Dogs. You know the fellas: wet noses, waggy tails, supposed to enjoy fetching sticks, chasing cats and barking at stuff. Like the remote control and microwave dinners, these noble creatures are man's best friend. Trouble is, they also have a tendency to drool, chew your trainers and smell terrible when damp. How nice it would be if you could cross a real dog with one of those Tamagotchi toys, so you can play with it when you're bored, but then switch off when the footie starts...
But hold on a moment… What's that Lassie? There is something like that? It's called Nintendogs, it's already taken Japan and America by storm and it's coming out in the UK very soon? Well, goodness me!
So what's all the fuss about? Well, to quote Nintendo, Nintendogs allows you to "put a puppy inside a Nintendo DS". If that sounds cruel, well, you're probably taking the statement too literally.
The basic concept of Nintendogs is to pick a pooch from the available litter - with each game you get a selection of dog types to choose from. With the Chihuahua & Friends set reviewed, once the game is been unlocked, you have the choice of the chihuahua, beagle, shih tzu, king charles spaniel or labrador retriever but only three of these at the beginnning.
You then take your chosen pet home and start to train it. To do this, you employ a mixture of methods, including the touchscreen and stylus - which you use to control the onscreen hand to pet and stroke your doggy pal - and the DS' built-in microphone for shouting at it. It's absorbing stuff; you give your nintendog a name, play with it, teach it not to wee on the carpet - that sort of thing. And the genius is in the detail: fuss over your petulant pooch too much and it will get fed up with your attention. Ignore it and it will sulk and whine like a tiny lawnmover.
However at this point, it's only fair we warn you, after some time spent being nice and tickling his tum and patting his head, you'll probably want to see what happens if you're nasty. We can't condone such behaviour of course, but in the interests of research we can tell you if you poke your mutt in the butt with the stylus, he'll really start to whine (wouldn't you too?). It's not nice, but sometimes it's more satisfying than giving the dog another bone.
But once you've got that out of your system and have made friends again, your pet should have enough skills points for you to move on the real meat of the game. This is all about teaching it tricks and competing in dog shows for prizes. Do well and you'll get new items like better toys. You can kit out your dog with a pretty bow or ten-gallon hat, or even, um, a new apartment. Turn your pup into the top dog and you might even unlock an extra dog or two.
So, how do you catch 'em all? Well, there are eighteen dogs spread over three game types. They're mostly yappy dogs (Andrex puppy, miniature schnauzer, rat-like-poodle, yorkshire terrier, etc) with little in the way of Baskerville-esque hell-hounds or those funny mongrels with one white ear that sniff other dog's bums in the park.
18 dogs, three carts? Yup, as you've probably already guessed, this means you can't get all the dogs by just buying one cart. To do that, you'll need to either purchase the three variants (Labrador Retriever & Friends; Chihuahua & Friends and Miniature Daschund & Friends) or find someone who has one of the other sets, and trade with them wirelessly.
The idea of twinning multiple releases with the option to trade is a familiar one for Nintendo, which employs the same tactic with its Pokémon Game Boy releases. Some will say it's clever; others that it's breathtakingly cynical, but whatever your personal viewpoint, there's no denying the success of the formula. And combined with an extremely fun and enjoyable game, it's easy to see why Nintendogs has been keeping shops around the world so busy. It's cute, clever and extremely more-ish, even if you're not that keen on the real four-legged version. Good Nintendog.Nintendogs is on sale now.