Pocket Creatures is Like a Skinner Box for Your Furry Friends

Geek Culture

Pocket CreaturesPocket Creatures

Need another virtual pet for your iPhone or iPad? Pocket Creatures by Tactile Entertainment is a quirky entry that gives you a little critter with a paw on its tail and a garden to wander around in. There’s the usual virtual pet responsibilities: feed it when it’s hungry, put it to bed when it’s sleepy, pet it to make it happy. However, Pocket Creatures also gives you a lot of freedom in how to treat your creature and the world around it. Poking it makes it mad and slapping it makes it sad, resulting in a thundercloud or raincloud which you can then use to zap animals or water plants.


There are a few little animals that you can coax out of their hiding places, and each has its own uses. The platypus serves as a shovel to dig holes, revealing treasures and allowing you to plant seeds. The anteater can suck up water and be used as a watering can. The bird breaks open vases and coconuts with its beak. The most interesting part, though, is that you can train your critter to like and dislike things. It’s very Pavlovian: pet it while it’s eating a carrot, and it’ll learn to like carrots; slap it around while you feed it an apple and it’ll no longer eat apples. Feed the platypus while your critter is watching and your creature will grow to love the platypus.


As you do various actions, you’ll get achievements which show up in the form of headgear and other accoutrement, allowing you to give your critter hats, antlers, wings, etc. So far I’ve only earned a handful of these myself, but the screenshot above shows that there are piles of them to be earned. There are also some hidden mini-games, one involving ninja throwing stars and one about ghosts, and it looks like Tactile Entertainment will continue to add others in updates. The game uses OpenFeint to track achievements and allow you to share your discoveries with your friends.

Pocket Creatures is designed for both the iPhone and iPad, so the same app will work on both devices. Of course, on the iPad you’ll get a wider field of view to work with. I’ve been playing it on my iPod touch, and sometimes the screen gets a little cramped with all the stuff going on.

Unfortunately, Pocket Creatures is not without its flaws. I’ve had a bit of trouble trying to pet the creature, which means I can make it dislike things but it’s been trickier to teach it to like things. And often there are bits of the interface that are just a little glitchy—trying to dig with the platypus can be difficult because it jumps around on the screen, and if you drag the anteater past the critter it’ll grab it to cuddle, regardless of whether you had plans for it elsewhere.

The other bigger concern, though, is with the stability. I’ve seen a lot of comments on iTunes about the program crashing, and I’ve experienced it myself a few times as well—I’ll just get booted back to my home screen unexpectedly. There’s a new update that just dropped this week but only time will tell if they’ve fixed the stability or not. There’s been some raving about how great the game is, too, so opinions are definitely mixed.

Personally, I think it’s a very creative game and fairly innovative in the sheer amount of control you have over the creature. Tactile Entertainment claims that the creature will even grow fat or thin, sweet or devilish, depending on how you treat it, but I haven’t played long enough to see that sort of change. However, the interface can be a little frustrating, particularly on the small iPhone screen, since you can pick up almost everything—rocks, ants, pillars. Pinpointing what you want can be difficult. If you like virtual pets this is certainly a whopper of an app if you’re willing to put the time into exploring. Hopefully Tactile Entertainment will get the stability problems worked out, and then it would be an excellent game.

One note if you’ve got kids: because of the way you “train” the critter, you might think twice about letting younger kids play with Pocket Creatures. You don’t want them thinking they should slap your family’s cat to keep it from eating off the table.

Pocket Creatures is regularly $4.99 but is currently available for $2.99.

Wired: A virtual pet app that gives you tremendous freedom and control over your creature, choosing what it likes and dislikes and modifying its appearance with achievements.

Tired: Finicky controls and stability issues keep me from giving a whole-hearted recommendation.

Disclosure: I received a free download code for review purposes.

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