Nintendogs are immune to the ravages of time. From the day they are brought home to the moment the cart is retired to some forgotten sock drawer, the puppy remains forever young and unchanging. Ever noticed how dogs look like their owners? Nintendo, so good at creating these endless days in the sun, is not one to change them. Nintendogs + Cats arrives in the cartridge slot as preppy and playful as the game before it. Almost too much so.
Feature-wise, Nintendogs + Cats is a near match for the DS original. Were it not for visual pampering it would be entirely possible to replace the old game with the new without the kids noticing (wait until they’ve gone to school, naturally). Again, play revolves around routine. Playtime trains the dog, enabling it to win daily contests, in turn creating a cash flow to invest in making said playtime more interesting. This tends to involve comedy hats. If anything, the routine is simplified, removing the trainer points used to judge owner performance. A Nintendog can survive years of negligence, now your reputation can too.
Ironically for a former champion of Nintendo’s Touch Generations, Nintendogs’ interface distances you from the pet. Probing a dog or cat silhouette on the touchscreen performs the same move in the 3D space above. While the pale disembodied hand initially unnerves, it is no odder than a desktop cursor and prevents a plastic prong from impeding the view. Ultimately, haptic feedback is left to be emulated by Nintendo’s canny animators, felt in a paw’s reluctance to raise or the angry yelp of a tail tug. Dog walking is a particular pleasure, with energetic pups needing firm lead yanks to keep snouts from neighbourhood bins.
Indeed, it is the animation as a whole that makes a return visit worthwhile. If this is the same dog’s life, it is a life painted in subtler strokes. Shimmering fur smooths over the digital joins, while freshly sculpted jaws and eyes bring to life the panting of a dog stroked in its sweet spot. The 3D adds depth to fur and offers a sense of body proportion that feeds into the illusion. When curiosity brings the dog close to the screen (they ‘see’ you through the camera), the head appears not merely bigger, but closer. Likewise, recycled DS toys – Frisbees, balloons, etc – feel fresher when flicked into a 3D room.
And where animators fail to reinvigorate old art assets, there’s always the cats. Their job is one of social agitator, a severely hands-off animal in a hands-on world. The title suffix isn’t a cute touch, but a comment on their role in the game: this is Nintendogs, but now there is a cat in the room. They can’t enter contests, go out for walks or learn tricks, but they can show total disinterest in everything. Nintendo’s eye for animal behaviour separates the game from imitators and renews the interest lost by the returning content.
Old dog, old tricks, fresh antagonist? Surprisingly, this is enough. Nintendogs + Cats promises a predictable life played out in unpredictable moments. In this business, there is little more you could want.