Five reasons I still love Nintendogs…and can’t wait for the 3DS sequel

I’m not ashamed to admit I bought my DS to play Nintendogs. When a friend showed me his polygon-pup spinning to the spoken command, “Hurricane Kick,” I realized that, yes, I did want a virtual canine after all. In fact, I bought the Lab and Friends cartridge a week before I got the system, because (remember this?) the pet-sim was selling out everywhere in its first weeks. I finally bought my fat blue DS and fell headlong into the charming, peaceful, bonkers world of never-aging puppies (sing that to the Never-Ending Story theme!)

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that, after its first several weeks, the sim wound up on the shelf and only got revisited on rare occasions. But something great happens every time I do take it out for a spin: it reminds me why it was such a smash hit, and–to this day–remains a fantastic creation that still amazes even after countless imitators have tried and failed to recreate its magic.

I admit, a few times, I’ve been tempted to sell or trade it. But, then, I go to delete my data and…Have you ever tried to delete a Nintendog? Have you seen its reaction when it realizes it’s unwanted? Holy crud. In the five years I’ve had the cartridge, I’ve deleted one puppy. I’ve felt guilty about it ever since. I’m glad I kept the game, for this remains a first-rate Nintendo experience.

Here are my top five reasons why Nintendogs is still worth checking out:

1. Instant joy. Has there ever been another game that seemed so happy to see you? This title, more than any other, takes full advantage of the DS’s flip top design as the pups bark at the closing lid and rush the screen to greet you when you reopen it. The dogs mix and combine their animated behaviors so smoothly and believably you can get you money’s worth of entertainment simply by leaving the sim running near your keyboard as you work.

2. Frisbee. Despite repetitious commentary, the disc-catching competition remains one of the best touch-screen mini games of all time, and every bit as good as the Disc Dog game in Wii Sports Resort. The obstacle courses aren’t bad, either. The obedience contest can make a grown man swear at a handheld screen–not recommended for the bus.

3. Parasites. Ah, there’s nothing like coming back after several months absence and finding your virtual pets have become a flea circus. Tiny animated black specs have never looked so funny.

4. RC Car and Helicopter. They control just right, the dogs’ reactions are hilarious, and–unlike real life–collisions won’t potentially sent your pal to the animal hospital.

5. The Nintendogs record. I probably don’t need to say this, but…SPOILER WARNING. Nintendog veterans know the vinyl records you collect effect your dogs, making them march, jump in fear, or spar with each other. The Nintendogs Theme record is something very special. At first, your dogs ignore the music. But–about half way through–your pets face you, sit down and…they sing the Nintendogs theme for you. Words can’t convey how disarmingly touching this is, and it’s the main reason I’ve kept this cartridge. It’s one of those little hidden moments that remind me why I love Nintendo.

Now I find myself greatly looking forward to Nintendogs plus Cats. I’m a bit worried that the more realistic fur might rob it of the original’s stylized charm (and I’m not really looking forward to 3D dog poop and cat boxes), but I trust Shigeru Miyamoto and crew to deliver a title worthy of the nearly six-year wait. I’ve got the virtual flea shampoo waiting. Release the critters!