Also available on: N/A
Genre: Pet Simulation
The pet simulation genre has proved particularly fruitful for Nintendo. The original Nintendogs and all of its variations have shifted millions of units and helped the DS become the portable powerhouse that it is today. Sony hoped to tap into this market with its PlayStation Move-enabled EyePet, while Microsoft offered a more exotic breed of beast in its own interactive pet sim Kinectimals. Aiming to show the latecomers how it's done, Nintendo has unleashed a new range of canine chums and now cats alongside its latest handheld, the 3DS. However, aside from some furry felines, flashy visuals and minor tweaks, Nintendogs + Cats is largely the same game that has been reeling in the punters since 2005.
The most noticeable difference between the latest version and its predecessor are the upgraded visuals. Put simply, Nintendogs + Cats looks incredible. The animals are as cute and fluffy as a baby wrapped in a cloud and easily rival the cubs from Kinectimals in the looks department. You can really see the improvement in graphical power when a puppy is pawing the screen and players ruffle its fur. It's also the most impressive of the titles that we've tried so far in terms of 3D. As with Pilotwings Resort and Super Street Fighter IV, the sense of depth is astounding, but Nintendogs is the first game that really jumps out at you. The first time a dog runs to the player and starts licking the screen is a console-defining moment, made all the better by the fact that you can take pictures and show it to your friends. Without doubt, Nintendogs + Cats has become the game I use to show people just how good the 3D actually is.
It also makes clever use of the console's Augmented Reality feature. With the aid of the AR cards and in-game camera, players can take the pet-owning illusion to the next level by seemingly holding the little critters in their hands. Using different cards provides each pooch with different accessories, so placing the puppy on a Mario card will give it a famous red cap, while the Samus Aran card decorates the dog in a bounty hunter visor - complete with a Metroid sound clip. The cards are also used in the obedience trials, which remain almost exactly the same as before in their aim and execution. It is, however, a nice touch seeing the pets perform the tricks in your living room and helps make the moment that little more special.
In theory, cats are the other major addition to the game, but in reality they add very little value to the title. Aside from the fact that it's another cutesy animal to take care of and fall in love with, the cats don't really do a lot, much like their real-life counterparts. They don't do tricks or take part in competitions, but they do provide a great foil for the bouncy, bubbly dogs by being a little more by being a little more selective with their time and affection. Typically a cat will mooch around the apartment by itself, distract the dog for a bit, before giving the player some attention when they're hungry or thirsty. They do look funny when dressed up, however, as the cafe owner's overfed cat Precious proves.
Everything else is largely the same as the original Nintendogs. Players select a puppy from the kennel at the start of the game and use the stylus and microphone to wash it, feed it and teach it tricks. The voice recognition is pretty accurate and the only time we had any problem with obedience was if we failed to give the little pooch enough positive reinforcement - much like a real dog. The events and competitions play an important role in winning money to spend on upgrading your apartment, adding accessories and buying new pets, of which there are 27 breeds of dog and numerous types of cat. Even though the competitions provide the only traditional, competitive gameplay element within the game, there's not much to them other than throwing a Frisbee or reeling in a fishing lure, although winning prizes is pretty satisfying.
Taking the dog for a walk opens up new areas such as the cafe and gym, and also gives players and pets a chance to meet other animals and Miis. With the console on standby, StreetPass and SpotPass are enabled, which means that owners can expect free updates from Nintendo, as well as exchange photographs and presents with other 3DS users. With the 3DS in your pocket, the pedometer also kicks in, which charts a player's steps in the real world and provides them with the equivalent number of gifts that an in-game walk would unlock. While none of these features add anything major to the game, it's positive to see Nintendo encouraging social interaction and it will be interesting to see these ideas developed in the future.
Nintendogs + Cats is a visual treat, makes great use of the console's 3D features and contains all of the elements that made the 2005 releases such a big hit. Unfortunately, 3D aside, it doesn't contain enough unique features to make it worth buying for a second time. The activities and day-to-day pet-care remains largely the same, while the addition of cats provides a few laughs but little else. For those who fancy a pet simulation and have never tried the original, Nintendo's 3D offering is the perfect place to start. Unfortunately, for the millions of people who have been caring for a virtual canine since 2005, Nintendogs + Cats proves that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
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