When the game was originally released on DS in 2005, nintendogs combined the care-taking required for Tamagochis of the '90s with the mentality that drives sites like Cute Overload to continuously post pictures of baby porcupines. Nintendo's dogs were animals that were engineered largely - if not solely - for their cuteness. They weren’t particularly complex puppies, in fact they never aged or even really changed their behaviour regardless of how much time you put in, but in the bigger picture the premise of the game helped justify the use of the DS touchscreen and stylus in the device's early days. The game originally offered something you actually wanted to interact with, and now that focus on interaction has evolved, or at least tried to, on the 3DS.
The basics are all still there. The microphone gets used for vocal commands (sit, paw), the stylus is used to reward the dog with a belly-scratch, but the 3DS' Augmented Reality functionality also gets a go, and it’s here that we see a glimmer of the handheld's true potential. By pointing the camera at one of the 6 AR cards included with the 3DS, your pet appears on the card where they can play or perform tricks, more or less right on your desk. It's a clear attempt to use stereographics to bring a kind of physicality to your pet, in a similar way to how the DS made interacting with the dogs more palpable with its stylus.
But look beyond the AR cards and things start getting predictable. The series hasn't made any redefining changes to its formula since '05. You have basic grooming, feeding, and walking responsibilities and can teach your dog up to three new tricks per day using the vocal commands. Later you can use the tricks you taught him in obedience competitions and earn money by placing.
And the routine can get dry. Next to obedience classes and the return of the Frisbee-catching competition, the only new material is a race where three puppies compete against one another by chasing squeaky lures pulled away from them with fishing lines. It’s a fun little mini-game that earns you money, but it’s short-lived. Like the other competitions you can only play it twice a day, so combined with the general lack of game content you only have a minimal amount of time to play on a daily basis.
The game is built for quick plays rather than challenges. Previously nintendogs included a Trainer Points system that measured your experience as a dog trainer and let you unlock new breeds and harder tricks the more you accumulated. That’s not included here, leaving a largely challenge-less pet simulator in its wake – something with which long-time fans will probably grow restless.
And then there are the cats – God, the cats. Despite getting a name check in the title, the cats are at best some sort of bizarre comedy foil for the canines. They’ll play with the dog or distract them occasionally, but that's it. You only have access to them through the adoption centre after you've already adopted a puppy, which means before you can adopt a kitten you have to work the competition circuit until you make the 1500 pounds necessary just to purchase one. But unlike the dogs they don't do tricks and can't take part in competitions, and while you can still dress them up they only seem to function as house décor that you feed, just like in real life.
With 27 breeds to potentially adopt, the dogs are still the only real topliner in the game. Mine was a Paris Hiltonian handbag dog, and like some sort of debonair teen heiress I spent most of my time buying multicoloured hats and washing a Chihuahua with a sponge. But beyond being able to pamper your dog there isn’t any legitimate incentive to improve them with obedience skills, because regardless of how many competitions you win or how many tricks it learns there’s no obvious change in the dog that suggests you’ve made him any better. nintendogs + cats for 3DS is a largely unchanged version of the game from 2005 and unfortunately even an entirely new console isn’t quite enough to push the series in a fresher direction.