First things first. Nintendogs: Dalmatian & Friends is exactly the same as Nintendogs: Chihuahua & Friends, Nintendogs: Dachshund & Friends and Nintendogs: Labrador & Friends, with one rather obvious difference.
Yes, the new edition of Nintendogs lets you raise a spotty puppy. Or a boxer, beagle, German shepherd, golden retriever or Yorkshire terrier, if you prefer, since those are the breeds you can choose from at the start of the game. A further 14 can be unlocked later (but as Nintendogs aficionados will know, unlocking new breeds can take aaages - hence they've released Dalmatian & Friends even though it's possible to unlock the dalmatian in other versions).
Once you've picked your pup, it's time to head home and teach your new dog some old tricks. Your first task is to teach your pet its name by saying it into the DS's microphone a few times. Then you can set about teaching your doggy to sit, roll over, shake hands etc. on command.
Just as with the other versions of Nintendogs, you're responsible for ensuring that your puppy is fed, watered and clean at all times, and for taking him or her for walks. You can also enter your dog in obedience competitions where they can show off the tricks they've learned, along with frisbee-catching competitions and obstacle course contests. Pets really do win prizes, and you can spend the cash you earn on more food, toys and accessories for your pup.
Then there's Bark Mode. Switch this on and your DS will alert you when another player with the game in the same state is nearby. You can link up with other Nintendogs owners wirelessly, watch your pets play together and swap any spare items you might have lying around.
Spot the difference
All of the above features appear in all the other versions of Nintendogs, of course. So if the game's the same (different breeds aside), why bother reviewing it again?
Well, because it seems like a good opportunity to look back at our original review, and to admit that our opinions have changed somewhat.
That said, we'd stand by our assertions that Nintendogs is a fresh, innovative game, and a highly impressive achievement. The puppies in Dalmatian & Friends are just as cute and engaging as those in the other games (in fact, the dalmatian is quite possibly the cutest of them all).
But our original review also questioned whether the game could get too repetitive, to the point where it's not much fun to play any more. And we've since discovered that the answer to that is most definitely yes.
The problem is that the novelty of Nintendogs wears off - and once that's happened, there's not really enough to make you want to keep on playing. At least, not if you're over the age of ten; we know kids who still happily play with their doggies months after getting hold of the game. But then kids tend to think there's nothing funnier than farts and bogies, eat their scabs and think Balamory is a real place, so their opinions are not to be trusted. (Not until they're old enough to realise that boobies and winkies are much funnier, that other people's scabs taste nicer and that Balamory is only worth watching if you are unemployed and drunk.)
The main problem is that there's just not enough to do. There are only three competitions you can enter, as outlined above, and they get pretty boring pretty quickly, particularly since your success in them doesn't always have a lot to do with your own skills. Take the frisbee-catching contest, for example - your chance of winning doesn't seem to have anything to do with how well you throw the frisbee; it's simply about how long you've spent chucking the frisbee at your dog in practice sessions up the park. Which, in itself, is a very repetitive and ultimately tiresome experience.
Much like walking your dog, in fact. As the game progresses, your puppy is able to go for longer and longer walks - which means you have to spend more and more time staring at the screen while it trundles along. Granted, stuff happens to break things up a bit; your dog might meet another dog, in which case you have to wait around while they get to know each other, or your dog might go to the toilet. Hardly thrilling.
At first, it's exciting when your dog finds a present for you - but after you've played the game for a while, you learn that said present has only a one in ten chance of being remotely interesting. For the most part, you're presented with useless objects like a stick or a broken disposable camera. Which, obviously, is rubbish.
Then there's Bark Mode. We have yet to come across a stranger who also has their DS in Bark Mode, and frankly we're not keen to. True, it's great fun to watch your puppy play with your friends' doggies, and we've managed to collect some very cool items this way, but it all gets a bit dull after five minutes or so.
One ticket to Battersea, please
The fact is, we haven't touched our original copy of Nintendogs for months now. As painful as this is to admit, our puppies are probably now completely, irretrievably mental and riddled with fleas. We're too frightened to boot up the game and find out, haunted by visions of their emaciated corpses being stripped to the bone by gargantuan rats (even though we know that Nintendogs cannot actually die on account of how much it would upset the kiddies).
After finishing our original review, we played Nintendogs for a few more weeks, but then things just got too tedious. Walking, cleaning and training the dogs took too much time and became too monotonous, and it all started to feel like work.
On first booting up Dalmatian & Friends, however, a bit of the old magic did return. We were reminded just how adorable the puppies are, and how much fun it is to have a virtual pet that looks, behaves and responds just like a real doggy would.
In other words, Nintendogs still stands up as an impressive piece of software and a game that makes brilliant use of the DS's capabilities. But it is a shame that there's not more depth to the game, and not enough incentives to keep you playing as the weeks pass.
Of course, there are some young Nintendogs fans (and a few older ones with more patience than us, we'd wager) for whom the novelty will never wear off. But only the most serious of completists should consider buying Dalmatian & Friends too, since it's basically the same game.
If you've never played Nintendogs, and are thinking of investing in a copy - perhaps to go with your shiny new DS Lite - Dalmatian & Friends is a good choice, in that there's a nice selection of breeds and the dalmatians really are THAT cute.
And if you do invest in a copy, we're sure that you'll be utterly enchanted. You'll have hours of fun playing with your new puppy, and you'll be keen to show him or her off to everyone you know - not just because you're so proud of your doggy, but because Nintendogs is a great example of what the DS can do, and of how not all games have to be about pushing buttons to fire guns or beat people up.
But if, like us, you don't have a vast amount of time on your hands to spend walking around a rather dull virtual landscape every day, and if you like a bit more from your games in terms of incentives and variation, chances are you won't be playing Dalmatian & Friends in a few weeks' time. It's sad to have to say that, since we still think Nintendogs is an amazing achievement and a great game - it's just not a great game for very long. In other words, if you're a grown-up, if there are limits to your patience and your time, and if you want a game that's not just for Christmas, it's probably not a good idea to pick Nintendogs.