It’s 11 PM and I’m waggling my Joy-Cons at my TV, desperately trying to improve the hygiene of my virtual Shiba Inu by brushing its head. I am rubbing the dog so vigorously that, if this were in reality and not the pet simulation game Little Friends: Dogs and Cats, the friction would have set it on fire by now. This is one of a very limited number of ways in which I can interact with my pets, or “Friends” as the game insists on calling them, and it is as tedious a process as it is needlessly lengthy.
Little Friends: Dogs and Cats aims to fill the void in the Nintendo Switch‘s library that Nintendogs isn’t occupying. With Nintendo still leaving its bank-rolling DS series on an indefinite hiatus, Imagineer has stepped up to the plate with its own pet simulation game, offering a bunch of cute animals for players to groom, take on walks, and outfit in a variety of ridiculous clothes.
However, unlike Nintendogs, Little Friends isn’t a meditative game in which you joyfully play with and e-cuddle a bunch of adorbs animals. Instead, it’s a laborious slog in which strengthening your bond with your virtual pets takes too long, and the end results aren’t worth the time invested.
Little Friends Dogs and Cats Review | I sigh with a little help from my Friends
Six breeds of dog are available to choose from including Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and French Bulldogs. Three breeds of cat can also be unlocked, though they’re only available after you reach level 15 with your dog. Absurdly, you can only level up each pet 10 times per day. This meant that on my first day with Little Friends, after reaching level 10 there was little else to do aside from turn off my Switch and wait until the next day. There is no reason why this level cap is in place aside from pointlessly increasing the number of days you spend with the game.
There are fewer than a handful of activities you can take part in with each pet. Friend Walk, in which you take your dog on a long plod through a park and get them to urinate a few times for cash, sees you guiding your canine using the Joy-Con as a lead. Toy Throwing has you lobbing a ball or bone and then petting your dog when they return it, with you able to buy new things to throw from the store. These toys each have different properties, such as making noises when they’re thrown, and certain dogs will prefer certain toys.
Finally, there’s Flying Disc, where you throw a frisbee and your dog catches it. Imagineer has gone all-in on this particular mode, presenting five different Flying Disc competitions that players can take part in to earn extra cash. It is the most involved of the activities, though that isn’t saying much.
Nintendogs didn’t exactly have the most complicated mini-games, but Little Friends firmly places players in the backseat of all of its activities. If you’re playing with your Switch in TV mode, all of these activities are completed by way of lazily moving your Joy-Cons around. You have no real control over what your dog does, so when you throw a Flying Disc in a competition, you’re reliant on the dog making the catch of its own accord. Playing in handheld mode further nullifies the players’ involvement, as I was relegated to repeatedly pressing A and hoping for the best.
Apparently, playing with your dogs more improves their catching ability, though this isn’t reflected by any in-game statistic. My dogs would spend some rounds catching 90% of what was thrown at them, but spend others struggling to catch the disc even a handful of times through no fault of my own. Each round lasts for 3 minutes, though given how dull the activity is, it felt like time had stood still waiting for my mutt to return the disc to me.
This mini-game isn’t exciting enough to rightfully be featured in five competitions, yet here we are. Ranging from a beginner Flying Disc competition to master difficulty, there are no changes between these competitions other than your dog becoming increasingly worse at disc-catching as you progress.
After each round, you’re awarded a bunch of coins and a handful of tickets, which are also used to purchase items in its store. There are no less than four in-game currencies in Little Friends, but nowhere near enough customization options to warrant all of them.
Little Friends Dogs and Cats Review | Who cares about cats, anyway?
You can personalize your pet by way of giving them new clothes, ranging from oversized hats through to polka dot skirts, and unlike real animals, they won’t mind if you strap a pair of sunglasses to their head for comic relief. Your home can also be customized, though the options in this department aren’t exactly plentiful.
You get some furniture options that your pet can interact with, such as beds or scratching posts, and you can change the floor/wallpaper. It does help to brighten up your surroundings when you’re watching your animals, but there’s nothing overly extravagant to choose from.
But while you can dress your pets up in appropriately garish outfits, it’s difficult to feel anything remotely approaching a “bond” with them when Little Friends only allows you to sparingly interact with them. While there aren’t exactly a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to playing with the game’s dogs, its cats still get the shorter end of the stick.
There’s only one cat-specific activity to choose from in the form of the Cat Wand Game, which revolves around waggling a wand and then avoiding your cat’s paws when it attempts to bat it. If any of Little Friends‘ animals had any discernible personality, I would have felt bad leaving my cat to prowl around an empty home while I took my dogs outdoors to play catch. Fortunately, I didn’t have to concern myself with any pangs of guilt, as my cat was a blank canvas of emotion.
Little Friends: Dogs and Cats isn’t the competent Nintendogs alternative many were likely hoping for. While putting a summer hat on a Shiba and listening to its adorable howls is pleasant enough, there isn’t enough to do with any of its animals aside from throwing objects and petting them.
Despite its lack of substance, Imagineer has made every task in Little Friends unnecessarily lengthy, dragging out already tedious objectives until they become mind-numbing. While this may be simplistic enough for younger gamers who aren’t allowed real dogs and cats to get a kick out of, for everyone else, you’re likely better off revisiting old Nintendogs games or waiting for Nintendo to reinvigorate its far superior series.
Little Friends: Dogs and Cats was review on Nintendo Switch. A copy was provided by the publisher.
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