I remember several years ago while visiting Taiwan seeing all sorts of “The Dog” products everywhere: they featured extreme-closeup photos of dogs with really big noses and tiny bodies on pure white backgrounds. Cute, but kind of weird. Well, the brand (which originated in Japan) has spread, and now there’s even a new iPhone app from Connect2Media. The Dog – Puppy Pets bears some similarities to Touch Pets Dogs in that it’s a virtual pet on your iPhone, but there are enough differences that you might prefer one over the other.
The look matches the photography: most of the background is totally white with just a few props, as if you’re in the middle of a sci-fi movie set. Inside the house, where you start out, there’s a door going outside, a couch, a dining table and window, and a few other items as you scroll left and right. Some of the other locations (like the beach) are a little more defined, but for the most part it’s a pretty minimal setting. The dogs are more photo-realistic but still get a little blocky when you examine them closely. The game lets you pick one of five breeds and set their gender, pick from a limited palette of fur colors, and name the puppy. Then you start off in the house, where the app walks you through basic steps of taking care of your dog.
Starting off, it’s a little frustrating because you can’t really do much at all and you keep getting pop-up tips. When you just move around and tap on things, it’ll tell you that you can’t do that yet. Eventually you’ll unlock new locations to take your dog and start teaching it tricks. The training is actually pretty interesting and similar to training an actual dog (though much easier). If, for instance, your puppy sits down, you have a limited amount of time to give it the “Sit” command and then a doggy treat. If you do it properly, then your dog learns the command and you can use it again in the future. There are other ways to teach it tricks but I’ve had trouble teaching it to shake paws.
I got some cash just by tapping on things in various locations, and occasionally I just “found” random items along with cash. Apparently you can also get cash by winning competitions but since I haven’t taught my dog all the tricks yet I’m not eligible to enter them. Still, with the few items I’ve found I’ve had plenty of cash for food, shampoo, a leash, etc. The overall experience, though, has been very guided: first I learned to pet it, then feed it, then take it for a walk. Only then was I given information about teaching tricks. The locations on the map are also locked at first, and only unlocked at certain points in the game. I suppose eventually after everything is unlocked it will be more free-form, but I found I didn’t like the limitations quite as much. Icons will pop up and blink at you when you’re supposed to do certain things, and then you can’t really do anything else until you take care of them. (Touch Pets Dogs, for instance, teaches you the basics but then sets you free to do things in whatever order you like.)
Some parts of the interface were more interactive: taking your dog for a walk actually involved holding the leash and pulling forward or back to control its speed and direction. Others, however, were more of just a tap here, tap there. I never did figure out how to throw a stick or frisbee past the dog–usually it just flopped down to the ground right in front of me.
One nice thing is that you don’t have to earn a certain amount of money to adopt a new dog. You simply get one of each breed, and when you start up the app you can pick which dog you want to load. It remembers your progress and starts you where you left off for each dog. You can also tie the app to your Facebook account and share items and become friends with other dogs, but I didn’t try that part out.
My six-year-old, who has played Touch Pets Dogs quite a lot, gave this one a shot and proclaimed that she preferred Puppy Pets. It definitely has a different feel to it; you’re not simply repeating the same tasks in order to earn enough money to buy the next gizmo. For her, the very guided approach with small steps made sense, although the trick training process took a little extra explanation.
Wired: Teaching your dog to obey commands seems like actually teaching; items in pet store are reasonably priced compared to the amount of cash you get.
Tired: Adults and older kids may not like the constraints on what you can do at first; the blank white backgrounds are interesting for photography but don’t make for a visually appealing game.
Note: Connect2Media provided a download code for evaluation purposes.