When was the last time you met someone who distinctly disliked nature’s own best-dressed Antarctic fowl, the penguin? The answer is probably “never”, and Teyon is here to capitalize on that fact with its newest virtual pet product — 101 Penguin Pets 3D. Aimed directly at unsuspecting children and designed to occupy them with simple tasks for hours on end, this has a shortage of creativity and a surplus of repetition — and yet, oddly, it’s kind of okay.
101 Penguin Pets 3D almost makes up for its total lack of imagination with a slightly surprising sheen of quality. After creating your penguin in one of three save slots (not 101 as you might be led to believe), a stiff little penguin with a blank stare will become your constant companion. The squat fellow won’t do much in his whimsical home without your direct orders; in fact, he’s devoid of any personality whatsoever. One may think this defeats the purpose of a virtual life game, and one would be right. That’s why 101 Penguin Pets 3D is actually a thinly veiled mini-game collection in disguise.
Sure, you’ll need to make sure your penguin pal doesn’t starve or go too long without a night’s rest, but these requirements are a cinch to fulfil and all result in a brief recreational activity. It’s quite possible that you’ll already be intimately familiar with these mini-games — feeding time is a carbon copy of Fruit Ninja, for example — but they all function as advertised, occasionally steering into legitimately fun territory. Counting toilet paper sheets while your penguin sees to his off-screen business is even a little bit clever, if simply for its weird premise.
Entertaining the penguin is a more involved affair, including jigsaw puzzles, memory games, and a bobsled race. There’s also a nefarious top-down skiing game that becomes a challenging, hectic test of wits, either standing as the single greatest achievement of 101 Penguin Pets 3D or, like the Fruit Ninja clone, has been lifted from a different title altogether. This hidden delight is overshadowed, unfortunately, by a brain-dead dancing game that hogs all the glory, taking up two menu spaces for tournament and practice modes. Tossing rhythm-based timing out the window for inane pattern repetition, this mini-game is flat-out boring — but it does help to level your penguin up.
Points will accumulate as you spend time with your coat-tailed minion, which in turn raises his progress bar to unlock new activities. A list of quests will boost these stats even more with trials for you to complete, so you’ve always got some idea of what to do next. The most exciting rewards, of course, are the precious gold coins, which can be spent in a quaint shop stocked with trinkets. Most items are merely aesthetic, a scant few affect gameplay, and they all give you something to work towards. And yet, underneath it all, a single penguin continues to wander mindlessly through his frozen abode, doomed to repeat the same tasks over and over again for all of eternity, wondering where his promised one hundred friends have gone.
But hey, at least the place looks nice! Locales exude a vibrant design of over-exaggeration, placing the art style above your run-of-the mill kid’s game and almost entering some sort of messy Warcraftian domain; a standard 3D effect causes the frame rate to hitch up every now and then, but switching it off repairs this issue. The music isn’t half bad either, bopping along its unconcerned way and hitting upon a pleasant tune now and then. The presentation won’t knock your socks off, but it may dislodge them slightly.
Like cotton candy, this sweet-natured treat is ultimately fluff. Kids may eat it up, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them — or particularly enjoyable once something with a little more substance is introduced. There’s no reason to hate 101 Penguin Pets; it does what it sets out to do and is moderately successful at it. But with virtual Nintendog pets and a gaggle of superior mini-game collections on the market, there’s also no reason to play it.