Pet simulators have certainly come a long way since the days of Tamagotchi. Where once we raised an LCD dinosaur on a screen the size of a digital watch, now we're treated to 3D renditions of cute, fluffy puppies and kittens, so realistically rendered you half expect them to leap from the screen and naively urinate on your lap. The trend really reached its peak with the Nintendogs series back on the original DS, with the franchise reaching astounding levels of sales during its lifespan. Naturally, other interpretations followed suit, each wanting a slice of the pet-sim pie; Bigben Interactive's I Love My Dogs is the latest to try its luck.
It's clear to see that I Love My Dogs tries to be as indistinguishable from Nintendogs as possible (just look at the cover) in order to use the success of the Nintendo titles to its own benefit. I Love My Dogs is everything you'd expect and nothing more - you pick a puppy, name it, buy it supplies, take it for walks and so on. The title follows the Nintendogs formula almost to a tee. Make no mistake, comparing it so closely to the Nintendogs series does not mean it shares the same qualities of the original. While I Love My Dogs may draw comparisons to the Nintendo phenomenon, it couldn't feel any more disparate.
Upon starting, entering your name and being given a remarkably generic red-haired / Caucasian avatar (don't worry, you can be a generic male or female) - you can pick your pup. You get a rather generous choice of eight breeds of puppy to adopt right off the bat, from Beagles, Labradors, Huskies and German Shepherds. The ability to choose between these breeds without unlocking is probably the most welcome feature of I Love My Dogs, and the only truly admirable quality. Upon picking a breed you get an option of three slightly alternate coloured puppies to bond with and then pick, giving them their new name and taking them back to your dog-friendly abode.
Besides having free reign to do what you want, when you want with your pup (granted you've unlocked every location that can be visited), you will also receive prompts such as "Fleabag is Thirsty" or "Fleabag is Dirty" (this isn't the AI insulting your animal, it was the name of my Husky). These prompts encourage you to feed your dog, wash them, deflea them (something fleabag required often) or take them for walks through the strangely deserted environments, roamed only by stray ownerless dogs. This also serves as your opportunity to "collect coins" (currency for your supplies, food etc.), with your puppy acting as a living, breathing treasure finder.
Besides looking after your pets you're tasked with regularly cleaning your home (yes, a game where you perform chores), removing hair from the floor and other puppy droppings. While the main tasks of I Love My Dogs are fairly mundane and nondescript, you can enter your pet into a number of competitions that test them in the fields of "Agility", "Fetch" and "Swim", should you stick with the experience long enough to unlock them. Should the humdrum tasks not completely fulfil your needs, two extra dogs can be adopted - providing you the chance to care for three dogs at once, with all the [fun] that brings.
Unlike Nintendogs and its stellar use of the touch controls, everything in I Love My Dogs feels like hard work, and while this difficulty is a subtle indication of what its like to own a dog in real life, we assume this wasn't intentional. The controls in I Love My Dogs can be tedious and unresponsive. From failing to throw a toy during a game of fetch to shaking food out of a can. The whole process often feels like a bit of a struggle, which is odd for an experience that often simply requires a tap or a slide of the stylus. Even walking your pooch can be oddly infuriating, and trying to steer your pet towards a present, only for them to bypass it and lose the chance to get it altogether, can be particularly frustrating.
One of the largest areas that I Love My Dogs fails in is its digital renderings of the dogs themselves. While the pups look acceptable and aren't horrible by any means, the realism of the animals is poor in comparison to Nintendogs (the 3DS version of which is now over four years old) and it's therefore even more difficult to experience that bond with your virtual pet. Puppies occasionally glide across the floor, toys will magically appear in their mouths without them having to stoop down, and when feeding the dogs will clip their feet right through the bowls. This ropiness doesn't warrant dismissing the game entirely, but in an experience so heavily centred around the pets being “believable" and sharing realistic dog-like qualities it's tough to overlook and results in you losing sentimentality with the animals, not gaining it over time as you should.
At a rather costly asking price at launch, there really is no reason to plump for I Love My Dogs over the far superior Nintendogs + Cats. The Bigben Interactive title doesn't add anything remarkable to the already existing formula, and hasn't used the 4 years since Nintendo's release to build upon the experience. The title isn't dreadful, and younger players may find some appeal within. For the average consumer though, I Love My Dogs provides a stripped down, second-rate version of the beloved original. The whole experience lacks the aesthetic quality, finesse and charm of the Nintendogs series - a franchise Nintendo nailed the first time round. The pet-raising genre may be somewhat old now, but I Love My Dogs doesn't offer any new tricks.