What would a modern Nintendo handheld launch be without Nintendogs? Considerably easier to swallow, for one, but here it is anyway. So what’s new with Nintendo’s premium virtual pet? For a start, it actually looks pretty incredible. Used at the DS’s launch as a triumphant showcase of the machine’s ability to render a small amount of things exceptionally well, the 3DS carries the torch by crafting comparatively photorealistic pooches, with the depth-of-field 3D effect adding subtley to the sense of location as your dog bounds around the local environment.
At the same time as looking approximately twice as good as the last range of hounds, each Nintendog is now joined by a… cat. Not a Nintencat, however – just a standard, bolt-on moggy. ’Plus cats’, indeed. Because disappointingly, perhaps in line with the real-life behaviour of domestic felines, kitty really does nothing much. As our pug dog thundered around chasing balls or gnawing shoes, taking part in Frisbee competitions, going for walks and earning trophies for obediently learning tricks, our tortoiseshell kitten simply basked next to the log fire, occasionally rousing itself to nibble on some of the starving dog’s food or to paw it arrogantly in the face.
It’s a shame because a truly developed catty dimension could have bolstered the appeal of the series for a wider range of fans – who’ve been clamouring for such an addition for a while – but instead it’s relegated to a series of funny unlockable hats and, effectively, a malicious foil for the canine star. In this respect, little has changed beyond the stylistic, and though everything looks flashier, there’s one odd discrepancy. While going for walks now allows you to pass other dog owners parading their own creatures around the streets, these passersby are randomly-generated Miis, creating a wild incongruity when a cartoon stick man is walking such an impressively-detailed pet. It seems a minor point, but for a game that relies so much on maintaining a sense of immersion, it can be a fairly jarring effect. Apart from visits to the beach in which you can pet and play with the other owner’s dog (triggered should your dog get on particularly well with a passing pet) these walks remain unchanged from the original DS edition too. A lure element has been added to obedience competitions, which feels not unlike Sega Bass Fishing, as you pull a toy along to keep the dog focused and on the track. All in all, Nintendogs + Cats feels very much the stock update, disappointing in so much as it doesn’t actually add anything of note or substance. The cruel under-utilisation of the cats, meanwhile, could genuinely disappoint fans of felines everywhere.