When checking my emails one fine morning in February, a headline in my gameindustry.biz daily spam caught my eye. One that made my morning considerably less fine. The headline read as follows: ‘Mobile game based on Dr. Mario due to launch this summer.’ I was immediately consumed by rage, one that always overtakes me when I am reminded of that baffling truth: that even now, in the year of our Luigi 2019, there is still no sign of a new Nintendogs game for smartphone.
Seriously, Nintendo? Nothing? It’s the ideal IP for the platform! A move so obvious, so simple even I can see it! Nintendogs has all the ingredients to be a smartphone hit, starting with cute dogs. It’s an established, lucrative, and award-winning franchise that hasn’t had a new instalment since 2011. You can use smartphone features like the built-in pedometer and GPS for the dog-walking mechanic. Most people who played Nintendogs when it came out are now adults with smartphones, nostalgia, and not enough time to have an actual dog, so it has an instant audience. Ted and Archie can bring the banter. Have I mentioned cute dogs yet?
But with Dr. Mario and Mario Kart Tour announced as Nintendo’s next smartphone releases it doesn’t seem like Nintendogs is on the cards for the foreseeable future. That’s why I’m hoping to both win Nintendo over to the Dog Side and speed up the design process for a potential game all in one article. I’m no game designer, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Equal parts plea and pitch, here I present to you my design document for a Nintendogs game for smartphone. Please, Miyamoto. You know it makes sense.
My working title for this game is Smart Nintendogs, because I’m not particularly good at making up game names. Look, it’s a work in progress. I’m sure the lads at Nintendo can think of something better.
Smart Nintendogs is the latest addition to the highly successful Nintendogs franchise, a simulation game in which the player looks after extremely cute virtual dogs. I use the term ‘looks after’ very loosely—the dogs don’t really require anything. They are immortal beings who transcend simple, puny, mortal needs. But they do love going for walkies and being dressed up in cute (and terrible) dog clothes.
The player will start with one dog, picked from three starter breeds. I know this is very Pokémon, but Nintendo is one of the owners of the Pokémon copyright and sole owner of the trademark, so I doubt there’d be any legal trouble if that’s a potential problem. The player will unlock more breeds as they play, the total number and specifics of which are up for discussion but definitely includes pomeranians and papillons (this is one of the two parts of the design that I consider essential). The player can have as many dogs as they like, but can only have three in their house at once. Progress will be logged by experience points, here called Trainer Points.
The player earns trainer points by doing pretty much any activity with the dogs. Activities range from simple petting using the touch screen to taking them out for real-time walks using the smartphone’s pedometer and GPS functions. Other activities are training, washing and brushing, and challenges.
Petting, brushing, and washing are all simple activities that use the touch screen, and can be done at any time as many times as the player likes. However, the number of points earned from doing this is relatively small and has a daily cap. The player can also throw their dog a treat at any time. The reward for this is a cute animation of the dog catching (or failing to catch) said treat.
Now let’s get into the meaty stuff.
Training works pretty much as it did in the original Nintendogs, and revolves around tapping or dragging on the screen and yelling at the top of your lungs. I was originally skeptical about keeping the infamous voice commands feature from the original, but when I was pitching this article to my fellow wormpressers, the responses were overwhelmingly positive with regards to shouting. So it stays. Players can still do everything they need to with just the touch screen, but shouting is always an option for those who wish to truly immerse themselves in the world of Smart Nintendogs.
The first trick the player teaches a dog is their name, essentially by yelling whatever they want at the phone. When the phone registers the same sound three times in a row, the dog will learn that as its name and will come to the ‘front’ of the screen whenever the phone hears that noise again. Or the player can just tap the dog they want to come over. Not everyone wants to yell.
From then on, the player calls the dog they want to train, and then taps or drags on the dog to try to get them to do a trick from the in-game manual. They can then reward them with pets and treats when they succeed. Get a dog to successfully do a trick three times in a row, and they’ll have it memorised, indicated by a lightbulb above the dog’s head (and yes, the player can still feed said lightbulb to their dog). All of this, of course, accompanied by shouting the name of the trick, or whatever filthy, disgusting words the player wants their dog to respond to. I know what people are like. Successfully teaching a dog a trick will gain the player, you guessed it, trainer points. But they’ll also get a dog reward, some basic, some actually cool. Like if you teach your dog to play dead you get a little dog bandana with a skull on it or something.
First, my sincerest apologies for the amount of times I’m going to reference Pokémon Go in this section.
A major way players earn trainer points is by taking their dogs out for walks. Walking in Smart Nintendogs is a bit like walking in Pokémon Go, but has some significant differences. The big one is that in Smart Nintendogs it’s a lot easier to ‘cheat’. This is intentional. It’s a novel idea to get The Youth™ out into the world and exercising with video games, but home is where the heart, the wifi, the charging cable, and the various furnishings on which to rest your exhausted body are. Personally I enjoyed the get out and walk concept of Pokémon Go, but it’s not exactly an appealing game for people who find walking difficult for any reason, live in rural areas with low spawn rates and no pokéstops, or simply don’t have the data to spare. Plus having region-locked pokémon was a real dick move. So let’s not do that again, or at least not make it the only way to play.
