There once was a time when all that one could expect from a virtual pet was to feed it and play with it when it beeped. We've come a long way and should now expect a lot more, having moved on from imaginary digital creatures to real animals. Certainly a kitten simulator should simulate the behaviour of a kitten. It should be good enough to trick your better half into getting emotionally involved with the little guy, even if you can't actually pet it or hold it. You should feel like your new friend is real, alive and that you’re actually interacting with it.
Is it too much to ask, for example, that when you pet your cat, it can tell the difference between a stroke to its tummy and its eyeball? Wouldn't it be cute to see it stick its little butt up in the air when you pet the spot where its tail meets its back, like a real kitty? Instead, these false felines repeat the same animations every time, no matter what you do differently.
Real cats are so unpredictable; it's a treat to watch them chase their tails, try to get into a space that's too small and follow it all by strutting about seriously, as if they know exactly why they've been acting so ridiculously. Not these kittens. It's forgivable that in their initial, newborn stage they'd rather just sit around and squint, but when they grow up into toddlers, all they do is pace, sit down, get back up and pace some more. Sometimes, during a game, they'll get up on their hind legs and fall down, and when you pet them they'll roll over, but that's as far as it goes.
Okay, but what about playing with them? A cat can be so easily entertained by a toy mouse, a hand under a sheet, a laser pointer, or almost anything smaller than itself. You won't see any of these here, however. Instead, you'll play either a bizarre game of peek-a-boo that entails holding a giant blue button down until a timer runs out or toss balloons at the kitty for it to swat back. Granted, the second could conceivably entertain a real cat, but it's quite hard to predict where the balloon will land once you hit it. That the goal is to maintain a long volley is interesting, but each round will end too quickly for this to make much of an impact. These are the only two games that you're able to play with your kitty.
The controls in the latter feature are somewhat awkward, and they're even more of a problem in the first stage of feeding the cat. Here, you mix two types of food together, but the game continually acts as if you've taken the stylus from the screen. The next step – tipping the kitty's bottle so that it can drink – actually does feel natural and interesting, providing a rare breath of fresh air in this mostly lacklustre experience. Otherwise, the stylus-based controls are unproblematic and easy to learn.
Chalk it up to creating a simple game for a young audience, but one area is disconcertingly complicated, at least in comparison to the rest. When you mix the food, an odd task in itself, you'll pick different treats that seem to have an effect on your kitty's playing abilities. Each type comes with symbols that correspond to peek-a-boo and the balloon game, numbers and up or down arrows. It seems that your goal is to make the most mathematically beneficial formula, but if it makes a difference in the end, we couldn't tell. It's needlessly complex and doesn't make sense.
That's about all that you can do with your pet. When it gets tired it goes to sleep on its own, and while it tells you when it needs to go to the bathroom, it takes care of this itself as well. These needs are represented by thought bubbles above their heads, a simple enough system that should please its target audience. You can buy more kittens, but they all act the same no matter the breed. You purchase these as well as food and toys (read: different types of balloons) with the abundance of points that you earn by playing games or petting the cat when it needs love.
You'll also gain skillz points when you do the former, which accumulate in a progress meter that ends in a chequered flag. At about the midpoint, your newborn will become a more active kitten, but what happens at the end? Well, let's just posit a scenario in which in spite of everything, you or your child has become emotionally attached to the animal. Why else raise a kitty but to give it the love that it needs? Petz Kittens takes a more capitalistic and blunt approach to feline nurturing, however, because when the progress bar is full, your kitten becomes a full-grown cat and you must sell it back to the pet store. The game takes all the stars that you've accumulated along the way as rewards for doing a good job with Kitty and cashes them in for more points, like some sick pawn shop that runs on shattered dreams. You can't even check up on your pal afterwards. It's gone. You might move on to another kitten, but your heart won't. It's been broken before.
Presentation-wise, Petz Kittens includes a limited repertoire of very adorable animations that you will see repeatedly. The cats cutely mewl or coo in a very un-catlike way. They don't even pur, they just repeat the same few sounds. The rest of the framework is fun and should definitely please the youngsters. The camera is fixed, however, so you'll just have to follow the cat as it walks about or stare at its squinty newborn face.
Either a virtual pet feels like a real animal or an unimaginative re-packaging of a few mediocre mini-games, and while these cats are cute, Petz Kittens definitely fits the latter description. While the very young may be entertained by this for awhile, they'll soon grow tired of going through the same motions repeatedly. Call it simplicity, but this feels more like a cheaply packaged, unimaginative waste of 800 Points than something boiled down to its essence. On top of that, we'd hate to be the parents of a child who's forced to sell his or her kitty just because they did a good job of nurturing it into adulthood.