2011-08-03

Nintendogs + Cats – God Will Take Care Of You

by Yo Snyder

With the introduction of the Nintendo DS, Nintendo also introduced a
new kind of game for a new kind of gamer. In fact, they weren’t really
games at all in the traditional sense, but more like “non-games”. Among
these were Brain Age, Animal Crossing and Nintendogs.
While hardcore gamers scoffed at the notion of games where you didn’t
really do anything, these franchises were a huge part of Nintendo’s
effort to bring non-gamers to the gaming world. And they worked. They
worked because they weren’t complicated, they didn’t demand a lot of
time – you could pretty much play them anywhere at anytime – and in the
case of Nintendogs, they were cute. Well, with the introduction
of the 3DS, Nintendo also introduced a new version of Nintendogs that
also included cats. Having skipped the first outing, I decided to see
what it was like to have a virtual pet. It turns out that it’s kind of
like having a pet, but, with less fuzziness and slightly less clean up.

There’s no denying the cuteness of Nintendogs + Cats,
something that improves on the original’s cuteness by adding cute
kitties. The little critters look fuzzy and have fun personalities. They
romp and play and tussle and roll and pounce very much like their
real-life counter-parts. It’s actually kind of fun to just turn the
system on and watch the cute little puppies and kitties play in your
virtual room. Toss them a toy and they’ll get even livelier.Yes, this
game is the very epitome of cuteness and is sure to get oohs and awes
from anyone who happens to see you playing it.

Of course the first thing you need to do is choose which cute puppy
you want (you’ll have to earn enough money to buy a cat) and the give it
a name. I named my dog Dog, because I figured that would help me become
less attached to it. I must admit, speaking to my 3DS like it was an
actual dog made me feel kind of silly. Picture me sitting at my desk
holding the 3DS and repeatedly saying to it, “Dog”. You have to repeat
the name three times before your new pet will learn its name. Once it
does, however, you can call to it any time and it’ll come pouncing over
to you. A nice little touch is they won’t recognize the voice of anyone
else, so you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing its affections.

Now that you have a pet and it has a name, what do you do with it? Well this is where the non-gameness of Nintendogs
really begins to shine through because you don’t really do much of
anything with your pet; you just play with it, hang out and maybe engage
in a few activities. There’s no real objective to this game, just to
have fun with your cute little puppy (and later your kitty). You can
teach tricks to your dog (again, it made me feel kind of silly to be
telling my 3DS to “sit” and “lie down”), you can take your dog for a
walk, give it a bath, brush it, and play with toys that you purchase
from a pet supply store. Going for a walk is a fun diversion, although
you need to make sure you pick up after your cute puppy when it makes a
cute little poopie. As you walk, you can visit places like downtown, the
seaside or the mountains, go to parks to practice your Frisbee skills
or to a gym to practice the lure course, and you can meet other puppies
and perhaps make friends with them. You can even go to a fancy pet cafe
and have a little snack while your puppy plays with friends.

If you’re looking for something a bit more objective based and more
game like, enter competitions. The Frisbee competition has your dog
trying to score the most points by catching a Frisbee, with extra points
for jumping and catching in certain zones. The lure competition has
your puppy chasing after fuzzy lure that you pull through a preset
course. It takes practice and a bit of luck to win these, but this is
the most structured “game-like” portion of the game and it’s also where
you can earn trophies and money to buy furniture, toys, foods and all
that stuff that a growing puppy needs. And that’s pretty much it. Make
sure you feed and water your dog, take for walks, play with it, and
generally keep it happy. That’s all there is to it.

Which means there isn’t a whole lot to actually do. You can only
enter a competition twice in a day, so if you think you’re going to
quickly move up the ranks and get a lot of cash, think again. And since
money is the only way to add stuff to your house to make things more
interesting than just a big empty room, that means you won’t be doing a
lot of decorating right from the start either. Also, your dog can only
learn three tricks in a day, so all in all, this non-game can sometimes
feel like it’s structured to keep your play time pretty short. However,
if you don’t walk and feed your dog every day, they can get skinny,
hungry and not very happy. They won’t die or turn on you anything, but
seeing their sad little face will make you feel bad for neglecting them.
So you won’t play for long in a day, but you need to play every day. I
guess that’s part of the formula for a successful non-game game, but for
me it just meant that I quickly lost interest in it.

Now here’s the funny thing; I know that a lot of other people won’t
lose interest. In fact, I know that many people will invest quite a bit
of time caring for these virtual little fuzzballs of cuteness. I also
know that many of these other people doubt God’s ability to care for
them. Jesus once told his listeners that although two sparrows are sold
for a penny, not one of them falls to the ground apart from the will of
God. Therefore, we need not be afraid, for we are worth far more than
many sparrows. God will take care for us. Not as a virtual pet, not even
as an actual pet or even as a sparrow, but as a beloved child. Now,
that doesn’t mean that we’re going to get everything we want on a golden
platter, but it does mean we have a loving heavenly father who is
looking out for us and has our best interests at heart, and all we need
to do is trust in that and trust in his son Jesus to rest in his care. I
mean, if we can spend time taking care of cute virtual puppies, how
could we ever doubt that a loving God would be willing to invest the
time to care for us?

Nintendogs + Cats is the very definition of Nintendo’s “Blue
Ocean” strategy. It’s a game that isn’t a game. It doesn’t require much
in time and effort, but it’s cute and engaging and has its own
particular charm and fun. It’s not a game necessarily for the hardcore
gamer, but more for the very casual, very young (my girls of 6 and 9
love this game) or the very non-gaming gamer. In that sense, it’s very
much a success in how it will appeal to them. For the rest of us actual
gamers, we may spend a little time with it and even enjoy the cuteness
for awhile, but eventually we’ll be asking; “Wait, what’s the point of
this?”.

Score out of 7:

Graphics: 5 – The puppies and kitties look adorable and fuzzy, and
move in a very life like manner. The 3D adds very little except to give
the world a sense of depth.

Sound: 5 – The puppies and kitties sound as adorable as they look. The music is light, breezy and unintrusive.

Controls: 5 – Everything from the the touch screen interface to the
voice recognition works just fine. Little touches like you dog only
responding to your voice are a nice touch. Plus, it’d be nice if
cleaning up after real dogs had the one touch convenience of this game.

Gameplay: 5 – I thought about putting N/A here as there is much
actual “game” to do. Still, talking your dog for walks, making sure
they’re well fed and groomed, that they play with friends, and do well
in competitions is all enjoyable enough in short spurts. Other things
like StreetPass to meet new friends and get gifts is nice, as is getting
new content from SpotPass (I met two Presidents’ dogs that way).

Story: N/A

Content: 7 – It’s as cute and family friendly as can be.

Final: 4 – For those who the game is targeted for, I think this
game is a solid 5. However, when I played it, I just didn’t get that
much out of it. It’s a very well made and well executed game, but I just
needed something more to do. I don’t play game to do nothing, I play
them to do something. But if you enjoy doing nothing with a cute virtual
pet, then this is the game for you.