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Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last ten years, you probably have at one point encountered photos of dogs taken with some crazy lens so that their noses appear disproportionately wide. The effect is one of the dog having come up to within an inch of your face to give you a big, sloppy doggie kiss. Welcome to the world of 'The Dog' - a popular Japanese franchise that has expanded its quest for world domination by entering the video game market with Ubisoft's Dog Island.
Now, adventure games are my very favorite type of video game, but Dog Island would be my young childrens' first foray into the genre. They were hooked before the game even started with an introductory song in which all the puppies parade through. Parents may find the song at best something to be endured and at worst an alternative to torture. You can skip the introduction by pressing the A button, but so far, my kids have yet to let me skip it.
At the initial start-up, you pick a puppy to be the main character and name it, and then the story begins. In broad strokes, the protagonist puppy's sibling is very ill, so the main pup must travel to Dog Island to seek the only doctor who can provide a cure. And, like any adventure game, there are a series on mini-quests along the way that must be completed before the primary goal is achieved.
Dog Island is a beautiful game.
On the plus side, Dog Island is a beautiful game. The locations have lots of exploration potential, and the game developers send your pup on quests designed to get to know the island and its locations. Not to mention the appeal of the puppies. They truly are doggone cute, pardon the terrible pun.
Sadly, the game's limitations outweigh its strengths. First, the slowness of the pace means that the game is most effective for younger children; I can't imagine many older kids who would have the patience to stay with it. And yet, the vast majority of any of the interactions gained by pointing and clicking involves written dialogue between the dogs (which are orally presented as barks or clicks). As such, that limitation makes it nearly impossible to let the child play without a parent's (or other reader's) involvement. Secondly, in order to save your game, you have to find the bulldog postman. This is fine if the character happens to be in the main village. However, many of the quests take a fair amount of game time and happen in locations outside the village. It's not a good idea, therefore, to start the game unless you have a no time deadlines or appointments looming; we had more than one frustrating session of having to lose the work we'd done in order because we couldn't get back to the village to save the game.
Dog Island is a sweet, calm game that is easy for young hands to operate.
Finally, outside of the ability to pick your own pup, as a single-player game, the sequence of happenings in the game is exactly the same no matter who plays. So if you have two kids, both of whom want a turn to play the game, the second child is already going to know what he or she is supposed to do, having just watched his sibling go through it. This is a common limitation of single-person games, but not universal. For example, in Endless Ocean, another single-player game, the game is completely unique based upon where on the map you send the boat.
Overall, Dog Island is a sweet, calm game that is easy for young hands to operate as a point-and-click Wii game. Outside of needing to shake the remote to dig up an item, the game doesn't really take advantage of the Wii's capabilities. Parents should be prepared, however, to offer a lot of dialogue support, and if you have multiple children, to either sequester your children to keep the storyline new, or take turns being one main puppy. And don't say I didn't warn you about the song.
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