Walking in Smart Nintendogs will be tracked by GPS or by pedometer; the player chooses which at the beginning of each walk. Each has advantages and disadvantages. GPS mode obviously isn’t for the understandably paranoid player, requires an internet connection, and needs the phone to be open with the app running, like Pokémon Go. Unlike Pokémon Go however, Smart Nintendogs will always count a player’s walk distance no matter how fast they go, so players can still get trainer points while in a vehicle. Pedometer mode doesn’t require an internet connection, can be used with the phone screen turned off, and distance walked is calculated by phone movement because that’s how pedometers work. The intrepid player can still cheat in pedometer mode, of course, by methods such bouncing their leg while their phone is taped to it. The more daredevil player may tape their phone to a ceiling fan. I applaud such exploits in all their forms.
Of course, there will be a limit on how many trainer points a player can earn from walking each day to stop players using these exploits for infinite points. I’m not a complete fool. This way, walking is encouraged but not essential. The core of the game is cute dogs, not fitness.
Challenges and Rewards
Challenges are, well, challenges issued regularly by Ted and Archie and other neighbours, and consist of things like ‘log in for 5 days in a row’ or ‘walk X distance within X number of days’ or ‘successfully get a dog to perform this specific sequence of tricks.’ Simple stuff. The main thing is that completing challenges gets the player rewards in the forms of cute dog clothes, toys, musical records, and whatever else you can think of that’s appropriate. This replaces the stores of the previous games.
When a player completes a challenge they will be given a special reward specific to the challenge, and a choice between one more reward they can pick themselves from the rewards catalogue, or three rewards which are randomly selected. Challenge-specific rewards will be generally be a bit cooler than regular ones, including music records that make the player’s dogs behave a certain way, or cooler-than-usual dog clothes, like a witch costume for a challenge set at Halloween.
Challenges are essentially a replacement for trials because I wasn’t a huge fan of them in the original Nintendogs, and I refuse to look past my personal bias. Disk trials were too much at the mercy of the dog AI, I hated obedience trials for reasons I can’t remember, and while I actually really liked agility trials they required a precision which I don’t think is feasible for a touch screen that uses a finger rather than a stylus. I still really want Ted and Archie in the game though, and challenges give me a reason to keep them.
Plot and Characters
It’s fucking Nintendogs, boys. There’s no main plot, no story arc, just cute dogs. Maybe Ted and Archie Rumsworth-Hubbs can have an arc. I say Rumsworth-Hubbs because it’s been eight years and they’re married now (this is the second thing I consider essential). It’s 2019. It’s time for Nintendo to have some canonically gay characters apart from Bowser.
Ted and Archie Rumsworth-Hubbs are the player guides, the Pokémon professors of the Nintendogs world. I’m upgrading the amount of screentime they get because I love them. They guide the player in tutorials and issue challenges. They still have witty and loving banter with each other. Archie makes Ted feel like a man.
Neighbour NPCs also reappear in the form of challenge givers. They can also be encountered with their dogs while walking with the app open, giving the player an opportunity to try and befriend their dogs in a little mini-game.
The dogs of course are the main characters, but won’t have much dialogue, mainly just barking, sniffing, and generally being doggy.
For the most part, the game is set in the player home, which for the purposes of the game consists of a single room. The design of the home can be changed by the player once they unlock new designs through earning Trainer Points. It’s like the original Nintendogs, only they are unlocked automatically and once a player has changed their home design they don’t have to wait two real-time days before changing it again, because that sucked. Everyone likes customising their stuff and no one likes waiting. Changing the room design will only affect appearance, and home designs range from designer condo to cabin to the moon, where the player may watch their dogs scamper in the lunar dust as Earth looms on the horizon.
When the player takes their dog for a walk (only one dog at a time folks), the setting is changed to outdoors (duh). Unlike the old games in which walking involved yanking on your dog’s leash, walking in Smart Nintendogs happens off-screen as it were, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it! If the player chooses to keep their phone screen on with the app open while walking they will see animation of their dog walking on a leash with a neighbourhood background. Like the design of the home, the design of the neighbourhood can also be changed, using the same mechanics. Because sometimes I just want to take my dog for a walk on the moon, even if it’s illegal.
A Final Plea
Nintendo. You’ve done Pokémon Go. You’ve done Magikarp Jump, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and Miitomo—games which I’m fairly sure no one remembers but me. You might’ve done more that were so underwhelming even I don’t know about them. It’s time you stepped up your game (heh) and made Nintendogs for smartphone. You have my suggestions, I’m sure you can find a way to make money off them. I’m just sorry I don’t have a snappy title. I’m not that creative. Maybe Walk Nintendogs? I don’t know. Just do it.