fter spending a day at the ballpark on Monday with Nintendo, they invited me to the Nintendo of America headquarters to get an exclusive first hand look at the final Japanese version of their virtual pet/dog title, Nintendogs. While it’s rather well known by my friends and co-workers that I’ve been wavering on the line of whether or not to purchase a DS, it’s games like Feel The Magic: XX/XY, Meteos, Electroplankton, and Nintendogs that are really showing off the unique abilities that the Nintendo DS offers, and have finally pushed me over the edge to purchase one of the new handhelds.
But let me back up for a second. Nintendogs isn’t really a game at all. When you buy Nintendogs, in its simplest sense - you’re buying a puppy. Imagine the concept of the virtual pet, the Tamagochi, and take out that little booger thing you were cultivating, and replace that with a dog. Sprinkle it with some Miyamoto magic (apparently he helped out quite a bit with Nintendogs) and adapt it to use all of the functionality of the DS. Just like the Tamagochi, there’s no real score, and you can’t actually beat the game. It’s the experience of ownership of a virtual pet, or in the case of Nintendogs, a virtual dog.
C'mon even if you hate dogs you have to admit that this is cute
When you start the game, you begin at the kennel where you can take a look at all the dogs that you’ll initially have available to purchase, whether they’re a male puppies or female puppies. Every time you go to the kennel your choice of dogs will be the same, but the actual sexes of the dogs available will be random. You’ll be able to watch the dogs in action in the kennel interacting with each other, and see what kind of personalities they have, and see which one appeals to you. Each dog costs a specific amount of money, and when you’re first beginning Nintendogs, you’ll only have enough money to purchase one dog.
In Japan there are three versions of the game to purchase, which each has five dogs each to choose from. The listing of the different groupings of pups are as follows:
Dachshund and Friends Version
- Miniature Dachshund
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Yorkshire Terrier
- German Shepherd
Chihuahua and Friends Version
- Cocker Spaniel
- Labrador Retriever
- Shih Tzu
Shiba and Friends Version
- Miniature Pinscher
- Welsh Corgie Puppy
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Toy Poodle
Each version of the game actually contains all of the dogs which you can unlock and purchase later on, but from the outset, you just get the five available in your version to select from. Throughout the game you’ll earn money in which you can purchase additional dogs. Don’t fret if your favorite canine breed isn’t on this list. At this time, Nintendo of America is determining which dogs will make it into the North American version, and whether they’ll have multiple versions of the game as they do in Japan. One good thing for the North American version is they’re looking into adding even more dogs than the current 15 available in the Japanese version.
Most of the action in the game takes place on both screens, and you will not be using the d-pad, shoulder buttons, or face buttons of the Nintendo DS – Nintendogs is completely controlled by the touch screen and microphone. Your dog will run between both screens, but the only way to pet your dog is when it’s on the bottom touch screen. If you dog is on the top screen (further away from you), you can call it, and most of the time if it’s obedient, it’ll run towards you (to the bottom screen), and if it’s really excited, it’ll just up on you by pressing it’s paws on the bottom screen. You can pet the dog with the stylus, and the dog will react much like a real dog and sometimes roll over so you can scratch its belly. Just as real dogs do, they’ll love the attention.
So, you pick the pup of your choice, and you bring it to your house. Since it’s a completely new environment to the puppy, he’ll be terrified, shaking, whimpering, and very apprehensive of everything. You’ll have to keep reassuring and petting the dog for quite a bit of time until the dog gets comfortable to you. Once your little furball is happy in its new abode, a prompt will appear on the screen when you can teach the puppy it’s name. You then speak the dog’s name into the microphone a couple of times until the dog learns it. Before you save the progress, you’ll then be prompted to teach the dog its first trick, which not surprisingly is to learn how to sit. You’ll then say “sit” (you can actually use what ever phrase you want to) into the microphone, and once your dog actually sits, he’s learned his first command, you can save the game, and the rest of Nintendogs opens up and you’ll be able to do more things.
