When it comes to cute collectible digital creatures, Nintendo owns the market. But Pokemon doesn't appeal to everyone, so the company has whipped up a furrier alternative with Nintendogs.
It's not a linear game so much as a virtual pet and quite similar to the LCD keychain fad Tamagotchi from the late 90s. Only Nintendogs is far more involved and rewarding. And instead of trying to care about the health and welfare of a liquid crystal alien blob thing, you can adopt up to 18 breeds of puppies. Chihuahuas, schnauzers, shih tzus - all the impossible-to-spell breeds are here. But not from the get go. There are three versions of the game and each houses six immediately accessible breeds. If you want to train a dog not yet unlocked in your version, you'll have to hook up with fellow DS breeder and trade.
Once you've adopted a dog, you can train it, enter it into agility competitions, dress it in silly outfits, and yes, you can scoop its poop. (Let's hear it for touch-screen technology.) The DS's clock keeps track of the dog's status, so if you forget to check in on your pet for a few days, it will be starving and filthy by the time you show up. A bowl of kibble and a touch-screen sponge bath later, and all is forgiven. (After severe neglect, the dog will run away.)
It's hard not to fall in love with your silicon surrogate - these pups are quite expressive, move realistically, and react to the sound of your voice. But using voice commands via the DS's microphone to teach your pet tricks makes Nintendogs uncomfortable to play where handheld games usually thrive best - on a bus, in an airport, or any other place where you're likely to be overheard shouting "Good girl! Good girl!" to an inanimate object.
There are game-like elements - Frisbee fetch in a contest against other dogs and the clock - but the real appeal comes from the care of your critter. If you don't have the nurturing gene or the attention span to keep a virtual animal alive, steer clear - but if you're looking for something that's totally nonviolent and uses all your DS's whistles and bells, Nintendogs is it.