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Developer: Yuke’s Company of America
Release date: Available now
Review by: Ed Humphries
Ever since Nintendo took the “virtual pet” craze to the next level by offering up actual digital dogs in their hit DS release, Nintendogs, game developers have mined this niche looking to excavate the next hit animal avatar. So, in the years since, casual gamers have been granted a vast menagerie of pretend pets in titles such as Horsez and Catz. The use of pet familiars has even hit the hardcore mainstream gamer, with developers like Peter Molyneux introducing a dog companion that your hero gets to befriend and nurture in his forthcoming follow-up to Fable, due later this year. That said, as dog lovers will attest, there is nothing comparable to the bond that develops with Man’s Best Friend – a fact that developer Yukes aims to showcase in their new release The Dog Island.
While The Dog Island borrows elements from the aforementioned Nintendogs title – as well as cribbing wholesale from Nintendo’s other big casual property, Animal Crossing, at heart it’s actually closer in form to a traditional 3rd person platform adventure game. As the game begins, the player selects their dog from a list of 48 breeds. As an owner of two labs, I gravitated to the yellow Labrador Retriever and immediately named her Abby, after my own precious pooch. (Chatham will have to sit this one out unless a sequel rolls over).
Once you have chosen your canine character, you’re dropped into a curious burg populated solely by puppies. The 48 breeds are on full display here and the town they live in bears a resemblance to the cute, storybook villas that populate Animal Crossing. Here all dogs must work for a living, so in the course of your travels you will run into a Dalmatian milkman, a Schnauzer sea captain and a bulldog mailman (who I assume chases after himself).
The introductory chapter and town serve as an extended tutorial, and walk the player through their dog’s assorted abilities. The most important skill is scent sniffing. At several stops throughout the game, the player is tasked with uncovering a hidden item (yes – this game about dogs is brimming with fetch quests). A gauge at the bottom of the screen acts as radar. As your dog sniffs (activated by holding the A button), the gauge will fill up as you close in on your quarry. Once the meter is completely full, a sound cue will alert you to dig. At that point, two quick flicks of the Wiimote will prompt your dog to dig in that spot and uncover the hidden treasure.
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