The 3DS owes its life to Nintendogs. Don't laugh. Rewind to early 2005: DS was not the behemoth it is today. Nintendo loyalists loved it; the public shrugged.
To sell a touch-screen interface Ninty needed something people wanted to touch. Enter dogs. Enter 135 million DS sales. Puppies laid the foundations of modern Nintendo.
So it's no surprise to see man's best friend ingratiating 3DS with Joe Public on launch day. Nintendogs + Cats is largely the same game we awww-ed at in 2005.
You pick a puppy from a dubious ranch (don't trust anyone who can produce a near infinite variety of dogs at the push of a button) and begin life in the kind of airy home low-paid game critics can only dream of.
In 3D, the expanse of space is particularly galling. Here the dog is forever frozen in puppyhood; cared for by a mysterious disembodied hand (er, that's you).
SNIFF IT AND SEE
Dogs, as a real world 'concept', haven't come on much since 2005. So neither has Nintendogs. There are basic feeding, watering and cleaning needs. Tricks are coaxed out with strategic treat-waving, then branded onto the dog's memory with a vocal command.
Taking walks lets your pooch sniff around other dogs' guts, as well as emptying its own. 3D dog poos look like fresh buns. Gullible sprogs will need reminding of the harsh reality.
The seasoned trainer might be a little disappointed at how cut and paste it is. Bar a new sprinting competition (joining the returning frisbee and obedience tests) and dog-walking routes there's little new here.
If anything, fat has been trimmed, removing the trainer points and adopting laxer contest rules. You're no longer sent back a rank for failing to place, for example. We're left with a game that refuses to judge you at all.
What's lost feature-wise is made up for in realism. Even now Nintendogs remains a spookily accurate mutt mimic. 3DS softens polygonal edges, fuzzes the fur and cooks up dopey eyes that make inexplicable kissy sounds spill from your lips.
3D plays a big part, adding deep texture to furrier breeds and emphasising the animals as 3D forms. Calling a pup and seeing it look over its shoulder at you is a moment of minor 3D magic.
Nintendogs is about watching dogs do stuff. If it's the same stuff as before, but done better, does it matter? Then there's the cats. Relegated to a suffix and rightly so.
Beyond pampering they're left to their own devices. No tricks, no contests, no walks. Nintendo promised nothing more, but it's a tad flimsy. What they do bring is a comedy dynamic. Cats are a rogue element.
They hiss, they lord it up on high shelves and refuse to play with the dog... until the second the dog doesn't want to play any more. That's some premium Abu Ghraib-grade mind games, right there.
Throw in a comedy hat and we're cooking with gas (or should that be nitrous oxide?). Our favourite in-game animal is not our own but a cat called Precious who lives in the cat café.
Every day brings fresh hysterics at her latest fashion faux pas. One day it might be a trucker's cap, the next a pair of aviators. Hoots are magnified by her being horribly illtempered. Funny stuff. But, alas, a daily trip to the cat café is making us bankrupt.
Beyond the cooing, tickling and chuckling, the meat of the game is the slow accumulation of stuff. Money is tight - especially if you buy a cat early (which you should) - and it makes every new hat or toy a minor victory.
The promise of SpotPass DLC and the ability to exchange gifts (and breeds) via StreetPass feeds neatly into Nintendogs' material world. And using pedometer mode to dig up treats on a lunchtime wander is goofy fun. Will this convert the original's detractors? Nah.
Simply put, it's a better looking, better functioning version of the original (voice recognition is noticeably improved). It's forgiving and accessible, almost to a fault, but rewards investment with those idiosyncratic moments that Nintendo do so well.
And it makes nice use of the hardware. Hell, Satoru Iwata's 3DS mantra - 'Carry Around, Affect Each Other and Something New Every Day' - could be Nintendogs + Cats' motto.
Come 25 March, there are flashier, fresher experiences on 3DS. But remember: a Nintendog is for life, not just for launch day.
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Glorified Tamagotchi? Perhaps. But when did a Tamagotchi last bring you your pipe and slippers? Don't underestimate this game's animal magic.
- Looks great in 3D
- Dogs are as life-like as ever
- Some memorably, quirky moments
- Audio is almost entirely 'bark, bark, bark'
- Same gameplay, no real driving goals
- Scaled back slightly