I never imagined myself beginning a video game article by stating “Paris Hilton was right,” and yet I can’t deny how doggone correct the high-profile media personality was with her 2018 tweet: “We need to get Nintendo Dogs as an app on the App Store!” Slight misnomer aside, Ms. Hilton’s sentiment rings true.
It’s been 18 years since Nintendogs first debuted on the Nintendo DS, and over a decade since the release of the follow-up 3DS sequel, Nintendogs + Cats. The series has been all too quiet since then, and I’m pining to have that silence filled with barks, howls, and purrs once again.
In most cases, when making the argument to revive a dormant video game franchise, the go-to platform is the Nintendo Switch. A Nintendogs game on Switch would certainly get tails wagging, but this is actually a rare case in which I think Nintendo should take advantage of that other electronic device that accompanies us everywhere: the smartphone.
You cannot pet the dog on your phone, and that needs to change
In 2005, the Nintendo DS was a phenomenon like no one had ever seen, and Nintendogs was a driving force behind its massive success. It stands as the second highest-selling game on the system with 24 million copies sold, with players worldwide having their hearts stolen by digital doggies. Nintendo did the impossible by recreating the Tamagotchi craze of the ‘90s, modernizing virtual pets for a mass audience and letting a whole new generation pick up digital excrement.
Times change, of course. Nintendo has since put its DS and 3DS families of systems to rest, and in their place, the exponential rise of smartphones has dominated our day-to-day lives. Meanwhile, modern internet culture has enlivened a worldwide obsession with dogs and cats like never before. Pets are now full-blown celebrities on Instagram, cats continue to conquer memes, and game developers are even adding dog-petting animations to their games to appeal to the “Can You Pet the Dog?” movement.
Nintendo made the smart decision to hop aboard the mobile market in recent years, dishing out hits such as Pokémon GO, Mario Kart Tour, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. With the modern smartphone advanced and popular enough to establish itself as a respectable gaming platform and the planet’s pet passion at an all-time high, Nintendo could be sitting on a financial goldmine with its Nintendogs IP. It’s actually kind of odd that Nintendo hasn’t taken advantage of it already, given its mass appeal to the casual market. Animal Crossing has been a consistently successful franchise due to its ability to draw in a new audience of people with little-to-no previous experience with video games, an appeal more potent than ever with New Horizons recently becoming one of Nintendo’s greatest ever successes. Nintendogs also had, and still has, that same potential.
Touch, talk, train
Smartphone technology is such a perfect fit for the Nintendogs brand that I’m racking my brain over why it hasn’t happened yet. The Nintendogs games were controlled almost entirely via a touchscreen, which is perfect since that’s the main input method for games on the mobile market. Just as you could on Nintendo’s dual-screen devices, a mobile Nintendogs game could see players using their fingertips to pet, bathe, brush, and train their furry friends.
As well as touch technology, DS systems and mobiles also share a built-in microphone. It was unbelievable to me in 2005 that I could talk into my DS and watch my puppy respond to my commands. These days, where we talk to Alexa as much as we do human beings, speaking to machines isn’t quite so surreal — but it’s evidently the case that voice recognition technology has come a long way, making teaching tricks to virtual dogs and having them respond efficiently easier than ever.
Not only do smartphones have features comparable to Nintendo’s portable consoles, but they also include additional tech that could enhance the Nintendogs experience. Back in the day, taking your pet for a walk in Nintendogs was purely virtual, using the touchscreen to manipulate your dog’s lead in order to steer them in a particular direction and shift between walking and running. It was great fun and something that could still return to a potential mobile game, but GPS technology could also enable an additional mode which encourages you to take a physical walk outside.
Similar to PokéStops and Gyms in Pokémon GO, location technology in phones could shift real-life POIs into interactive features on a virtual Nintendogs map. Certain stops could reward players with free items and pet supplies, and the various shops from past titles could also return. Dogs could find presents randomly throughout walks again, and encounter puddles, tall grass, trash, and more features to interact with. Nintendogs + Cats, making use of the 3DS’ pedometer feature, also rewarded players with gifts depending on how many steps they took, which is another element that could easily translate to mobile devices. Getting other players involved with interactive play dates could be fun, too!
You’d be entirely forgiven for forgetting all about the 3DS’ augmented reality features. I almost went into this article ready to present AR puppies and kitties as an all-new idea before suddenly remembering that Nintendogs + Cats actually did allow you to bring your pets into the real world by placing Nintendo AR cards (remember those?) on a flat surface. Augmented reality was certainly a fun feature promoted nearer the launch of the 3DS, but was sadly neglected towards the latter half of the system’s lifespan. It has made a comeback on mobile games, however, especially within Pokémon GO which allows you to bring your captured critters into your real-life environment.
One of the greatest parts of past Nintendogs games was watching how your pets would react to new toys and objects. They would chase after balls, jump to catch bubbles, dance to music records, and bark at windup toys. Now imagine integrating all of that into a more interactive AR mode, watching as your pet chases an RC helicopter around your living room or sprints after a Frisbee in a field. A photo mode on top of the AR technology would also capture the imagination of players worldwide — if you thought the internet was already flooded with animal pictures, imagine what it’d be like if people had unlimited access to dog and cat photos through Nintendogs software.
Throw us a bone, Nintendo
As well as new gameplay features, Nintendo could go bigger than ever and expand on other established series content, too. One of the biggest surprises I had playing the original Nintendogs was when I unlocked a remote control Mario Kart toy, and you can bet I want to see more Nintendo cameos in a new game. Give me a controllable Arwing, a squeaky PokéBall toy, and an Isabelle plush for my pups, please! Speaking of the dogs themselves, how about new breeds, such as border collies, rottweilers, greyhounds, and Dobermans?
Considering the demand for adorable animal-based games and the fact that today’s phones almost seem tailor-made for a new Nintendogs experience, hopefully Nintendo will quickly realize that there’s life in the old dog yet. After all, if a relatively niche franchise like Pikmin can make the leap to mobile, surely Nintendogs can too. If or when a new Nintendogs game happens and I get addicted all over again, I only hope my real dog won’t get too jealous when my attention shifts to a litter of pretend pups.
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