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There are 6 versions of the game, each game with several different breeds of dog, and exclusive items:
- Nintendogs: Labrador and Friends (Released in North America and Europe only)
- Nintendogs: Dachshund and Friends
- Nintendogs: Shiba and Friends (Released in Japan only)
- Nintendogs: Chihuahua and Friends
- Nintendogs: Dalmatian and Friends
- Nintendogs: Best Friends Version (Released in North America only)
The Labrador and Shiba versions are essentially the same set of dogs, only with a different dog on the cover. This was done because while Shiba are popular in Japan, they are not as popular elsewhere as Labs are.
The most unique aspect of Nintendogs is the ability to teach your dogs tricks in a way that very accurately resembles real life. Just like in real life, if you want to teach your dog a trick, you gently guide your dog into the position (for shake, grab his paw, for roll-over, gently push his belly while he's lying down, for sit, rub downwards on his head) and then tell him the name of the command, then reward him for doing it. Repeat this over and over and he'll eventually learn the trick.
There are a lot of tricks, only a handful of them are mentioned in-game, and the rest must be figured out on your own. There are 14 'common' tricks, that you can teach your dog just by observing him play, and then there are even more hidden tricks, that are much more complex to pull off. Rumors suggest that you can even teach your dog to do backflips.
There are no preset names to tricks. Meaning you can call your trick whatever you want, for each individual dog. You 'roll over' for your Shiba Inu may be 'roll over', but for your Toy Poodle you could train it so that when you yell 'DIE!!!' it falls on its back and sticks it's feet in the air.
If you have taught your dog all 'known' tricks, try telling your dog to do one trick, then another. These combinations are slightly harder for your dog, but none of the other dogs will know them! Try 'TurnAround'. Tell your dog to 'beg' then 'spin' and it will hopefully turn around whilst in beg.
There are three contests in the game, which you can enter your dog in to earn money. They are:
- Disc Competition - Use the stylus to throw the flying disc (...frisbee). You can throw the disc as far as you want, but you have to know how far your dog can catch it, because if he misses you won't get any points. Points are based on distance, with bonus points awarded to jumping catches. You can practice at home, but the area is too small to practice throwing really long distance. You'll have to walk your dog to the park for that.
- Agility Trial - Use the stylus to guide your dog through an obstacle course in the order indicated on the top screen. Practice by taking your dog for a walk to the gym.
- Obedience Trial - Show that your dog can perform and hold certain tricks. Grooming is part of the score. After showing your dog can perform a specific set of tricks, you can rack up more points by showing off in a free style mode.
You can set your system to 'Bark Mode', where your dog (and an item, should you choose to give him or her one) will walk around 'barking' for other dogs. When you put the game in 'Bark Mode', the DS wirelessly searches for other dogs in Bark Mode. If it finds one, your dog will bark to alert you (even if the DS is closed, in sleep mode.) Both dogs will play together in a common field, and the trainers will receive each other's items, and hear what's been recorded on each other's White Record. The White Record is an item that lets you record up to 10 seconds of audio to play back whenever you like, and to send to other people you meet in Bark Mode.
Much like Animal Crossing, Nintendogs is set in a persistent world. Meaning if you don't play it all day, your dog will be hungry next time you turn it on. The game follows the DS's internal clock, and adjusts night and day accordingly. Your dog will sleep at night, and be more energetic in the day. Your dog requires at least 30 minutes of rest between walks, and can only enter 3 competitions a day. There's also a limit on how many times you can walk your dog or teach them new tricks before they get tired of it.
When you first get a dog, you can only teach it 2 tricks a day, soon it can do 3 and after a little while, it can do 4.
All dogs can be unlocked from any version (including 2 hidden dogs) but each version starts with its own set of six dogs to choose from.
