For all of those gamers out there who are looking for a shallow, average dog racing simulator, Derby Dogs is the WiiWare game for you. Stripped down to the bare minimum, this game will allow you to train your dog to be the top racer, but that’s about all that’s offered here. Disguising itself as a pet simulator, Derby Dogs is really just a dog racing game mostly based around level-grinding until it’s really just not fun anymore.
Derby Dogs is a pretty simple game to master because there isn’t actually that much to do in it. The first thing you do once you create your save file is choose a dog that you would like to rent and train. You are given three choices, some of which are male and some female, each of varying breeds with different statistics. Whichever you choose is then sent to your doghouse, which effectively works as a menu screen from which you can check stats, go to the online leaderboards, or choose to race, train, or pet your dog. Petting your dog increases its spirit, allowing it to participate in the races and training activities. This is about the only interaction that you can actually have with your dog, which is pretty disappointing for anyone who was hoping for a similar experience to that of Nintendogs or other pet simulation games.
There are five different training exercises to choose from: disc, jump rope, rabbit chase, chase, and walk. Disc increases your dog’s speed and stamina, jump rope increases physical and jump attributes, rabbit chase increases its acceleration and turn, chase helps your dog get used to running races on different textured grounds such as grass, dirt, and sand, and walk helps your dog rest and increases his friendliness towards you. After an exercise is over, you will get to feed your dog from a selection of three ever-changing food options. Depending on what you choose to feed it, it might receive an additional bonus increase in stats. The higher your dog’s stats, the better it will perform in races and the more energy it will have in its power bar, allowing it to perform better in the training exercises and in the races. The strange thing about the training exercises is that they are not mini-games that you play with your dog. Rather than having you actually do something to increase your dog’s stats, you simply choose the exercise and the difficulty, then watch a short cinematic of your dog performing said activity. It makes training your dog a bit tedious.
The real heart of Derby Dogs lies in the races. These are divided by ranking, and the higher the rank, the higher the stakes for a win. Placing in first through third will earn you prize money, and if a race is ranked higher, then the prize money is greater. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the game to actually spend this prize money on, so the only reason it exists is to put your name on the online leaderboards. Winning a race will also cause your dog to be ranked higher, and will allow it to run in higher ranked matches. Races pit your dog against eight other dogs that are controlled either by the game’s AI or by other players, depending on whether or not you choose to race online. This gives you the option to race against your friends using your console’s Wii code, or against random players across the globe.
In the actual races, your dog will run along the track by himself without your directional control. By pressing the A button you can shout to your dog causing it to run faster, and you can press B in order to tell it to jump. Running and jumping are crucial to winning races, but they can only be used as long as your dog still has the energy left in its power bar. This is a somewhat fun feature, but it's too shallow to sustain the entertainment for long.
Unfortunately, after your dog participates in forty activities, whether they are training exercises or races, it is forced to retire. All of the time you spend training your dog is essentially thrown away. The one thing that a retired dog can do, however, is be used to breed a new dog. Breeding a dog combines the attributes of both a male and female dog that you’ve trained and retired, and creates an entirely new puppy for you to work with.
Graphically, this is not the best looking WiiWare game that has been released. While it’s not terrible looking, it definitely could have used some more time spent on the visuals. The audio, like the visuals, also fails to impress. The soundtrack consists of very few, very repetitive, off-putting songs. All around, this game looks and sounds a generation or two too old.
Derby Dogs is one of the few WiiWare games that showcase the Pay to Play feature. The only things that you can buy, though, are additional dog houses to keep more dogs, priced at 100 Nintendo Points each. Unless you’re absolutely obsessed with this game and insist on being the Derby Dog master, buying extra doghouses is absolutely pointless waste of money.
Derby Dogs is one of those games that has a lot of potential but falls short of actually harnessing it. Maybe if the training activities were actually mini-games, or if there was more to do in the way of interacting with your dog, then this game would be a more enticing package. Those who obsess over level-grinding may find a bit of fun in this, however, but this is still too shallow of a feature here to flesh out the experience much. Yes, it’s cool that there are online leader boards and that you can race with your friends over Nintendo Wi-Fi, but that’s about all there is to do here and it's too thin to make it very worthwhile. All of the elements that would make Derby Dogs worth revisiting are curiously missing, and the fun just doesn’t last long enough.