The Nintendo Switch has been out for what feels like a decade by now, and yet we still don’t have a first-party pet breeding simulator. Enter Little Friends: Dogs & Cats, a Nintendo Switch exclusive by Japanese developer Imagineer. Following success with their previous nostalgia-inspired title Fitness Boxing, the studio is looking to repeat the formula with another throwback to the Wii/DS era.
There’s certainly no shortage of options this time around, as Little Friends includes 6 breeds of puppy and 3 types of kitten to play with. Even more, it’s possible to build up a home with up to three pets, and remodel the room they share with new decor and furniture. There’s also a massive assortment of clothing to collect and style your furry companions with.
Unfortunately, it’s also repetitive. Taking your pets for walkies sets you down the same road with little variation in scenery. You can only play fetch at home or frisbee outdoors, although there are also tiers of tournaments to take part in. And it’s a lonely experience, with no NPCs to meet on the road and no multiplayer to get social with.
Just like visiting an animal shelter or adoption center, Little Friends starts off with a pick of pets that you can consider taking home. There’s a little information on the breed, gender, and temperament of each, but you can ask for a new selection if none of the batch catch your eye. I quickly dialled in on the meme-worthy shiba inu, using filtering to ask for a bunch of male pups to pick from.
From there, I picked a name and helped the pooch settle into his new home. Little Friends makes a show of petting, brushing, feeding and watering the new companion, with meters used to show the level of each. Take them for walks or play some frisbee, and it’ll take a toll.
The homeroom is also open and spacious enough for a quick game of fetch, or to learn and try out new tricks. Clearly, Little Friends isn’t based on metro apartment living…
Paws for Thought
Outdoor activities are the main way of interacting with your pet away from home, and also give the opportunity to earn some sweet rewards. Going for a walk takes a route through a nice wooded park, complete with lighthouse and cabin. Unfortunately it also gets repetitive, as there’s no branching and nobody to chat on the way. The walks also don’t give a destination or purpose to them, reducing them to a task that needs to be completed.
The frisbee tournaments are a little better. Multiple difficulty levels are offered to test how well your four-legged minion has been trained, and Little Friends makes a show of introducing your opponents to give at least some feel of a world outside your digital dog.
These activities are the main way of earning Little Friends’ many ingame currencies, all of which can be spent on food, supplies, outfits, toys, furniture and decor. The more you win, the more you can fill that playspace with stuff and unlock cute items for your furry friends to parade around in.
The most annoying currency, though, is Friendship. Think of it like an experience bar that slowly fills as you complete activities with your companion – everything from feeding to flying disc games can contribute to gaining levels. Trouble is that much of the content in Little Friends is gated behind reaching particular Friendship levels, and there’s a limit to how much Friendship you can earn from an individual companion in a single day. To me, this feels like unnecessary padding, and relegates the pet sim to short sessions when you’re not playing something else.
The comparison with Nintendogs is inevitable, but those intervening 12 years haven’t changed much. The experience of interacting with your pet at home is still similar, although there’s a huge number of new ways to personalise both the dog/cat and their surroundings. The friends in Little Friends also look furry, but the animation is sometimes stilted and lacking in fluidity. For such a simple title, the graphical quality could also be a little higher.
But what should have been a walk in the park instead feels like a lonely lap around the track. One of the best parts of owning a pet is the social possibilities it offers, but Little Friends doesn’t introduce you to other humans, either during the walks or in competitions. Plus, there’s no multiplayer mode to share your pets with others. It feels like a wasted opportunity.
Yes, there’s a Plaza that unlocks once level 15 has been reached, granting access to further pets (including cats!) and a Hotel to store all the ones that aren’t at your house, but this also feels like a missed opportunity to incorporate some form of social hub.
Ultimately it depends on what you’re after. From feeding and care through to petting and play, Little Friends: Dogs & Cats absolutely nails the digital sim experience through lifelike models and adorable animations. But if you’re hoping for something that takes the experience deeper and wraps a world around it, Imagineer’s effort falls short.