If the word "Tamagotchi" means anything to you, then you'll probably know all about the virtual pet craze of the early '90s. There was nothing cooler than carrying around a little plastic toy that you had to care for as if it were real -- now Nintendo is bringing the same concept back to life, bigger and better than ever!
Playing on the Nintendo name, Nintendogs is a simulation in which you buy and raise digital doggies -- feeding, grooming, and training them for contests just as you would real puppies. And puppies they forever will be -- the animals in Nintendogs live in a Peter Pan-esque world where they never grow up, remaining cute canines for as long as you look after them.
Your responsibilities begin at the Dog Kennel when you purchase your first puppy. There are three different versions of the game available in shops -- Labrador and Friends, Chihuahua and Friends, and Dachshund and Friends -- with the only difference being the breed of dogs available to you initially. You start off with a selection of six breeds to choose from, including the title breed (obviously) as well as Toy Poodles, Shetland Sheepdogs, Boxers and more. Each version of Nintendogs features 18 different dog breeds, which can all be eventually unlocked as you play through the game. A few already trained puppies are available for you to play with, which may influence the puppy you decide to take home. And the selection changes each time you enter the menu of a different breed -- giving you a diverse choice of colour, sex and personality.
Once you've chosen your pet, you have to name it. You do this by following the voice prompts and speaking into the DS microphone. After numerous repetitions, your puppy will recognise its name and you can then enter it into the game using the onscreen keyboard. Now that your puppy has learned its name, you can call it and start playing. Tapping the touch screen will get their attention, and you can speak into the microphone when the microphone icon appears on the screen. The puppies respond very enthusiastically to your attention with all the characteristics of a real pup, by barking, wagging their tail, panting and more.
Next you can teach him or her tricks, such as "Sit" or "Roll over" which are also somewhat tedious as they have to be repeated a number of times before the pup will learn them. If your pup doesn't understand a command, a red question mark will appear over his or her head; if a blue one appears it means they're confusing your request with another command. Don't overload your pup with too many lessons at once, as they will get tired of training and you'll be forced to retire from teaching for the rest of the day. The "Beg" command is noted as the hardest command for puppies to learn, and often they won't get it straight away. However, our pups proved to be rather obedient, maybe more so than their living, breathing counterparts!
Navigating throughout the game's interface is straightforward and easy. The "Home" screen displays your puppies as well as your "Supplies" and the "Go Out" menu. Touching a puppy will take you into the "Dog Status" menu where you can check on the wellbeing of your pet and review his or her contest results. This is important to make sure your pet isn't hungry, thirsty or dirty.
From the "Home" screen select the middle icon to enter the "Interaction" screen which appears as the inside of your house. This is where the majority of your time will initially be spent -- caring, training and playing with your pet. From this screen you can also access your "Supplies" which include food and grooming tools.
Exit the Home screen and enter the "Go Out" menu which includes Shopping (visit the Kennel, Interior Decorator to jazz up your home, Pet Supply to buy goods and Secondhand store to sell unwanted items, and a Dog Hotel for puppy's much needed vacations!), Walk (where you use a map to draw a path to lead your puppy around town -- they love this!), Contests (to test your pup's skills and earn cash prizes in order to purchases supplies and more puppies), and Bark, which allows you to communicate wirelessly with others. Bark is possibly one of the most innovative functions of Nintendogs, as it will wirelessly look for other Nintendog owners in your vicinity. If it finds one, the DS will start barking -- open it up and you'll see your puppy interacting with the other Nintendog owner's dog.
Nintendogs truly utilises the features of the DS beautifully -- along with impressive graphics, the interactivity using the touch screen and voice recognition software is deeply engaging. One of its most appealing points is the realistic way the dogs in the game move and act -- you can really get fooled into thinking you're interacting with a living, breathing puppy. Add to that the voice controls, which match your voice patterns to make sure your puppies do not respond to anyone else but you, and a sense of true ownership really sinks in. Just make sure you're not the type who gets easily embarassed -- you're sure to get a few stares on train platforms while talking to your DS.
There is endless replay-ability and a lot to keep you busy in the world of simulated puppy parenting, though once the initial excitement and novelty wear off you may find yourself playing intermittently rather than incessantly.