Developer: ngmoco:)
Price: FREE
Version Reviewed: 1.1

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Game Controls Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆

iPhone Integration Rating: ★★★½☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★★☆

Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

IMG_0167After months of hype and a Canada-exclusive open beta, ngmoco’s Touch Pets Dogs has finally arrived in the worldwide App Store, nipping on the heels of Eliminate. It’s a virtual pet sim with surprising depth, as well as the Plus+ community features you’d expect from the company that created the Plus+ iPhone gaming network. The pups are cute and the game is fun, but the need for an internet connection and the quick depletion of food will have some would-be pet owners grumbling.

In almost every pet sim, your first stop is the adoption center, and Touch Pets is no exception. Here, you can pick from seven breeds, including a robo-dog. Once you’ve adopted your pooch, you head to your “house,” and the tutorial begins. Touch Pets quickly covers the basics of petting, feeding, cleaning, and playing with your puppy. There’s plenty else to do: you can toss a frisbee around, dress up your pet, teach it tricks, have a playdate with another pup, or embark on a career.

IMG_0169Your puppy has five stats that control its happiness: Energy, Water, Petting, Let Out, and Cleanness. The last four are all straightforward (give it water, take it outside, etc) but energy is the one that will annoy many players.

Energy is constantly drained, though some activities are more tiring than others for your poor puppy. To replenish your pup’s energy, you have to feed it…and here’s the sticker. You only get a certain amount of food per day; after that, your dog goes to sleep. (Thankfully, unlike iPuppy World, you don’t have to sit there and watch the dog sleep; it uses the iPhone clock.) Extra food can be bought via separate apps (in-app purchases are coming with the next update) but be warned: those little costs add up, fast, because food disappears quickly. Your “starving” pet won’t die, but really, ngmoco? A real dog doesn’t digest food in five minutes.

But while your puppy is awake, there are plenty of tasks to do. Your mileage will vary depending on how much you like petting/watering/playing with your virtual puppy; personally, after a few days, I was tired of taking care of my pet’s needs every time I opened the app. But you can also do things like teach your puppy tricks (alas, this isn’t Nintendogs, and tricks are gesture-based rather than voice-based) and invite others over, either by picking a random puppy from the global news stream or by finding one of your Plus+ friends. Puppies can play with each other and become friends or, if they’re of opposite genders, fall in love. In-game puppy bucks, which are earned when your pet is happy, can be spent on tons of different clothes, toys, or treats.

ngmoco clearly anticipated that players would need goals beyond the basic love-your-puppy, and the careers are their solution. There are a number of careers available (Celebrity, Scientist, Rescuer, etc.) but each is essentially the same. You’ll need to improve a skill, buy an item, or some other combination of relatively simple requirements before you can send your dog on its mission; it then dashes off the screen and goes to do its “job.”

IMG_0168There’s a lot to do in Touch Pets: Dogs, but the game’s strongest point, I think, is the puppies themselves. The animations are smooth and the puppy’s movements and actions seem realistic, and any puppy-loving kid should be delighted to see them prance about the screen.

Not all is perfect, of course. For one, you can’t play the game without an internet connection—period. If you’re an iPod Touch user or an iPhone user with a tiny data plan, you may want to give this one a pass. The constant need for food also means that you can’t play for more than ten or fifteen minutes before your puppy collapses into a coma…unless you’re willing to pay real cash for food. I played the free version for a few days before redeeming a code for extra food, and the playtime limit makes this one of the tougher “freemium” apps to play. A tweak to the energy consumption rate would be much appreciated.

That being said, Touch Pets: Dogs is hands-down the best pet sim the App Store has yet seen, and it adds one more quality title to ngmoco’s impressive catalog. Whether or not you’re willing to invest the time and money in a virtual pet is another matter entirely.

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