If there was ever a game that was right up my alley, it was Nintendogs. I mean, I'm someone who carries a Pocket Pikachu 2 around as their watch, revels in boundary-pushing games such as Karaoke Revolution and the Eye Toy series, and can withstand insane amounts of cute from games such as Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue. The idea of having a little pet that I could not only take along with me, but have interact with other people's pets was just so appealing. Everything about the game had my name written all over it.
That may very well be the reason why I'm so very disappointed with Nintendogs as a whole.
The very idea of taking the basic virtual pet and making it more interactive is rather interesting (yet not quite new -- Seaman comes to mind), and if any platform was made for that purpose, it's the Nintendo DS. Nintendogs is a good showcase piece for the system, for it puts the unique aspects of the handheld to good use since you use the microphone to issue commands to the dog and the stylus to pet, train and wash it, amongst other things. In the process of plodding through the game, I came to a realization: this right here is a prime example as to why innovation is a double-edged sword.
You see, innovation is really what keeps the industry going, but at the same time, relying on it too much can be one's downfall. It's an argument that many have had concerning the DS in general, but it's something that I feel applies directly to Nintendogs as a game. To be honest, I don't even feel comfortable calling it a game; I'd much rather call it a process, for I feel as if it's more work than play to deal with your dog. When any game begins to feel more like a chore, an obligation, then it becomes less about the experience and more about just doing it, and since a main role of gaming in our lives is that of escapism...playing Nintendogs really defeats that purpose.
An example of this is training your dog, which was easily the most frustrating part of the game for me. While you can give your dog commands via the microphone, the voice recognition was so shoddy that my dog couldn't understand what I was saying half the time, no matter how clearly and slowly I spoke. By the time I'd spent days -- days teaching the dog a few tricks, I entered it into a competition only to feel utterly disciplined myself. I've never felt a stronger urge to perform acts of virtual animal cruelty in my entire life.
It's situations like this that make me feel as if Nintendogs, not unlike Warioware: Touched before it, was more of a tech demo rather than a fully fleshed out game. Walking your dog, washing and feeding it, playing various games with it...they're amusing the first couple of times around, but things get old rather quickly. If you're out in the cold without any other Nintendog owners to meet while in Bark Mode (the state your DS is in when it's closed and the game's on), the euphoria wears off that much faster, but as in most games of the sort, it's really based around the concept of sharing your pet with as many gamers possible. In fact, I believe that Bark Mode and its interface are the Nintendogs' saving grace – the fact that the game automatically pulls your Pictochat profile and uses it for your Trainer Info, as well as lets you record a short message for other owners to hear, is quite nifty.
By the time you read this, my dog's probably run away from home. I really don't mind, because it's not as if he ever listened to me anyway. What really breaks my heart is the fact that, given a bit more time and a lot more grooming, Nintendogs could've been the game that I had wanted it to be. Do yourself a favor and leave this puppy at the pet store.