It's a more and more frequent occurrence to find that a game's cover art has little to do with the play experience found inside. This has been especially true for the virtual pet genre on the DS recently, as several games you'd judge to be Nintendogs clones based on their outward appearances end up being something else entirely íV like this game, Petz: Dogz 2
. Though this sequel to last year's Dogz does have a handful of qualities in common with traditional virtual pet titles, its larger focus is placed on playing card games and upgrading your home with new decorations and furniture. It's an odd mash-up of Nintendogs
, Clubhouse Games
and Animal Crossing
. And it's actually kind of fun.
The Nintendogs-esque elements come in first, as you open the adventure by selecting your preferred breed of puppy from an array of 11 options. Then the dalmatian, beagle, poodle or whichever pooch you've picked appears in a fully 3D home, complete with an empty, furniture-less living room and a similarly sparse backyard.
The visuals are appealingly adorable, as the dogs of Dogz 2 have been rendered in an excessively cute style that gives them comically oversized noses and eyes while diminishing the proportions of the rest of their bodies. You can pet, poke or taunt them with the stylus for a basic bit of interaction, but quickly you'll find that there really isn't much to do beyond that. The basic care-giving activities you'd expect to see íV like feeding the dog, teaching it tricks, taking it for a walk íV are nowhere to be found.
It's the interactions with different objects, toys and furniture that form the basis of the dogs' activity potential instead, so the goal of the game quickly becomes something more akin to Animal Crossing. Starting with this empty living room and blank backyard, you've got to create a more interesting and expanded playspace for your puppy to be able to have any fun. You can eventually upgrade your home to include several floors' worth of rooms, with each of them filled with different interactive objects. And the way that's achieved is through, finally, getting down to the true core of what Petz: Dogz 2 presents íV a set of simple, traditional card and board games.
Though the direct interaction with your dog is now in 3D, most of Dogz 2's visuals are two-dimensional.
Poker. Old Maid. Crazy 8's and Black Jack. Jigsaw puzzles and memory matching, tile-sliding challenges and even a take on Air Hockey. The core of Petz: Dogz 2's gameplay ends up being a variety of simple DS adaptations of well known, traditional, analog games in much the same way as Nintendo's own Clubhouse Games title a year ago. And it's through these games that Dogz 2 presents its structure of progress and reward íV successfully completing rounds of the different designs earns you a new piece of furniture, or toy, or wallpaper.
If you'd like to "buy" a remote-controlled car for your puppy to play with, for example, the game will tell you "OK, you have to come in first place in a four-player game of Black Jack." Or "You have to complete this jigsaw puzzle in under four minutes." Or any of a number of different iterations of the same premise, tasking you to achieve a specific kind of victory in short play sessions of these venerable parlor games.
And, interestingly, it's kind of addictive. Though you might not really care about whether or not you're earning that seventh style of living room carpet, you'll likely find yourself playing the challenge to win it again and again until you come out on top íV it's the kind of experience that makes you say "just one more try" after you get stuck holding the Old Maid for the fourth straight time, frustrated but having fun at the same time.
It was a wise design decision. These games are staples, card and board game designs that have never gone out of style íV so Dogz 2 capitalizes on that lasting appeal and builds on it. The core is solid.
But on the other hand, the nature of the mini-games strikes an odd contrast with the rest of what Dogz 2 offers. The idea of combining elements of Nintendogs, Animal Crossing and Clubhouse games is a weird one, and always goes back to feeling weird once you remember that the reason you're playing all these rounds of Crazy 8's is that there's a virtual house under construction and you're in charge of the remodel. The game even forces you to return to the house and pay attention to your puppy every few minutes or so, breaking up the flow of card and board gaming halfway through.
So Petz: Dogz 2 ultimately offers a fun, simple core experience of traditional analog games, with layers of out-of-place virtual pet and Animal Crossing elements stacked up on top. It's as if the cohesiveness never truly comes together, and you're left with a couple of different game designs cobbled together into the same package. Young DS gamers who play Dogz 2 will likely still have fun with the game, thanks to its foundation of time-tested and accessible card and board games. But don't enter into this one thinking that it's a more traditional virtual pet experience, because those elements are few and far between this time around.