Monday, September 19, 2005

Nintendogs... the gift of game

To say I was nervous when I purchased a Nintendo DS and Nintendogs for my girlfriend’s birthday would be an understatement. My girlfriend doesn’t play video games at every chance she gets like I do. She has played Mario Kart: Double Dash a half dozen times with me and can make cute little faces imitating Kirby. Some limited PC gaming with her siblings many years ago playing the original Warcraft ends her experience with gaming.

I kept the receipt and made sure not to open any of the packaging. I had no idea if this gift was going to be a hit or flop. Luckily it wasn’t the latter and she absolutely loves the gift. So much so she is going to be getting the newest Kirby game, Kirby Canvas Curse. She absolutely loves her Nintendog and treats it almost as though it was real… because honestly that is how good the game is.

The innovation packed into Nintendogs is amazing. Every unique feature of the Nintendo DS is put to good use. The wireless capability allows you to connect to other DS owners without any sort of leash… err… cable. The touch screen is used for petting your puppy and performing various tasks. The microphone is really the centerpiece of the game allowing you to train your dog to respond to voice commands. Teaching your first puppy its name is quite an experience for even the most seasoned gamer.

The game is very intuitive and so easily picked up that I found myself just letting her plug away. I didn’t need to explain anything as I had feared. I didn’t underestimate her ability to pick up the game and learn it, but with many hardcore gaming years under my belt I knew that even the simplest children’s games could require an innate amount of knowledge to get started in. A prime example is the bubble blower toy in game. The operation is so simple it almost made me laugh. Blow into the microphone and bubbles appear on the screen. She didn’t need a pop up menu to tell her how to do this… she just did it. It was common sense!

This sort of technology has been a long time coming. The gaming market is growing stale with sequels being the dominate factor. Feature lists are now the “innovation” instead of the technology. Nintendo has reversed this trend in their hardware. The hardware is the innovation and games that capitalize on it are innovative. I still remember articles detailing how Madden ’05 had innovative features and I can’t help but letting a small part inside of me roll on the floor laughing.

Innovation invites new gamers into the market. Games like Nintendogs focus on fun and can easily win over a new gamer. These gamers are very likely to branch out into other games that intrigue them such as my girlfriends fancy with Kirby. The key for Nintendo is to keep these gamers attracted to Nintendo products. That isn’t hard to do considering the direction most of the industry is heading.

The Nintendo DS is an inspiring piece of hardware that really has endless possibilities and Nintendogs is becoming its flagship. It is more than just cute puppies and virtual dog shows. It very much is a game.
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