Growing up, I was always more of a portable person than a home console kid. Nintendo handhelds, specifically, kept me engaged whether I was on the train heading to school or in bed under the covers. One of the games I played the most during those days was a Nintendo DS classic called Nintendogs. I didn’t have a pet of my own at the time, so getting to care for and cuddle up with a cute virtual puppy entertained me for hours on end. Today, I have a couple of real dogs whom I spend plenty of time with. I’ve still got a soft, nostalgia-sprinkled spot in my heart for pet sims though, so when I heard that Little Friends: Dogs & Cats was coming, I knew I would be all over it. But is it actually good?
If you have any experience with the Nintendogs franchise, then you’ll be right at home with Little Friends: Dogs & Cats. Like in those games, you’re responsible for taking care of the wants and needs of an adorable little pet of your choice. There are six different breeds of dogs to choose from, and once you get far enough into the game you also unlock three cat breeds to bring home with you.
While the amount of activities available to you is considerable, they tend to fall flat in a few different ways. Playing with your pets is a huge part of Little Friends, and you can toss around balls or discs or chew toys either in the comfort of your virtual home or outside on a grassy training field.
Unfortunately, you don’t have very precise control over how you throw these toys. In docked mode, you’re meant to hold down the A button and shake your Joy-Con to toss discs and balls, but I often found my throws either not going as far as I wanted them to, or simply not registering at all. In docked mode, you just press a button and the toy gets thrown.
There really isn’t any finesse to it, which becomes an issue during throwing disc competitions. In these, your pet competes with two others to see who can catch the most discs in three minutes. Your dog gets bonus points for catching high fliers or far throws, but I could never consistently get those to happen. There also aren’t any people present in the game, meaning it was a little off-putting seeing the competing dogs catch discs thrown by what are basically invisible ghosts.
Interacting with your pet at home in Little Friends is a little more enjoyable. You can spend quality time with them by petting or brushing them, either with touchscreen motions or docked Joy-Con movement. You can also instruct them to do tricks that they learn as your friendship meter goes up. The controls here are nice, but the calibration on the Joy-Con often got messed up while I was using them in this mode.
Petting and brushing your pet is also the only way to clean them, which came as a bit of a disappointment to me. One of the most satisfying parts of Nintendogs was washing your dogs and scrubbing away at them to dynamically remove the layers of dirt and mud on them. In Little Friends: Dogs & Cats, you simply brush your dog a few times and then, upon exiting the menu, all their dirt is gone. For a game all about simulating life with a pet, missing details like these do it a huge disservice.
Thankfully, Little Friends has a wealth of customization options that give you a variety of ways to really make the pets and your home feel like your own. As you progress through the game, you unlock a bunch of different themes, rugs, and furniture sets for your home. You also unlock a wealth of accessories for your pets to customize their looks.
Little Friends: Dogs & Cats tries its best to be the Nintendogs sequel that Nintendo is too scared to give us. It gets a few things right, like the variety of activities and the huge amount of customization available. Unfortunately, the lack of detail when it comes to control options and taking care of your pet makes this an experience with very little staying power.
A review code was provided by the publisher.