Thanks to Nintendogs, pet simulators have entered the mainstream. People love them, probably because they simulate the experience of having a pet without requiring the time and effort that real animals do, and they don't make you clean up nasty accidents either. Electronic Arts' entry into the pet-raising genre is The Sims 2: Pets, which is available for numerous systems, including the Nintendo DS. What's interesting about the DS version of the game is that it casts players into the role of veterinarian and places a greater emphasis on the care and grooming of animals. That's quite a focus shift from the other versions, which incorporate pets and pet-related jobs into the traditional humanoid sim blueprint. You'd think, then, that the DS game would deliver the superior pet-rearing experience, since it lets players spend more time interacting with their animals and less time doing silly tasks like holding a job or hanging out with other sims. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out that way. While you do get plenty of opportunities to interact with a menagerie of cats and dogs, the number of different options available during those interactions is rather limited. At the same time, the animals themselves don't display much in the way of personality or playfulness in response to your efforts.
Everything starts out on the right foot. After you pick out a human sim and select an accompanying pet from a list of cats and dogs, you'll find yourself standing in the middle of a small house that's been converted into a vet's office. Your sim and its pet both have needs that you need to monitor and take care of. You'll have to tell your sim to use the bathroom, to take showers, to sit down, and to cook and eat food. For your sim's pet, you'll have to tell the sim to feed it, give it a bath, groom it, and take it to the park for play and exercise. The controls make use of the touch screen extensively, such that you usually only need to tap an object twice to make your sim do something. Time moves more quickly in the game than it does in reality, but it only takes a minute or two to tend to the needs of your Sim and its pet each day. You'll spend much more time playing the role of veterinarian. Other sims are constantly bringing their cats and dogs to you, and you have to diagnose and treat their illnesses and provide various grooming services. When the owners come back to pick up their pets, they'll pay you money and sing your praises to others. Ultimately, the goal is to become a renowned vet and use the money you earn to expand the house and fill it with the best gadgets and furniture money can buy.
Once you've spent a couple of in-game days keeping your Sim happy and caring for animals, boredom begins to set in as you realize that you're constantly doing the same limited set of actions over and over again. To diagnose an animal, you take it over to the table and rub it, brush it, or look it over with the stethoscope and X-ray until the game tells you what the problem is. To treat an animal, you simply need to feed it the proper medicine, bandage it up, or take it over to the bathing or grooming stations. All of these actions require that you grab and manipulate tools using the touch screen, but the process isn't so interesting when you end up doing the same four or five tasks constantly. As it is, animals in the game only ever come down with one of five unique maladies. Going for a walk or playing with a pet is slightly more enjoyable, since you can pick out a toy to play with or choose a trick to see, but even then you're limited to a small selection of toys and tricks. Basically, none of the game's interactive aspects are as fleshed out as they should be.
The incessant repetition wouldn't be so bad if the atmosphere was upbeat or if the animals were fun to watch. The atmosphere, however, isn't upbeat. It's dull, and the cats and dogs are about as lively as a pet that's just woken up from a midday nap. On the technical side, the game puts the system's 3D abilities to work generating the house, the park, and all of the trees and furniture situated within those environments. Nothing really moves in the environment, though, except for the people and animals, and they don't move much to begin with. Sims will throw tantrums if you let one of their needs go for too long. Otherwise, they just walk from one spot to the next and wave occasionally. If you have your sim take a shower, for instance, they'll just get in and step out after a few seconds. There's no elaborate flourish of water and scrubbing like you'd see in one of the regular The Sims games. By the same token, the animals look cute and furry, and have big, expressive eyes, but they hardly do much but wag their tails and wander about halfheartedly. The kitties and pooches in The Sims 2: Pets definitely do not jump and frolic like the dogs in Nintendogs do.
There aren't enough sound effects to go around, either. For all of the 20 different animals, there are only a few different purr, bark, and meow noises, which are heard sparingly. Your human Sim will also speak up and utter some gibberish when they're talking to another Sim or they're annoyed by something. Mostly, though, you're stuck listening to the knockoff elevator music that's always playing in the background.
It's nice that The Sims 2: Pets incorporates some veterinary aspects that we haven't seen in other pet-care games. Beyond that, however, it's limited, it's repetitive, and it lacks the heart that a game in the genre really must have to appeal to the kind of person that's looking for this sort of game.