Nintendogs may turn off many gamers but you have to admit that Miyamoto's pet simulator is an impressive creation. Not only has it attracted many new gamers to the DS but it looks great, has bags of charm and even Nintendo fans enjoyed finding the Mario hat. Yet, most importantly, it does something that many animal games have failed to do since - it really makes you care for your virtual pet. With over 60 different wild beasts to care for, SimAnimals should be perfect for animal lovers but you'll really struggle to enjoy the company of these creatures.
Of course, looks aren't everything in the real world - if they were no one would own a bulldog - but it would be easier to have a bit more compassion for your creatures if SimAnimals wasn't so ugly. You begin by controlling a hand high above the forest and if you thought the world looked bad from a bird's-eye view, just wait until you swoop down to ground level. The animals don't look particularly cute and the forest environment looks awful. Everything has a slightly muddy hue and the trees are so blocky that it looks as though it could have been made for the N64. You can't help but feel that a cartoony art style would have been a better idea than this poor attempt at realism.
Talk To The Hand
If would also help if it wasn't so simple to earn the animal's affection. You begin in an area of the forest populated by a few animals and zooming in on them with the magnifying glass will tell you their needs. So a deer might want to have babies but before she can be introduced to other animals, you have to earn her trust. It's as simple as picking her up and taking her to a place where she can eat some food before dropping her next to another deer. Then they'll finally start having fun and maybe even breed.
You also have to look after the plants. Some plants and trees won't be happy in their environment so you have to move them to different ground and even water them to create a happy environment. Eventually, once your part of the forest is happy, you'll unlock a brand new area.
It does get more interesting when a beaver turns up on the scene but this also highlights some of the issues with the control system.
First you have to get a stick for him to build a dam with and this means waving your in-game hand over an oak tree for ages. The tree will eventually fall but then you have to rub the hand over the stump to produce one measly stick. It's all very fiddly, repetitive and dull. Still, once you've fed the beaver some chestnuts and given him some sticks, he'll build a dam and a lake will form from the river which will attract ducks to the area. Then the damn beaver wants to have babies. There's no pleasing some people.
There is something slightly worthy and educational about SimAnimals. The fact that there's not much in the way of character detail to help distinguish between, say, your two ducks is probably quite realistic but it also means that SimAnimals lacks charisma. Sure, you'll learn about different plants, trees and animals as you work your way through the forest but it's about as much fun as reading the Collins Gem Wildlife Book and unless you're over 40, that's hardly a recommendation.