Once you get past the cuteness, you realize just how painfully shallow this game is.

Originally written on  March 12, 2006.

Nintendogs is the latest game from the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto. The game centers around the joys of owning a dog and manages to bring some of the aspects of owning a dog into the game. Unfortunately, you can see pretty much everything the game has to offer in a few days and there is no compelling reason to keep playing.

The game allows you to own up to three dogs at one time. Each version of the game (Labrador, Dachshund or Chihuahua and Friends) has a limited number of breeds available. That said, it doesn’t take long to unlock all the breeds of dogs so there is really no difference between the three versions of Nintendogs. Basically all you can do in the game is enter them in contests, care for them (feeding, washing etc.) and take them for walks.

There are three different types of contests in the game. There is an obedience contest, a Frisbee catching contest and a timed obstacle course. You can enter up to three contests each day with each dog and this is how money is obtained in the game. Money is spent on items at stores or on new rooms. The obedience contest is probably the deepest part of the game but its really quite tedious. You can teach your puppies tricks, which you do by stroking the dog on the touch screen. This aspect of the game is actually quite interesting at first as it allows you to use the DS microphone and record various commands that your dog will understand. By talking into the DS your dog will do various tricks. This is a great concept but it often takes quite a while to successfully teach your dog a trick and even that doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog will be able to pull it off in a contest. You must repeat tricks many, many times before your dog will understand it and that really takes some of the fun out of the game. Not only that, but there are limits to how much your dog can learn in one day so its impossible to get a lot done in one sitting.

The other contests in the game are more straightforward but they also become somewhat tedious. In the Frisbee contest you just throw the Frisbee with the stylus and hope the dog catches it. It becomes easier and easier as your dog gets better at it and this allows you to get quite a bit of money every single day. The obstacle course also isn’t that challenging. You simply tap on a variety of different obstacles in a specific order and hope for the best. As with the other contests, your dog gets better over time so eventually it’s a total cakewalk to get first place and a bunch of cash as well. The easiness of these two contests allows you to unlock nearly everything in the game in a week or two. Finally, the worst aspect of all the contests is the fact that you can’t skip the announcer’s commentary, which becomes EXTREMELY repetitive and just plain annoying over time.

Aside from the contests there is really little to do in Nintendogs. The game tries to convince you to care for your pets in a responsible manner but there are no consequences if you fail to do so. You can go without feeding your dogs for days, weeks or even months and there is no consequence whatsoever. I’ve heard your dogs can run away if you don’t care for them but I went over a month without playing the game and all three of them were still there when I returned. Not only that but your puppies will remain puppies forever. They don’t grow in any way. Their fur doesn’t grow, their claws don’t grow and they don’t gain or lose weight. Its really unfortunate that the game doesn’t include any of that as it would make the game more satisfying long-term.

The last thing you can do in Nintendogs is take your dogs for walks. This is a very boring part of the game as you basically just sit there as your dog walks for whatever distance you decide upon. Your dog’s stamina increases the more you walk him/her so you can go further and further away from your home as the game goes on. All you can really do on walks is visit other stores other then the one available from a menu at your home, and practice for contests. You do this by visiting the local gym’s obstacle course or playing Frisbee at the park. There are also presents that litter the sidewalks. Your dog will walk right past these unless you tug on the leash but that’s essentially all you do on walks. There is no option to walk all three of your dogs at once so you must endure the boredom three times more then you’d likely prefer.

Graphically speaking, Nintendogs is a pretty impressive game. The dogs in the game look and act very lifelike and the game’s environments look pretty decent. There is a noticeable lack of detail in the environments you encounter on walks, however. The game basically whites out some parts of the environments for some reason and this definitely doesn’t add anything to the game.

The sound in Nintendogs is probably its greatest virtue. The music is pleasant and there are ways to obtain records to play at your home. The puppies all sound very lifelike and the various crowd noises at the contests are all well done.

The joy that can be obtained from playing this game is extremely short-lived due to the limited number of activities available. The developers really missed some of the aspects of owning a dog that could be put in a game. Watching them grow and looking after them so they won’t get sick or pass away are entirely absent in Nintendogs. On that note, there is no veterinarian or annual check-ups in the game either and that has always been a serious event in terms of owning pets, at least in my mind. The game just becomes repetitive really quickly and offers little for long-term play. Considering the growing number of great DS games that are out there, there is no reason for you to waste money on this one.