Sunday 1 September 2019

Little Friends - Dogs and Cats ★★☆☆☆

Ready to feel old? Nintendogs was released 14 years ago. I can remember everything about it so clearly – after choosing the virtual dog, I can still hear the in-game tutorial suggesting dog names for me: “Lucky! Maxwell! Daisy!”. Those were simpler times. 14 years later, I would’ve expected something new in the pet simulation genre. Something groundbreaking, as Nintendogs was all those years ago. Well, Little Friends: Dogs & Cats seems to be trying to do just that on the Nintendo Switch. But honestly, there is nothing new here at all.

From the moment you jump into the game and choose one of six dog breeds (Shiba Inu, Chihuahua, Toy Poodle, Labrador Retriever, French Bulldog and German Shepherd), the nostalgia and déjà vu will hit you like a train. But once you get your digital doggo back to your digital home, you will immediately realise the limitations of the Switch. When back on the DS you could tickle your dog, whistle it, talk to it on the microphone and generally have an almost hands-on experience with the pet, Little Friends leave a lot to be desired. Sure, there are touch-screen features here, but they don’t respond particularly well – although they do create a more immersive experience than playing with the Joy-Cons.

Where Little Friends does succeed, unsurprisingly, is in the graphics department. Your furry friends are brought to life with pretty stunning (for the Switch) fur-rendering and real personality in the animations. Gone are the days of dead-eyed untextured Nintendogs. But where the animals themselves succeed – and sure, they are the focus of the game – the backgrounds suffer. The game plays out primarily in a single room where you will monitor your pets’ needs (via on-screen gauges) and do all your petting, playing and grooming. The room itself, however, is pretty bland and characterless, just as it was back in the days of Nintendogs (although it is customisable). Furthermore, taking your dog out for a walk shows some pretty lifeless environments.

The game inexplicably works on something of a levelling-up system; becoming better acquainted with your little friend over walks and playing develops your friendship level which grants access to unlockables and new tasks. Over 600 accessories can be purchased for your pet with money earned competing in flying disc competitions, which creates some of the game’s biggest laughs – you can make your dog look like an absolute twat if you so wish, with a variety of hats and apparel.

As the title suggests, cats are also available – but this side of the game is totally wasted, with very little activities to engage in with cats. I’d consider this a dog game primarily with a little bit of cat action available purely as a side-note. On the whole, Little Friends: Dogs & Cats’ heart is in the right place. It is clearly trying to be the new Nintendogs and fill a pet simulation void that has plagued the recent generation of consoles. But the whole thing reeks of desperation and does absolutely nothing new with the genre, and only serves to make us want to dig out our old DS’s and boot up Nintendogs. I should probably check on Spot, it has been 14 years after all…

Sam Love

Little Friends - Dogs and Cats at CeX

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