Nintendogs© Nintendo Life

Nintendo's cute canine sim first came bounding onto Nintendo DS just over 15 years ago in the US, way back in August 2005. In this Soapbox article, Rebecca remembers how the original game took over her life and ponders where the series has wandered off to...

When I was eight years old, all I wanted was a pooch of my own to love and cherish. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t agree I was ready for the task so I was gifted a copy of Nintendogs. She told me I could love and care for some virtual dogs instead. After all, a Nintendog would give me a taste of pet ownership without all the real-life shedding, nail trimming, and vet visits.

Initially, I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be getting a real-life furry friend to call my own, but Nintendogs did sound pretty cool so I slipped it into my trusty DS anyway. In Nintendogs, I found an outlet for all of my pent up pet love, and it wasn’t long before I was completely addicted to the game.

Puppy Love

In the original Nintendogs, you were tasked with purchasing a puppy and both caring for it and training it to become a well-behaved show dog. Every day, your rowdy pup would need a lengthy walk, training to ensure that you could control your fluffy friend, as well as feeding, baths and playtime in between these tasks.

Spot was a virtual companion made from code, but it didn’t matter to me; Spot was a dog and dogs need constant care

You could buy up to three dogs at one time in Nintendogs, but my heart was set on one type of puppy. I purchased a Dalmatian puppy that I named Spot, because that’s how creative I was with names. Caring for Spot became my obsession, and I poured hours into my Nintendo DS playing with my pup, wishing that my digital pooch would spring out of the screen and become a real one. First thing in the morning I would take Spot for a walk, then I would return home to spend hours using my DS microphone to teach my pup tricks and commands. Later, I entered my beloved Spot in competitions and, using the numerous toys I had bought for him, spent the rest of the day playing silly games with him.

Naughtily, raising my virtual puppy became more important to me than my schoolwork, and I even prioritised Spot over my friends and family at times. My desire to raise a pet meant that I valued my Nintendogs game over most other things, even though Spot didn’t technically need the amount of effort I was putting into the game. Spot was a virtual companion made from code, but it didn’t matter to me; Spot was a dog and dogs need constant care.

While I purchased more puppies to experience the other breeds and personality traits Nintendogs had to offer, I always treasured Spot the Dalmatian the most. Little did I know however, caring for Spot was teaching me life lessons I would need when caring for a real dog in later life.

Nintendogs© Rebecca Stow

Every Dog (Owner) Has Their Day

In 2018 I finally got a real-life Dalmatian named Kodi. This was obviously an amazing moment, and I soon realised that all my years playing Nintendogs had prepared me for being a dog owner. Through spending years taking care of Spot, I understood how much puppies liked and needed to play – it actually teaches them skills they will need as they grow older. It didn’t take me long to remember the importance of bathing your dog, or teaching them crucial commands, just like Nintendogs encourages you to do. Your dog needs to learn to obey you so it can be safe around other dogs and people, and behave properly around dangerous places such as roads.

While Nintendogs never claimed to be a roadmap for puppy raising, I certainty kept everything the game had taught me in mind during Kodi’s first few months at his new home. Kodi was obviously harder to look after than Spot, but I genuinely feel like Nintendogs helped me know what to expect.

Man’s Okay-ish Friend

But what about people who might not be able to have pets in the real world? Nintendogs was released in 2005, and we haven’t had a new version since 2011’s Nintendogs + Cats on 3DS. However, to take advantage of the niche Nintendogs had left vacant, Little Friends: Dogs & Cats was released in 2019 on Nintendo Switch.

The main aim of Little Friends: Dogs & Cats is to take care of a pet and build a strong bond with your furry pal. But whilst the game may sound similar to Nintendogs, Little Friends focuses more on fashion, with the game encouraging you to deck out your pooch in cute clothes and coats, rather than focusing on competitions and training. While Nintendogs was praised for the number of activities that the player could undertake, Little Friends struggled to hook gamers, and only offered a handful of gameplay features that grew tiresome after just a few hours. Nintendogs was so successful because it provided such a fleshed out experience, while Little Friends seemed shallow in comparison.

New Tricks

Who could possibly resist?
Who could possibly resist?

So that begs the question, where is Nintendogs for the Nintendo Switch? With the Switch’s improved hardware Nintendogs could be so much more than the constraints of the DS systems allowed it to be in times gone by. Perhaps when docked, Nintendogs Switch would consider you to be at home with your pet, whilst playing in handheld mode would tell the game that you were out for a walk with your pup. Different modes and locations could be available depending on whether your Switch was docked or not, and a high friendship level could lead to even more unlockables and locations too.

Then again, it's unlikely that Nintendo would prevent players using Switch Lites--which cannot be docked to a TV--from playing with their pooch. Still, there's nothing to prevent Pokémon Go-style compatibility with your mobile so you could take your dog on lengthy walks.

One thing’s for sure, simulation games are always big sellers if the developer can get their product right. With lifetime sales of 28.55 million (that puts it above Metroid, Yoshi, and Star Fox) the Nintendogs franchise certainly did get it right, and maybe there are other dog owners out there who learnt the ropes thanks to some digital doggies on the DS.