We get along splendidly, Rambo and I. I throw balls, he retrieves them. We go for long walks, compete and I teach him tricks while he teaches me the virtue of patience. And there are very few things as rewarded as a wet puppy tongue on your cheek from a mischievous little canine.
The big deal with Nintendogs + Cats is obviously that it's a title for the Nintendo 3DS. The little pooch you pick at the start is therefore in full 3D and absolutely adorable. It's as sweet as it gets. In direct comparison with other Nintendo 3DS titles Nintendogs + Cats is a calm and relaxed experience where you eyes don't have to work as hard to enjoy the sense of depth the screen offers.
Your puppy lives his own little life behind the screen, and he's always just waiting to find out what you will do next. I named my dog Rambo, a Miniature Pinscher. I would have preferred a Doberman Pinscher, but the mini is almost as good, and there is a good selection of breeds in the different versions of the game. All breeds from the original game are included as well as some new ones.
The concept is a nicer and less hysterical take on the classic Tamagotchi premises. Your dog won't die on you if you neglect him, and in fact there is a limitation to the amount of stuff you can do each day. Running up to Rambo with the water bowl every minute won't make him happy as he needs stimulation.
He gets that stimulation from walks among other things, and you will run into other Miis as you take your walks. There are also some toys to buy and competitions to take part in. But Rambo also needs to learn manners. With the aid of the stylus you show your dog what to do, while you say the name of the trick three times.
The voice recognition works perfectly and even in noisy surroundings I manage to get my new friend to do what I tell him. Sure I get some weird looks on the bus as tell him what to do, but that's nothing out of the ordinary for me.
Your dog can only learn three tricks each day, something you will do in a couple of minutes and after a while it gets boring just looking at Rambo. That's why there are three kinds of competitions to enter into. Each of them can be completed twice a day, and the best one is Lure Coursing, an obstacle course where I lead little Rambo to goal as soon as possible.
There are also trick and flying disc competitions. The former makes use of the augmented reality cards and puts your pup in your house, something that will surely appeal to younger players.
The main problem with Nintendogs + Cats is the total lack of demands. You really cannot fail at anything and there are very few elements here that can even be classified as a game. And the limitations on the amount of tricks I can learn Rambo and the number of competitions we can complete makes for about half an hour of meaningful gameplay each day. And while this may be just perfect for younger or more casual players, something that I found great with Kinectimals was that there was a sense of preogression.
I'm not saying that Nintendogs + Cats is pointless. But personally I would have liked some kind of goal or meaning to increase my level of involvement. The fact that the game is so similar to its predecessor is also an issue - it feels more like an upgraded version of the original than a sequel.
That takes us to the cats. The biggest new feature, and in fact so big that it made it into the title. But before the cat people out there get too excited it should be noted that before you can get a cat you're going to have to spend quite a bit of time on your dog. And once you're there, well, it suddenly dawns on me why Shigeru Miyamoto was quote as saying: "Making a game called Nintencats just didn't seem right for Nintendo".
Cats are simply cats. They pay very little attention to you, and spend most of their time being lazy. It doesn't matter whether you try and learn your cat its name, he or she simply doesn't care. And you can't compete with them, learn them new tricks, and they're basically just screen savers at the end of the day. Nice to watch, but there really isn't much gameplay beneath the surface.
Nintendogs + Cats is still an optimal choice for younger gamers (not too young as the 3DS may be dangerous to those under six). It's sweet, easy to understand and you can't go wrong. Personally I played Nintendogs until I grew tired of it, and despite the obvious charms of my three dimensional Rambo I grew tired of this after just a few days. I'm thinking of placing an ad so Rambo may find a more suitable master, since he deserves someone a little more enthusiastic than myself.