Nintendogs was a very unique and very popular game for the Nintendo DS, so it's no surprise that Nintendo decided to release a sequel alongside the launch of the Nintendo 3DS. But aside from adding the other animal mentioned in the title, what else does Nintendogs + Cats bring to the table? I'll let you know if you should invest in another virtual puppy (and kitty!) after the jump!
Like its predecessor, Nintendogs + Cats is a pet simulator where you choose from a variety of puppies and bring it home to care for it and train it to compete in competitions. There are three versions of the game, all featuring a different selection of breeds. And at the kennel, you can even select the color style you'd prefer, making sure you can get just the right puppy. And in addition, Nintendogs + Cats eventually offers kittens at the kennel for purchase (though with fewer breeds to choose from). Yeah, your first puppy is free, and any subsequent animals will cost you! The first one is always free! It's fascinating to watch the puppy and kitten interact in the same space, and it's surprisingly realistic.
The graphics are extremely impressive. In the first game, the puppies acted real, but now they also look real. And not just because they're in 3D. The textures and fur look almost real enough to touch. And when you call their name and they come running up to the screen, putting their paws up on it and looking right at you with their shiny eyes, you can't help but go "Awww!" And one of the new features is the ability to use the AR Cards to make your Nintendog appear on top of it. Of course, that means while you can put your Nintendog on your real-world couch, he'll also be really tiny! Sounds are minimal, with realistic barks, growls and purrs, and the occasional inoffensive music. There are records you can buy at the store to play in your home that produce a variety of different tunes your animals will react to in various ways.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward. You have to keep your puppy fed and clean, and take it for walks where you can train it for the three different competitions. There are a variety of stores where you can buy food, treats, toys and accessories for your pets, and the way to make money is to win competitions. The obedience and disc competitions make a return from the original, but the agility competition has been replaced by the lure competition where you spin a control on the touch screen to draw a colorful lure across a course, keeping it just in front of your puppy so he runs at you and completes it in first place. There are multiple levels for each competition, culminating in the Nintendogs Cup, and each one becomes progressively more difficult, adding new wrinkles like sand traps, special tricks, or hurdles. Also, they changed up the obedience competition by using the AR Cards. You place any one of them down on a flat surface, and your Nintendog appears on it with a spotlight shining down on it as it performs your commands. It's a nice addition, and it's fun to see your puppy in the real world (sort of!).
In the first game, you would pet your puppy directly on the touch screen, and I was initially concerned that confining the animals to the 3D screen would cause a disconnect. But very quickly, I found myself getting used to rubbing the stylus on the silhouette on the touch screen while watching the disembodied hand pet my puppy on the top screen. You can also choose from different house interiors (I just unlocked a Mario-themed space that I'm going to save for), and you can buy furniture that your pets can interact with (couches, doggie beds, fishtanks, etc.), but you can only place four items, one in each corner of the room, so your decorating will be extremely limited.
Another place where they made some tweaks is when you take your puppy for a walk. Instead of mapping out a route, the areas through which you travel are randomly selected by the game. Although while walking through downtown, say, you might see a sign for a road to the beach and can select whether or not to turn there. So you're not completely without options. And this is where you can find parks to practice disc throwing or the gym to run lure course drills (obedience training is done in your home). You hold the leash on the touch screen and the walking happens in full 3D, as you walk towards the horizon. In an odd twist, your puppy is not supposed to pee on the mailboxes and fire hydrants, just on the small patches of grass that are oddly provided along the roads. Obviously, you're supposed to keep your puppy from playing in or eating garbage and puddles, but why can't they run after butterflies or birds? Why is that wrong? None of this is explained in the instructions, by the way. I learned about the mailbox/fire hydrant thing from in-game conversations with Miis walking their own dogs, and the rest from an online message board. Instructions have never been Nintendogs' strong suit.
Various Miis will cross your path with their dogs, and your pet will either befriend the other animal or react badly. Unfortunately, I recall the interactions in the original Nintendogs being much more realistic, with lots of sniffing and barking and jumping around, and you had to hold them back on the leash if it looked like they were getting too aggressive. In Nintendogs + Cats, they just jump a couple of times, maybe sniff, and then you're told whether or not they made friends. I miss the old way. Also, it would've been fun if the game used the Miis that you saved in your Mii Maker. Although you do encounter Mii Plaza Miis if you encounter them using Street Pass.
Instead of having to directly communicate with another Nintendogs user, Nintendogs + Cats takes advantage of the 3DS Street Pass feature to do the same thing with less effort. If you Street Pass someone with Nintendogs data in their 3DS memory, you exchange information, including a special message and present. You will also encounter this Mii and their puppy the next time you go for a walk. It's a much easier way to unlock new content, including the other puppy breeds, than in the first game. Unfortunately, there's no actual multiplayer that would allow you and a friend with the game to watch your puppies play together at the same time.
Obviously, you're meant to play with your pets frequently and make sure to feed them and give them baths when necessary, which is where the replayability comes from with Nintendogs + Cats. Because once you beat all the competitions and unlock whatever it is you want to unlock, there isn't much else to do except play with your virtual animals. But for fans of the original Nintendogs, this sequel should still be a lot of fun. I remember playing with the first game for a really long time after finishing the competitions, just to goof around with my puppies. We'll see how long Nintendogs + Cats lasts, but it's already the most played game in my 3DS according to my Activity Log! (Oh, and also forgot to mention that you can take 3D pictures of your pets at nearly any point in the game with an in-game camera, which is how I illustrated this review!)
The reviewer played a copy of Nintendogs + Cats purchased for himself and brought his original Nintendog pug, Wilbur, into 3D. Wilbur completed the Nintendog Cup in the disc competition, and is doing well in the lure competition, but still needs some work with the obedience trials! Also, a little orange kitten named Streaky was added to the family, and they seem to get along well enough. All of this took about 13 hours according to the Nintendo 3DS Activity Log.