Winning competitions earns you money for food, accessories, and most importantly, new puppies!
Taking your dog on walks around town is a good way to stretch their legs and work those paws, and your puppy will also discover various accessories lying around (from collars, to toys, to Mario hats, to strange items for your house), play with other neighborhood dogs, and try its darndest to get that burrito out of the trash. As you continue to go on walks, your dog's stamina will improve to the point where you can roam all over town, visiting parks and gymnasiums that let you practice disc-tossing and the agility course, as well as discount shops that sell all-new items for you and your pampered pooch. Besides walks, necessary maintenance includes feeding and watering your dog when it's hungry or thirsty and bathing your dog when it gets dirty. An interface you can access from the menu lets you see your dog's vital information at a glance, in case your prized pooch is in need of a flea-ridding scrub. Pups can go for some time without a certain level of care, but if you completely neglect them, they'll eventually run away--as well they should, from such a heartless master!
The more you play the game, the more items become available for you to purchase, like different foods and toys. Passing certain levels of achievement will, as mentioned previously, unlock even more dog breeds for you to choose from. You can have up to three puppies in your house at any given time that will romp around with each other, and a nearby "dog hotel" can help house anyone you might not be able to care for.
The game does have a few limiting factors, however, as the puppies can't run all day indefinitely. You're restricted to entering three contests a day; you can only take your dog out for a walk every 30 minutes or so; and your dog can only learn so many tricks in one day before its canine brain calls it quits. This isn't something you'll run into unless you try to engage in a marathon of activities, and when you encounter it, it can be a bit off-putting, especially if you've only got one Nintendog to lavish all your considerable affections on. For that reason, this is a game that's really at its best when played in multiple bursts throughout the day or one action-packed extended session a day, as opposed to repeated long sessions. There's still plenty of content to unlock and lots of puppy playing to do, so the restrictions aren't all that onerous, but there will be occasional times when Fido just can't keep up, and you'll need to put the system down and do something else for a while. At least your puppy is always happy to see you.
You can also interact with other Nintendog owners wirelessly, through something called bark mode. Setting bark mode puts your Nintendo DS on the alert for other Nintendog games with the mode activated. When in range, bark mode signals you to the presence of another puppy, and then both puppies can play together on the same screen. You can choose to bring one of your items as a present for your new friends, and you'll automatically exchange trainer information and add the other user to an in-game friends list. It's a nice way to hook up with your friends' puppies, or perhaps even see what dogs might be lurking in a crowded store or street. The one curious thing about the mode is that the two DS systems don't sync--your playing puppies' activities are local to your own handheld. However, considering the presence of two human masters able to call and command both puppies with impunity, it's easy to see why it was designed that way--to prevent unintentional games of pup ping-pong.
Won't you take me home?
The game's visual strength is mainly in the dogs themselves, with their lifelike expressions, mannerisms, and motion. The rest of the game consists of a variety of simple backdrops--your sparsely furnished home, the streets of town, the venues for the different contests--that serve to quietly be a place where the puppies can romp without distracting from the game. The game's gentle, upbeat tunes are a nice complement to the assortment of yips, barks, fearful whines, plaintive begging, playful huffing, squeaking yawns, and other such doggy noises that round out the great sound.
Just about anyone who enjoys the adorable antics, manic activity, and the tender nurturing that is central to raising a happy, healthy puppy should certainly give Nintendogs a look. Its simple interface, appealing subject matter, and its friendliness to multiple short sessions, with plenty of items and animals to unlock, makes it easy to recommend to a wide variety of gamers and nongamers alike.