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Wappy Dog (DS)
Game Reviews

Wappy Dog (DS)

An adorable plastic puppy and smart software make this one of the most interesting virtual pet simulators ever created.

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It’s been a good year for peripheral-based games, especially from Activision. After setting up figurine cross-platform play in the winning Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, the mega-publisher teams up with Sega Toys for Wappy Dog for the DS, the most interesting virtual pet ‘game’ to come along in some time. But what sets Wappy apart from an endless stream of clones and derivative products is that the package actually contains an adorable (and gender-neutral) plastic puppy that responds to both your touch and voice commands, as well as inputs from your DS console.

First off, let’s talk about the white plastic robot dog that makes up the bulk of this package. Just a glance at this companion created by Sega Toys, the word “adorable” comes to mind here with a white/blue appearance, flappy ears and tail, along with a built-in microphone to help Wappy understand commands, while his tail and nose contain small sensors that respond to your touch and lighted eyes and cheeks that change colors to match its onscreen moods. The pooch is quite the talker with over 360 audible responses, which can be ‘translated’ using the DS software, and can easily fill up a quiet room with yelps, squeaks, and other sounds.

Thankfully, this pet comes with an on/off switch when you’re done playing, and is powered by 3 AA batteries (not included). To add a bit of personality, you even get a set of stickers to make Wappy all your own.

Wappy may resemble a real puppy, but its movements certainly don’t. Motions are limited to Wappy cocking its head and front legs moving forward and back on integrated rollers, all while Wappy sits obediently in place. Those expecting a digital pet like Sony’s Aibo or some of the more sophisticated digital dogs (they do exist) might be disappointed with the virtually non-existent range of motions, but just keep in mind that low $49 price and

The included DS software lets you play with and interact with Wappy using two modes: Home and Travel, each letting you interact with either plastic or virtual versions of Wappy. Both modes share the same functionality, where games, messages, and proper care of Wappy is important for its five levels of growth from puppy to adult. Home is the real draw as it lets you interact directly with plastic Wappy, playing games like whack-a-mole together or transmitting commands and replying to selectable responses such as “How are you?” and “Are you Hungry?”, among many others. None of the activities are that challenging and Wappy is a terrible opponent; expect to hear plenty of disappointed whining when it loses.

Travel mode trades the plastic Wappy for a virtual one while retaining much the same set of options in a streamlined layout while having a more Nintendogs-like feel, complete with a digital Wappy running around your DS’ screen. But don’t worry, as Travel mode downloads Wappy’s “heart” into your DS and keeps track of all away activities, transmitting your progress back into the plastic Wappy upon your return.

The more you play the more different forms of communication and activities will open up that Wappy will jump into either as a side opponent or interactive onlooker. For the most part, most of the contact is superficial while the cute dog barks away as your attention is focused on your DS. Nonetheless, there’s no denying the impact of having a physical robotic dog sitting in front of you as it responds to commands, making even the linear communication between DS and dog much more interesting than almost any virtual pet game I’ve ever played.

A warning to parents: Wappy Dog can be annoyingly loud when playing in Home Mode. The game requires that you sit in a quiet room with the DS volume at maximum, the result being a deafening blend of cookie-cutter tunes and a wildly yelping robot dog that doesn’t stop cheering and jeering. Kids may love it, but sensitive parents may either want to confine playtime with Wappy to their bedrooms or make them play in Travel Mode, which would actually defeat the purpose of the whole virtual puppy experience.

Unless you’re looking for that unique gift for the younger gamer in your life, or just a collector of quirky gaming accessories, Activision’s Wappy Dog will probably share the same fate like so many novelties long forgotten. There’s nothing quite like it on the market, as an otherwise ho-hum virtual pet simulator nearly becomes the real thing thanks to smart communication with the DS and Wappy’s included software. The games and activities are all age-appropriate, and while some are sure to be disappointed with the pooch’s movements, the price is right to make this an easy purchase for parents looking to test the potential of upgrading to a flesh and blood equivalent. But when the fun  – or your patience for Wappy’s barks and yelps – ends, this otherwise neat accessory might just end up in the doghouse.

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About the Author: Herman Exum