Me and My Dogs: Friends Forever is a curious title: it's unashamed of its Nintendogs roots, but rather than simply following the leader of the pack it earnestly tries to make its own mark. It's a virtual pet sim, focused on raising a small pack of puppies and training them for various competitions.
The game is set in a small town where the player has their own humble abode and has decided on adopting a canine friend. There's three breeds of dog to choose from: Beagle, ChowChow and Labrador. Each dog comes with a note describing its personality, age and gender. After picking a puppy you register your ownership with a photo of yourself and use the microphone to call the puppy. The game primarily uses the stylus to select dogs and objects within the game, though the d-pad can also be used to control the hand cursor in the game. There's a notepad in the bottom-right with a checklist of things to do during the day and stats on each puppy; and an arrow icon in the bottom-left for toys and trick practice, both which are present throughout the game.
The game uses its cute 2D style to endear you to your new puppy: the sprite-based graphics generally ooze cute (in a good way) and the puppies are very well-animated. The first time you see your puppy enter your house it looks and acts nervous, topped off with an adorable thought bubble emoticon that gets across the emotion displayed incredibly well. Even when they're being naughty these dogs look adorable! The icons are also used to express the puppy's needs and a medal icon is used for obedience events when the puppy should be praised or disciplined for actions such as acting aggressive against another dog or when they patiently wait to eat. The emoticon system does a good job of overcoming the limitations of the small sprites and as a result the dogs' personalities really show.
The dogs' breed and the way you treat them will affect the way they act. They start out with their own quirks and each dog has a good area and bad area to begin with. For example, the Beagle was very good at being social but tended to go toilet anywhere but the newspaper; whereas the ChowChow was very good at going to the toilet and highly loyal but a bit antisocial towards other dogs. These traits become more apparent as more dogs are added to the household (you can have up to three).
There are 3D models of the puppies that show up in small cutscenes (particularly when eating or drinking); which are pretty decent considering this is a downloadable game. The 3D models also fill the screen when you pet a puppy, allowing the player to scratch and pet using the stylus. The washing minigame also uses the 3D model and is an awful lot like the washing minigame in Nintendogs where you lather, rinse and scrub your puppy squeaky-clean. The cutscenes can sometimes get in the way, though they can be skipped or turned off if desired.
In addition to the house you can take your dogs to the beach and park for fun and training. The park in particular uses the "Playground" as a training area for stadium competitions and a kid there can teach your dogs tricks for the obedience competition. Both the tricks and playground require the use simple directional swipes of the stylus to perform various actions.
This is an improvement over Nintendogs in that your dogs have more than one main environment to play in so it doesn't feel so cramped; there's even a backyard in the house complete with hose for water-sprinkling fun. The light, jovial music isn't too imposing and matches the environments quite well. The puppies bark and make sounds when petted and can be punished or rewarded for good or bad actions to increase obedience points. There's a small selection of toys (ball, frisbee, tug-of-war rope) which the dogs can play with that also raises their speed and agility. The puppies can then be entered into competitions at the stadium which include challenges such as obstacle races, sledding, tug-of-war and trick competitions (these are extended versions of the playground games and tricks). Experienced players won't find these minigames very challenging but they make for welcome distractions.
The game in general works well, but its flaws become a bit more apparent once you get your third puppy. There's only one pair of bowls for food and water in the house -- which works fine for one or two puppies, but once you have three it gets a little chaotic! While the game does try to make tracking each puppy easier by providing a small viewer for each one in the top screen (use the L-trigger for switching between them), if one does something naughty when you're not looking it's difficult to discipline or praise them in time (punishing a dog after the obedience icon is gone only confuses them and lowers their "heart" meter) and occasionally when near objects it's hard to select a puppy as it may default to a nearby object instead. It would have been nice to have a few more toys to buy during the course of the game, and there's nothing like the "Bark Mode" in Nintendogs, so you can't take your dog for a walk and meet other owners. These aren't huge issues, but because the game is pretty enjoyable otherwise these faults stand out.
Me and My Dogs is an enjoyable game and tries its best to live up to the standards set by Nintendogs and generally succeeds. It packs in a lot of charm and cuteness and the minigames are a lot of fun. It's only when it tries to be too much like its inspiration that it lets itself down a little. Limitations in the number of unlockables and toys means it also falls a bit short on length, but the training and competitions take a good while so there's a sizable amount of game there. If you like virtual pet games this is well worth a shot.