Just when you thought the storm of unbearably cute puppies had fully passed, Nintendogs comes romping back to the fore in Dalmatian and Friends. This is the same game that was released last year, only this time around you'll have the option to start out with what was in previous versions an unlockable breed only: the Dalmatian. If you haven't yet experienced Nintendo's portable puppy phenomenon, this is as fine an introduction as any, and you'll still end up with a great virtual companion at your beck and call.
Behold the awesome power of your adorable new puppy overlords.
When you start the game, you'll immediately be whisked to the Nintendog Kennel to choose a companion from among six different breeds of scampering cuteness. The available starter breeds in this particular version are the Dalmatian, Yorkshire Terrier, Beagle, Golden Retriever, Boxer, and German Shepherd Dog, and you're still able to eventually unlock all breeds on one game. Each individual dog has its own personality, from shy to daring, from willing students to determined truants. Every time you bring up a particular breed listing, the puppies you can choose from will shuffle to a random selection of colors and personalities, so you can hand-pick the type of pooch you want. Pay the adoption fee, and then it's home with you to bond with your new cold-nosed friend.
The bonding comes easily with Nintendogs, due in large part to the high levels of care and detail that went into creating these digital canines. It's not just that the puppies have been given the accurate appearance of their given breeds--though the representation is quite authentic, down to the different coat and color patterns. It's that a great host of doggy mannerisms have all been captured just about perfectly. Every enthusiastic gallop after a tennis ball is just right, the way their eyes close in satisfaction and their tail blurs into motion when they're patted, the way they sometimes flop over each other for a sudden nap, and each tongue-lolling, panting stare filled with happy adulation is pure puppy. So it's easy for you to become rapidly attached to your new virtual pals, and it's hard for you to resist the occasional sad-eyed face and plaintive whine of a Nintendog begging for attention.
Once you get your dog home, you'll be able to name it using the game's voice-recognition software, repeating it a few times until your pooch "learns" his or her name. After an initial adjustment period in which you'll shower your new puppy with attention, you can begin training it. As a puppy performs an action it can learn as a trick, a lightbulb icon appears in the corner of the screen. Quickly tapping this icon lets you record a command to associate with that action--for example, linking the word "sit" to when the dog sits down. Then it's a matter of associating that same word with the same action multiple times, until your puppy learns the trick. A successful training session results in another lightbulb above Rover's head and a happy yip; if your dog is confused, red question marks appear over his head to let you know you need to speak a bit more clearly next time. Blue question marks appear if you're trying to teach a command that sounds like something the puppy already knows, so you don't risk overlapping your tricks.
Some dogs learn faster than others, but they can all be coaxed into obedience.
Once you've taught your puppy a number of commands (the amount of time this takes depends on whether or not you picked one of those daring, headstrong dogs, which seemed like a good idea when you bought it) and raised your trainer level a bit, you can begin preparing your dog for the various contests you can compete in. There are three different types: obedience, which rates your dog on how well it follows verbal commands; disc, which lets you show off your dog's Frisbee-catching prowess; and agility, which is a hectic romp through an obstacle course. How well your puppy does depends on how much you've been practicing a given activity and how strong your bond is. Placing in the top three earns you a sparkling trophy, prize money, and a boost to the next level of competition. If you lose, you're knocked down a level, so you'll have to move your way back to the top.
It's not all about trophies, though--a lot of the most rewarding interaction between you and your puppy happens in the course of your many more-mundane activities. You'll interact with your puppy a lot with your stylus, using it to pat the dog and position it for tricks, as well as to throw toys for pooch to play with. Your puppy will alert you any time you tap the stylus on the touch screen and come to you if you continue to tap, though you can also call your puppy's name and get it to trot right over. The dogs are eager to interact with you and will either follow the stylus with their eyes, jump to maneuver their heads underneath it, or lick your presented hand happily. If you toss them toys, they'll also routinely bring them back to you, sitting their front paws on the touch screen and waiting patiently for you to play.