To train your dog to do specific commands, your dog will do a specific action on screen to let you know that it’s ready to learn something. For example, your dog could raise its paw, signaling it’s ready to learn how to shake its paw. By touching the dog’s paw with the stylus, a light bulb will then light above the dog’s head. At this point, you could say “shake” into the microphone and if sparkles appear with a bone, you can then feed the dog the bone to positively reinforce the animal’s action. After a few repeated tries, eventually your dog will learn how to shake paw on command.
Another thing you can do with your puppy is take them for a walk. A map appears on the bottom screen, which for the first time in a Nintendo DS game, actually has a working purpose. Your neighborhood is more or less your hub where you can access different parts of the game You have a stamina meter which more or less has a limited amount of “ink”. By drawing a route that originates and returns to your house, you can walk your puppy around the neighborhood, and visit other dogs, the dog park, and other places. The more time you spend with your dog, the more stamina they’ll have and the further you’ll be able to walk your dog. Not all places in your neighborhood will be available right away because your puppy won’t have the gusto to walk all the way there and back to your home. You control the dogs leash via the touch screen, and if your dog is stubborn and stops, you can do a little yank, and get it to continue moving along on your path.
Nintendo of America’s Nate Bihldorff, Associate Localization Lead, demonstrated by walking his dog Killer (a Miniature Pinscher) to the dog park. While he took Killer to the park, he came across other dogs, as well as presents, and items to pick up for the dog, like leashes and balls which will go into your inventory, and you can play with these items with your puppy later on or sell them to the second hand shop. Nate said that when he took Killer for a walk the other day he came across a pile of trash that Killer was obsessed with, and he had to pull on the leash to try to get him to pay attention. Killer was up to no good, and decided to instead eat the trash, and for the rest of the walk he had his tongue hanging out of his mouth and looked ill. It’s currently unknown at this time if your puppy will throw up if he feels ill or not, but apparently puppies shouldn’t eat trash.
Of course, the big question is will your dog go to the bathroom? Killer had to make a quick little pit stop once he left the house. Yes, it’s true, since you’re feeding and giving your puppy water, it’s going to need to relieve itself from time to time outside (your dog won’t go to the bathroom in the house, convenient, eh?). The male dogs will lift their legs, and the females will squat to pee, and the dogs will also have to poop, too. Once your dog relieves himself, a blue mark will appear on the map, showing where your dog went to the bathroom. Every time you go near that blue mark, the dog will sniff, and know this is where he previously did his doo-ty, or marked its territory. This marker fades after time if your dog doesn’t return to this spot to re-mark its territory. By touching the little present your dog left on the ground, it puts it in a little waste bag. There is no penalty for not cleaning up after your dog, and if you always leave it on the ground, there won’t be crap all over the place when you take your dog out for a walk each time. But we just inherently believe in keeping our neighborhoods clean.
Once you arrive at the dog park, your dog will interact with other dogs. Some dogs play well with others, and while there won’t be any fights, your puppy may be scared of other dogs at first. This is where you bring out the big ammunition….the tennis ball, or Frisbee. By picking each of the toys from your inventory, you can throw the desired object to your puppy by flicking the touch screen. You will have to get your dog comfortable with each toy, but the more time you spend with your dog and the specific item, the better he’ll be with it, like his ability to catch a ball or Frisbee, or jump in the air for it. In the case of Killer’s trip, Nate threw a Frisbee to help improve Killer’s Frisbee skills and a Chihuahua that was also in the park kept stealing it from him. Plus Killer was being a little lazy since he didn’t have that much Frisbee training, and would let it hit the ground, and just paw and jump around on it until the Chihuahua grabbed it. As you can imagine, some dogs will be better at specific toys so it’ll be up to you to figure out what your puppy likes and doesn’t like.
Money is used to buy items for your dog, upgrade and buy furnishings for your house, and purchase more dogs. You can only house three dogs in your house, but if you own more, they can stay at the dog hotel. There are over 150 items that you can buy for your dog, and they range from useful to ridiculous. Items include clothes, water, food, shampoo, jump ropes, brushes, tick remover, collars, bows, hats, sunglasses, afro wigs, and bottles. Your dog won’t like everything, so it’s going to be a lot of trial and error.
