In many ways Nintendogs was for the DS like what Tetris was for the original Game Boy. It became synonymous with the system and was the must-own title for a whole generation of Nintendo fans in the mid-2000s, as it was cute, accessible for all ages, and perfect for playing on the go. Despite being the cultural phenomenon it once was, we haven't seen another entry in the series since Nintendogs + Cats launched on the 3DS in 2011. That's where Little Friends: Dogs and Cats steps in though, as Imagineer's game positions itself as a spiritual successor to the series, and for better or worse it's pretty much what we can remember.
In Little Friends there are nine different breeds that you can befriend (six dogs and three cats), and you care for three pets at one time, with a further nine storable at the in-game hotel. You can search pets by breed, sex, and fur colour, and this will randomly generate a line up of potential adoptees that have their own distinctive look and characteristics. These differing personality traits affect aspects such as the toys they like to play with, the food they like to eat, and how they interact with other animals in your home. Many of the most popular dog breeds have been covered here (German Shepherds, Poodles, and Chihuahuas) and the devs have definitely been able to capture the cute factor with their respective designs.
The bulk of your time will be spent caring for your pets' needs by feeding them, giving them clean water and back rubs, as well as brushing them and playing with toys. It uses the inbuilt clock on the Switch too, so your pets needs will alter even if you haven't been actively playing. These interactions increase the affection of your pets towards you, and by improving your affection level you can unlock new items for both your friends and your home. Little Friends also rewards you with coins and tickets that can be spent on food, toys, and vanity items. Unlocking new items was one of main incentives to keep playing, but progress felt stagnant due to the daily level cap. Beyond level 30 we couldn't increase our affection more than two levels per day, which prevented us from wanting to play for extended periods.
Out of the house you can take your pups on walks, play frisbee with them, and partake in several levels of competitive disc throwing tournaments. When walking your friend you are given simple objectives such as travelling a required distance, digging up treasure, and marking sign posts. These objectives are always the same though, and the only route you can walk along is vacant, without other humans and dogs you can interact with - like in Nintendogs + Cats, for example. We were disappointed too that there was only one competition mode available here. To flesh things out Little Friends could have copied the lure and obedience trials from Nintendogs, or even better, added something new of its own such as dress up competitions using all of the customisable vanity items it has to offer.
There are over 600 customisation items here that you can parade your friends around in, and these include everything from clown noses to pointy wizard hats. We found it adorable to watch our pets prance around with their ridiculous attire, and we were impressed by just how many items we could flick between (many were colour variants though). Something we found strange was that these outfits were interchangeable between all of our pets; it didn't matter whether we had purchased a tank top when browsing with a cat or dog. Surely those cat clothes must have been a tight fit on our German Shepherd?
Another distraction Little Friends offers players is a stamp book which allows progress to be monitored through collectable stamps. These work in a similar way to trophies and achievements, and are broken into four categories: communication, care, play, and collection. This stampbook may be nothing more than a fun distraction, but at least it provides players with a reward for completing repetitive tasks like feeding and walking pets. We appreciated this touch, but we do wish this was expanded upon further. If we recieved exclusive items for completing different pages of our stamp book, for example, we would have likely invested much more energy into it.
As huge cat lovers we couldn't wrap things up without having quick a say about our feline friends. Firstly, there are only half the amount of cat breeds here compared to dog breeds, with notable omissions being bengals, sphynxs, and Maine coons. There are also no outdoor activities or competitions for cats, meaning that they level up much slower than dogs and it can feel like an eternity to get new content for them. Having to play with the cat wand again and again to increase their affection was something we quickly grew tired of. Essentially, we couldn't help but find the inclusion of cats a little underwhelming.
Little Friends struggles to add anything new to the Nintendogs formula, and even feels like a step backwards in many regards, despite being released nearly eight years after the last Nintendogs title. Our furry friends sure looked cute, but there was little for us to do together and we were disappointed by the daily level cap and limited amount of breeds available. The fundamentals are here but it's hard not to feel a little let down given how Nintendogs did things better so many years ago. Perhaps younger players may find some joy here, but for those looking for some pet sim nostalgia, we'd recommend dusting off that old DS.
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