Dachshund & Friends
Chihuahua & Friends
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Yorkshire Terrier
- German Shepherd Dog
- Shetland Sheepdog
Labrador/Shiba & Friends
Dalmatian & Friends
Best Friends Version
- German Shepherd Dog
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Miniature Dachshund
- Yorkshire Terrier
Criticism for Nintendogs ranges from "They're not enough like real puppies!" to "They're too much like real puppies!" but almost always translates to "I'm an idiot." Despite near-perfect reviews across the board, gamers still like to call it a kiddy game or find other inane reasons to make themselves not like it. This tends to happen a lot with games that are both 'cutesy' and open ended, such as Animal Crossing. These types of games are, ironically, often enjoyed by older more mature gamers, whereas younger teenage gamers tend to call them 'kiddy'. As some think this, others love the game, young or old because of the 'real factor' of the dogs.
The following is a list of the most frequently used arguments against Nintendogs, by people who have never played Nintendogs:
- It's just like Tamagotchi - A tamagotchi is a small virtual pet, with 'gameplay' that relies on repetition (feeding it) to keep your pet alive. There is no progression or challenges or anything, other than the fear of letting your pet die. Nintendogs is not a Tamagotchi. For one, your pet can't die. The game does not require repeated feeding and watering and cleaning of your dog to keep it alive. While you can do all of the above, they are within a realistic time line (once or twice a day) and the only consequence for not performing these actions, is your dog will become unhappy. The accusation that it's a Tamagotchi, is based solely on the fact that it simulates a pet, whereas other more tedious games are never compared to Tamagotchi. The relationship to Tamagotchi is superficial at best.
- It's realistic, anything you can do with Nintendogs I can do with my real dog! - And anything I can do in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, I can do with my skateboard. And anything I can do in Madden NFL 06 I can do with a football. Nintendogs is a stylized simulation that curves realistic representation of real-world actions into a gameplay format. Very few sims are as rigid and difficult as real life. The Nintendogs learn and perform tricks much faster and easier than a dog in real life would. How many people do you know who've trained their dogs to backflip in 10 minutes?
- Reviewers haven't had enough time to get bored with the game, it has no lasting long-term appeal! - This argument could be applied to just about any game in existence, and it would still be stupid. Reviewers don't review games straight out of the box, they, at the very least, play them for the 'average' amount of play time. What makes this argument more ridiculous, is that Nintendogs is a open ended game designed to be played in short spurts for an indefinite amount of time (like Animal Crossing, or Harvest Moon) and has no 'ending'. It would take at least a week of constant training to get any one dog to a state where there's no new challenges to be done with that dog. But the players can have more than one dog, and each one of the 20 breeds has is unique gameplay style. And, much like Animal Crossing, there is an almost endless supply of cosmetic vanity items to be discovered.
- Puppies are a fad! - You're stupid.
The game is, however, not perfect.
- Voice recognition problems - The problem doesn't seem to be with the voice recognition technology itself, but with the ambiguity as to what the problem is when it doesn't work. When you call your dog's name, they seem to come every time, which is a sign that the voice recognition system works pretty well. However, when you try to get your dog a trick, they'll sometimes just stare at you blankly. Other times they'll do a trick, but the wrong one. Is it because you're not saying it clearly? Is it because there's too much background noise? Is it because there was too much background noise when you taught the trick, and now there isn't? Is it because it sounds too much like another trick? Or is it just because you're dog's not being obedient? There are many factors and, at times, it's hard to tell which one the problem is. Though this can be frustrating, there are some ways around it:
- Make sure there's no background noise when you teach a command.
- Don't make commands too complex (2 syllables at most.)
- Try to be away from background noise when performing the right trick is absolutely necessary (like at an obedience trial.)
- Pet your dog when it does the right trick, but not if it does the wrong one.
- Don't lean in towards the microphone, it works best when you're at least six inches away.
- Don't talk to the microphone, talk to the screen; Microphones work better when you speak into them at an angle.
- Limited Bark Mode - One of the biggest complaints is that 'Bark Mode' only works when both players are in Bark Mode, and that you can't actually play the game while in Bark Mode, so even if someone else had Nintendogs nearby, it's not very likely that the systems would communicate. This is unfortunate, as it would be great if Bark Mode worked like the PictoChat Search feature, where it could be left on while playing the game. However, the manual says that using Bark Mode consumes more power than just PictoChat Search, so leaving it on for a long time probably wouldn't be a good idea. It still sucks though.