I have both a DS and PSP and, despite the technical superiority of Sony’s portable system, my Nintendo DS sees much more actual play. It’s not just how cleverly the games are coded to make best use of the facilities of this machine, but also about upholding the fine traditions of Mario and Donkey Kong, with truly crafted playability.
But, and it pains me to point this out, there are a huge number of similar games that outnumber all other kinds – the ones that include the word “pet” or the name of an animal in the title.
I suppose the product to blame is Petz, which in the mid-nineties appeared on a number of platforms in the form of Dogz and Catz. It was an almost identical concept that appeared as Nintendogs Shiba and Friends, one of the first seventy titles launched in Japan. In its softly padded steps then came Chihuahua & Friends and Dachshund & Friends, and then, when it arrived in the USA, Lab & Friends, a minor variation on the original title.
Who let the dogs out? Nintendo.
It’s rumoured that the first three titles sold 168,000 in their first week, and that’s possibly true even if it that information does appear on Wikipedia!
Having realised that they’d tapped into a whole new generation of pet-obsessed kids, who weren’t into killing, racing or platform games, they – and approved third party publishers – built on this initial success with a range of animal-friendly titles.
Soon we saw Sims 2 Pets, Horsez, Catz, Horse and Pony, Hamsterz, Pony Friends, My Best Friends: Dogs and Cats and even, My Pet Dolphin! Have Nintendo any idea how difficult it is to deal with a child that wants a pet, especially if it’s an implausibly expensive one like a horse? Yet pet title after pet title, they plied their message of virtual pet ownership like there was no tomorrow. And the cash flowed in.
Since then they’ve gone on relentlessly with My Horse & Me, Paws & Claws, Puppy Palace, Pet Pals: Animal Doctor, Bunnyz, GoPets, Petz: Dogz Fashion (WTF?), Zoo Hospital, My Pet Hotel (1 and 2), Littlest Pet Shop (Jungle, Garden and Winter), Riding Academy, Barbie Horse Adventures, My Little Pony, My Vet Practice, Petz Monkey House… to name just a few. I haven’t got exact figures, but I think that pet-related games now represent possibly 10% of all DS titles and there appears to be no end in sight!
Please, Nintendo, have some self control! And please also stop rubber-stamping the third party publishers who are jumping aboard the bandwagon! Yes. I know they sell well, but we’ve had Tamagotchi-derivative games now till they’re coming out of our drooping ears. It’s reached the point where I examine the new releases through small gaps in my fingers, for fear of catching sight of Tree Frogz or My Little Three Toed Sloth.
I’d like a new rating scheme where pet games get their own warning label, and they’re not allowed to be on open display on shop shelves, and can’t have chocolate-box adorable artwork of children and their canine, feline or otherwise pal.
The alternative I’d suggest is that parents of the world unite, and return all the real, unwanted pets that these games encourage being bought to Nintendo. I’d suggest it wouldn’t take long for them to realise that every pet pal has a cost, and not just a financial one. And that includes the virtual varieties they so effortlessly export.
29 January 2009