If you recall my first experience with the Nintendo 3DS version of nintendogs (deliberately written in lowercase by Nintendo), titled nintendogs + cats, you may recall that the cat-lover in me came away a little disappointed by how the dog seemed to steal the show in the little time afforded by the demonstration. But now, thanks to the copy Nintendo of Canada was generous enough to send me, I can give a more thorough look at the title.
The version I received was “Golden Retriever & New Friends,” one of the three versions which will be available with the system’s launch, with the other two featuring a Toy Poodle and a French Bulldog. I did not get my choice, but fortunately, this is the one I would have chosen. Of course, each version actually contains all of the 27 breeds of dog spread across the three versions, with only nine to choose from at the start, and the rest becoming available as you unlock them.
Cats in Captivity
Where feline companionship is concerned, it seems clear that Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development Manager Shigeru Miyamoto did not see quite the same value in cats as he did for dogs. As he expressed in a session of the company’s Iwata Asks interview:
“Making a game called Nintencats just didn’t seem right for Nintendo, but people all over the world love cats, so I wanted to put cats in a game somehow. But when I actually got a cat, I realised there just aren’t as many things to do with a cat as there are with a dog, that we may use in our entertainment. I concluded that showing how dogs and cats interact would be just right.”
As such, it would appear that cats are essentially sidekicks in this game, the Robin to the dogs’ Batman. Only three breeds of cat are available (Tabby, Siamese, and Persian), each in all three versions, but not from the start. This means that those who go to the store and grab a copy expecting to pick out a cat and start interacting with it will be in for a little bit of disappointment.
While I am a cat lover, I do not dislike dogs, and certainly not enough to be turned off to the experience. So starting the game up, I opted for a male Beagle from the game’s kennel, which I named Odie. While cats can be purchased afterward, it is unlikely that you will have enough money left over from your starting amount to immediately get one– particularly the fancier breeds, which cost over $1,000. A Tabby will run less than $900, but the initial purchase will leave you short, at least for a little while.
You and Your Dog
The game (or perhaps the “kennel”) is at least kind enough to give you some supplies to get you started with the puppy of your choice, including bottled water, dog food, shampoo, a frisbee, and a few other odds and ends. At some of the game’s shops, you can sell off old items and purchase new ones, as well as put them in a shelter for a while, buy a new look for your home, and so on.
To earn money, you need to win competitions with your dog. Ergo, if you want a cat, you need to learn to get along with a dog first. And it is indeed a learning process, as you must make the dog comfortable around you, take him (or her) on walks, teach him tricks, use the touch-screen to pet him, and more.
An interesting element of this game is the dog’s ability to recognize its owner. The 3DS microphone allows it to tell when you are speaking to it, as well as what you say, while the internal camera lets it “see” your face, and respond to you and others accordingly.
Canines Collecting Cash
At this point, I do not yet have a cat (I’ll be opting for a tabby), but I am working towards having the money to get one. So far, this has been through frisbee toss competitions, which are one of three types (the others being tricks and following a fishing line across a track), which come in various classes of difficulty.
At first, Odie and I were not doing so well, but some practice at the park led me to figure out how to make him return with the flying disc more quickly. Our competition before the practice ended poorly, with a third place ranking and $10 prize, but post-practice, we slaughtered the rest and took first place with a $100 prize.
Then, after that, we got cocky and tried for the next level, where we were soundly beaten. We are like two big fish in a small pond, Odie and I. Maybe a little more time in the beginner’s rank would be a good idea, though that means we’re probably going to take a bit longer to reach cat-buying status.
In terms of the game’s visuals, the pets are admittedly cute. They have a realistic look, yet manage to dodge that uncanny-valley sensation with just slightly bigger eyes, rounder legs, and so on; enough to make them extra cute, but not really freaky. They’re almost slightly caricatured, but not to the level of, say, a Mii.
…which makes one element of the game interesting. In the original nintendogs, you really did not have much of a visual for the other people and owners. This time, however, the people are clearly Miis (you don’t tend to see your own, but those of friends, shop-owners, and townspeople), which provide a bit of a stark contrast to the more detailed visuals of the dogs, cats, and their surroundings.
Incidentally, this holds even more true if you are used to games such as Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit Plus, which feature actual Mii-styled dogs and cats to play with.
Overall, nintendogs + cats has been fun to play, at least on the dog side. As to how well the cats are implemented… well, the jury is still out on that one. Keep your eyes on this site, as we will hopefully manage to adopt one soon, and we’ll provide a follow-up which explores how well cats are implemented into the game, the above issues notwithstanding.
Until then, be sure to check out our slideshow at the left, which demonstrates another function of the game: the ability to snap pictures of the sights you see in the game, and transfer them to your computer. These are not press screens, but actual images taken from the in-game camera of Odie, plus a cat we met at a pet cafe.
Update: You can now read all about the cat experience here.