This slightly odd memory invokes a great sense of nostalgia in me: sitting in the back of a car on a long drive, repeating the name “Toffee” at the little Labrador puppy sitting patiently on the screen of my pink Nintendo DS Lite on a constant loop for 20 minutes, until my mum finally snapped. Given that my family were not open to pets and my brother’s allergies meant that wasn’t going to change anytime soon, Nintendogs offered me the companions I had always wanted. Reflecting back on the sentimentalism of the memories attached to playing it, it really was a game that made up a significant part of my childhood.
In case you did not have the fortune of owning a Nintendo DS and having this game at your disposal, the basic premise was to own, train and care for your virtual dogs. From choosing their name (and spending hours repeating it until they picked it up), to entering them in competitions once they had picked up all the skills you could teach them, Nintendogs offered you the chance to live out your greatest dog-owner dreams with none of the mess. All the currency you earned happily went back into dog treats and toys as you grew to love your pups, even when they refused to go through the little tube in the agility course as you had trained them to do countless times.
Taking virtual walks and coming across other dog-walkers, picking up prize boxes in the street to be surprised with another miscellaneous squeaky toy and heading to the training park for a run around was how I would happily spend hours. Even the act of washing your dogs was fun, with the control over the sponge and shower providing satisfaction and pride in your sparkling clean, handsome little pup.
I hope that wherever Toffee and his pals are now, they’re doing well and have balloons to bark at galore
The strange tension disguised as banter between the commentators at the Nintendogs agility competitions may have missed me as a child, but the fun of the competition itself made up for the awkward voiceovers. The hard work invested in training your pup in the various aspects of the course paid off in prize money awarded at the competition. The pride of winning validated my efforts with currency I would often then spend on more balloons, only for them to be inevitably and immediately popped in the jaws of my digital dogs.
Although it may sound like I’m exaggerating (which I am, just a little bit), the day I had to give my Nintendogs away was a heartbreak of intensity I hope I never experience again. After agreeing to swap in my games and console to fund towards my brother’s PlayStation 4, I charged up and switched on the DS Lite for a final farewell. I’m not ashamed to admit that as I gave the (neglected) dogs their last bath and dinner, a farewell walk and one concluding opportunity to bark at the balloons, I shed a little tear.
Alongside the ridiculous sentimentalism I had attached to sporadically caring for these digital dogs, handing over the game felt like I was saying goodbye to the last remnant of my childhood. I had spent countless hours training these dogs, had self-induced sore throats from teaching them their names and spent thousands of virtual pounds on the best dog food on offer. The sadness of giving them away, I imagine, was a lot like the feeling parents experience when they watch their child fly the nest.
I’m surprised Nintendo haven’t yet taken the initiative of developing an app mimicking the game
While the little virtual pups of my childhood will never be forgotten (although I forgot about them quite regularly, leading to some dirty dogs when I returned), now and again I wish I had kept my DS for the sole purpose of visiting them again. I’m surprised Nintendo haven’t yet taken the initiative of developing an app mimicking the game given how many people cite it as an important part of their childhood. Perhaps it’s a good thing, as my chances of getting the last of my degree done would reduce significantly if they were to release a smartphone version now.
Although I’m not much of a video game player anymore, Nintendogs holds a very special place in my heart. While it’s bittersweet that I will never play with them again, I hope that wherever Toffee and his pals are now, they’re doing well and have balloons to bark at galore.