and works pretty accurately, according to your dog’s level of obedience.
Being on the 3DS, you have the option to view and interact with your pets in 3D. I found the calibration to be very good and could look at the screen at a regular playing distance with the 3D effect at full strength. However, I tended to play with the 3D turned all the way down, since it didn’t add very much to my experience.
Each day, you can teach your dog up to three tricks. They will be used in competitions to earn money for supplies, accessories, toys, furniture for your house and additional pets. The game starts off by giving you $1,000 for your first puppy and basic supplies.
Your puppy can perform in any of three events—lure coursing, obedience trial and disc competitions—which progressively unlock higher difficulties, offering bigger cash awards. For the obedience trial, you will need the augmented reality (AR) cards included with the Nintendo 3DS hardware.
The key to succeeding in these competitions is training. You can do so by hitting the gym or the park regularly in different parts of town. When you take your dog for a walk, you will eventually gain access to these new areas—downtown, seaside and the mountains—which can be accessed by following signs along the road. It is great to have new routes to walk down, however, the game could have benefited from including a map or list of the venues in each area.
If you rarely take your dog out training, you will be reminded to do so by the people you come across during your walks. They will occasionally suggest that both of yours dogs go play together at the park. Training with other dogs can sometimes be difficult, since better trained dogs are likely to interfere by jumping into the action. In addition to helping your pup gain valuable competitive skills, regular training will help ensure that your dog maintains a healthy weight (mine went from “skinny,” to “ideal” and “plump” after a few days of not training).
When out on walks, you should guide your dog toward patches of grass for it to pee, pick up its poop by tapping on it when it appears on the screen (interestingly, you never have to buy new baggies for this purpose), and tug on its leash when it starts sniffing at garbage.
A treat icon will appear on the side of the screen when your dog responds to the tug, which you can tap before it disappears to give to your puppy as a reward. The weather will occasionally be rainy creating puddles in which your pup will want to play. If you dog behaves, you can tug on its leash again before it gets dirty.
You will come across other interesting venues during your walks, such as a cafe where you and your dog can share a treat and a boutique shop where you can purchase unique items. Your dog will also find presents along the way, ranging from toys and treats, to materials that can be recycled and turned into new items at the second hand shop.
You can access this and the other main shops from the “Go out” menu when in your house. There, you will find the usual Pet supplies, Accessories and Interiors stores, along with the Kennel where you can purchase additional pets, including cats (it is good to note that cats offer much fewer options than dogs; they don’t respond by name, learn tricks, participate in competitions or come out for walks). You will also find a Pet Hotel where you can temporarily drop off one of your animals, though I am not sure what purpose this serves.
The pedometer feature built into the 3DS also lets you take your virtual dog out for a real life walk by selecting the option in the “Go out” menu. Once activated, you shut the lid of your 3DS and insert the device into a backpack to count your steps. The longer you walk, the happier your puppy will be.
You will also earn a special gift for reaching certain numbers of steps and the game keeps a total of the steps walked with your dog. I have tried using the feature by inserting the 3DS in a side bag and found that almost no steps were registered. You can also turn on the wi-fi on the 3DS while in this mode to enable StreetPass functionality and the game can receive SpotPass updates such as new pets to meet.
Other interesting features include face recognition, where when you place your face close enough to the screen, your dog can recognize you and lick the screen. You can make your puppy wear Nintendo-themed hats by using the AR function in your supplies, though it would have been fun if using this feature actually unlocked the hats in your inventory for permanent use.
You can also take pictures of your pets, from the menu or by pressing one of the shoulder buttons. nintendogs + cats includes a journal, in which you can take handwritten notes about your pet. I found this feature to be incomplete and have not made use of it. I would have liked to see it keeping track of your pup’s milestones automatically, like a mission log.
The control scheme is pretty straightforward. The game mostly uses voice controls, to call dogs by name and to make them perform tricks. While you can call your pup by tapping the screen three times or tapping the central “calling button” in the menu, there appears to be no alternative means of calling out tricks. I see this as an accessibility drawback as well as a limit to playing the game in public places. This could have easily been remedied by assigning various button combinations for each trick. No buttons are used in the game, aside from the shoulder buttons, so this would not have interfered with other functions.
The graphics are pretty solid, especially the pet animations which are quite detailed and feel realistic. The only hiccup I found were when I had more than one pet at home, where they would clip each other when they moved in close proximity. There is also no way to control the camera unless your pet is standing right in front of you. I found this took away from the experience, particularly when witnessing your pet playing with a toy and going out of view.
While nintendogs + cats is engaging and very sweet, it does little to innovate from previous versions in the series. For that reason, I am not sure that I would keep on playing the game after finishing all the levels of competitions and winning them, and the game loses its novelty pretty quickly. However I might go back once in a while, because I do feel bad for neglecting my pet, even if only virtual. It would have been nice if missions or some other new dimension had been added to the game to really keep you coming back, but all in all it’s a nice way to pass the time.
+ Good Voice Recognition
+ Pedometer Function
+ Charming Way to Pass the Time
– Not Much Different From Previous Versions
– Very Limited AR Integration
– Accessibility Options Are Limited