If EGX Rezzed proved anything this year, it’s that there is a joyful streak creeping back into gaming. After my Rad hands on put a smile on my face and Phogs charmed me with, Imagineer’s Little Friends: Dogs and Cats bundle of virtual cute was about to cement that theory.
Published in the west by Sold Out, Little Friends: Dogs and Cats first escaped captivity back during December 2018 in Japan. Due out on the Nintendo Switch, this host of furry friends is the latest incarnation of the virtual pet craze that kicked off back when tiny plastic eggs littered the school satchels during the 1990s. It offers Switch owners the opportunity to raise their own virtual friend in a format that might be familiar to any Nintendo fans.
As soon as I first mentioned Little Friends: Dogs and Cats, it was clear that these pixelated pups were the spiritual successor to the Nintendogs franchise. Just like Nintendogs, Little Friends: Dogs and Cats allows owners of the Nintendo Switch to interact with a range of adorable puppies. Unlike Nintendogs, however, Little Friends: Dogs and Cats also has an option for those who favor feline friendship. Players can pick from six breeds of puppies, including Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, and French Bulldog, as well as three types of kittens when they make a new friend.
With such a simple concept and an established inspiration for this particular title, I was not expecting any surprises when I stopped by to try Little Friends: Dogs and Cats at EGX Rezzed. However, it seems I underestimated Imagineer. Up to three animals can come out to play in your front room at once and they have a ton of individual personality. Not only are these pets incredibly cute, but they also contain a number of randomized idiosyncracies. Favorite food, personal reactions, preferred petting spots, and even dislikes mean that each of the dog and cats that you choose to keep you company will need their own attention.
Thankfully, keeping your pets happy is far more interactive than just clicking feed, water, and play. A plethora of subsystems are tied to a pup’s overall health. Feeding, for example, consists of several types of foodstuff. Wet, dry, chicken, beef and veg are just a small sample of the choices, with variation even among these tick boxes. It can take some trial and error to find the right combination of food to keep your fluff ball full and I wouldn’t really be surprised if their tastes changed. Similar options are available for other game systems, such as play time and owners can even take dogs out for walks or take part in frisbee tournaments. The level of depth and range of systems included in Little Friends: Dogs and Cats is surprisingly and deeply satisfying. Even throwing a frisbee for points doesn’t sound engaging but the pet really does draw you in. It’s not the only reason that this game won me over so quickly.
Old Simulators and New Tricks
While Nintendogs is primarily associated with the DS, Little Friends: Dogs and Cats was developed exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, and it takes advantage of the control systems included in the mobile platform. On stepping through my own training class, the tutorial makes it easy enough to understand the basic aim of this game. Picking a pet is easy enough and the crucial indications of your companion’s wellbeing are all dotted along the bottom left corner of the screen. Accessing various menus is easy enough with a bunch of touch screen buttons utilized to avoid excessive complexity in the Joycon control systems. Initially acclimatizing to a configuration that is split between Joycon buttons and touch screen inputs is a little vexing but when it comes to interacting with animals, these systems really come into their own.
Get a dog or cat out to play and a range of really ingenious design decisions start to reveal themselves. In handheld mode Little Friends: Dogs and Cats encourages players to use the touchscreen, making tactile contact with their pet. Rub the screen and you can pet, play with, and clean your pet, all of which elicit a range of individual responses. Animal reactions to each of these acts are accompanied by HD rumble feedback while the characters on screen display their pleasure. Happy kittens tilt their head, moving into the movement of your hand and even letting their jaw slacken a little. It’s a little dopey but accurate enough that it gives each animal a seemingly real set of responses. The realisitc reaction takes a cute ball of trouble and gives it a personality that seems to draw you into the entire experience.
The docked experience has its own additions too. Disconnecting the Joycons, players can use the gyroscopic controls to pet and brush down dirty doggos. If you decide to get some air, take your pet out for a walk, or throw a frisbee then the Joycons have their own action set, allowing players to throw with their hands. Imagineer really do make the most of the Nintendo Switch here and this careful consideration for the player experience seemed to seep through the entire time I spent with the game.
While I only got a short demo with Little Friends: Dogs and Cats, it looks like the game will have plenty of busy time. Players can adopt up to twelve puppies and kittens, keeping them out in their front room. The status indicators on the pets change given time and should you need to tend to a particular area of concern, you won’t be able to carry out any extracurricular activities with your new friend. The game’s friendship system allows owners to level up essentially, and the competitions, like frisbee throwing, contribute currencies that can be spent on a ton of cute cosmetic clothing. This all looks like it will continue to entice players to log in, complete achievements, and keep their pet happy.
Little Friends: Dogs and Cats is not a new idea but what it does is take the Nintendogs concept and expertly craft it for the Nintendo Switch. The Joy of this game isn’t the improved graphics of this new generation or even the slick control system. The wonderful part about this game is forgetting for just a moment that the cheeky fall of cute stuff on screen isn’t real. The attention to detail that shines through as pets with personality made my quick visit to the Little Friends house worth returning to. If you still miss your Nintendog, Little Friends Dogs and Cats is coming to Nintendo Switch on May 28, 2019. You can see more cute things in the trailer below and find out more information on the official website.