The two ways of earning money in Nintendogs is selling items at the second hand store, and winning competitions. There are three competitions, the flying disc competition, the agility contest, and the dog show. The flying disc competition as you can imagine is where you throw a Frisbee to your dog. There’s different rings around the field, and the further the dog is out when it catches the Frisbee, the more points your dog will receive. Plus, if your dog jumps up in the air and does a jumping catch they’ll get more points. There are different cups, and different classes within the cups. The agility contest is where you lead the dog with the stylus through an obstacle course by the touch screen. Your puppy will encounter see-saws, tunnels, jumps, etc, and the best time wins. Deductions are made by missing or knocking over obstacles. And lastly, the dog show is where you are judged at how well your dog responds to voice commands. The more commands the dog knows, and how quickly it responds to each command determines how well you do in the competition. The more training you do prior to the competition will help you place higher, or win the competition, garnering you more money to spend.
Fido, you better make some money or you're sleeping outside tonight!
With all the action your puppy is going to endure, you’ll eventually have to give it a bath or it’ll get dirty and get fleas or ticks. You’ll literally soap up your hound, scrub it with the brush, and then rinse it off – giving your pup a clean look. Your dog won’t get any weird diseases, but it may not pay attention when you want it to because it’s scratching itself more than usual.
Nintendogs also takes advantage of the wireless capabilities of the Nintendo DS in some very unique ways. In what they’re currently calling Bark Mode, if you have a copy of Nintendogs and encounter another person that has Nintendogs but their DS is in sleep mode, your dog will bark at their dog. When that person opens their DS, a message that you recorded prior will play on their DS welcoming them to have a doggie-play date. In Nate’s case, his message was, “My name is Killer, and I will kill you.” More than likely you’ll also be making hilarious statements and the like. You can then give your puppy a gift to give the other puppy – Nintendogs way of trading items. When you do the transfer, your puppy will go on your friend’s DS and their puppy will go on your DS. Their puppy will stay on your DS until you turn it off. In Japan they’re expecting this would be a way for shy men to meet women by having messages to entice girls to get them to have their dogs meet. But I can just imagine what this is going to do with children in schools, or in our case, the children that work here at Game Informer. The hilarity will ensue the second this game comes out.
A couple more factoids we learned about the game that really separated it from other virtual pet games was that your dogs will not grow, age, get sick, die, or mate. Your puppy will stay a puppy forever. So unlike Tamagochis, your puppy won’t die if you don’t play with it, or feed it for a couple of days. Basically it’s not going to get smarter or pay better attention to your commands any better or worse if you don’t play Nintendogs. It may be hungry when you start the game up, but that’s about it. There’s also no negative reinforcement, so you won’t be scolding or hitting your dog. It’s undetermined if you can trade dogs, but I can’t imagine that would work too well since that dog is trained to your voice.
What will happen is you’ll treat your puppy like a real one. While it won’t respond to anything other than the one or two word phrase commands you teach it, you’ll most likely say extra phrases like “good dog”, “here boy,” or “don’t do that!” – even though it won’t register with the game. The dogs act so realistic it truly makes the experience incredibly believable. Nintendogs blows apart the adorable scale, and anyone who loves animals will have a hard time not loving the experience. While the game ships shortly in Japan, Nintendo of America has only had a few weeks to begin the localization process, so I’m guessing we’ll get this game in late Summer.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m quite enamored by Nintendogs. While it’s not a game, it’s going to be fun keeping my DS on my desk while I’m at work and letting my puppy just rip around, and once in a while I’ll feed it, walk it, or play a quick game with it. I’m hoping for a specific few breeds like Scottish Terriers or West Highland White Terriers to be added for the North American version, since those we’re the dogs I grew up with, but it’ll be interesting to see how the different breeds react to training, competitions, and the like. Overall, it’s a very unique non-gaming experience which is still going to be a lot of fun. While the Nintendo DS had a launch line-up that didn’t really fulfill the promise of unique Nintendo DS gaming experiences, Nintendogs looks like it’s on the dog-gone right path.