Growing up my family always had dogs, and my kinship with the canine race is a deep love affair resulting in me owning two of the most beautiful dogs in the world as an adult. I look at a dog, I cry, it’s that simple. So a few years back when digital dogs were all the rage, you’d better believe I grabbed a copy of Nintendogs quicker than a spaniel grabs a tennis ball.
Well, the Nintendo Nintendog gods haven’t seen fit to bless us with virtual pets in some time, so we’ve got to get our fix (not that kind, dogs, don’t worry) elsewhere. If you also want your pet sim with a side of the bizarre, then here comes Wobbledogs Console Edition, a bewildering cosy dog game that straddles the line between adorable and insane deftly.
Less of a pet simulation and more of a science experiment, the focus of Wobbledogs is on breeding your poor little puppies in further extreme ways. In what I assume (and hope) is a critique of the grotesque breeding techniques for dogs like French Bulldogs and Pugs, riddled with health problems for aesthetic vanity, in Wobbledogs you’ve got to make the freakiest dog you can possibly imagine. But don’t worry, you’ll have some fun along the way.
To reiterate, if you’re coming to Wobbledogs to get your Nintendogs fix, perhaps have a closer look at what sets the game apart. The crux of the game is looking after a bunch of dogs in a room, and you can feed them, praise them, scold them, ad even throw toys, but there’s so much more to it than there seems. The eponymous Wobbledogs are a collection of hilarious hounds that are made up of one rectangular slab like a block of tofu that can woof, and a set of spindly legs.
Well, that’s how they start, as one of the core tenets of Wobbledogs is experimentation. The actual simulation mechanics are loose at best, and luckily can be largely automated. Your pups aren’t going to start howling at you to wash them, instead happy to bumble around and do their own thing. You can drag them some food if you think Lump the dog really fancies a chicken nugget, but they’re not begging for it.
The dogs also have a life cycle, starting out as little pups, before they go through a metamorphosis phase where they “pupate”, a word I didn’t know I hated until I read it. They transform into a little cocoon and hang from the ceiling, before emerging as a larger dog, and advancing their life cycle. It’s adorable to see the tiny versions of Wobbledogs that hatch from eggs (yes, eggs), but you’ll need them to pupate (yuck) as they can’t breed unless they’re adults.
While you’re looking after your pup, you can decorate their lair with a host of fun little wallpapers, carpets, and a selection of toys and furniture items to brighten up the room. You can whack a food dispenser in the corner and watch the dogs feed themselves, and the more toys you drop in, the more you can watch them play. I like the hands-off approach of Wobbledogs, as it still allows you to interact with the creatures where you want. You can increase their happiness by petting or playing with them, and the more you experiment or play, the more you’re rewarded.
Unlockables in Wobbledogs work with a loose achievement system, rewarding players for meeting conditions like digging holes, feeding dogs, breeding a certain number, and plenty more interesting and elaborate tasks. Each one pops up with a fancy new wallpaper or other feature for your room, and before long you even unlock the chance to build extra rooms around your current one like a little hampster village. The scope for building and decorating is quite big, and the loose attitude puts the focus on simply having fun with it.
Of course, the crux of the game is the breeding, and in your attempt to make the weirdest and most wacky dogs you can, you’re going to have to get a whole pack of different pups to do the horizontal monster mash. Each pup has a specific set of gut flora that define its characteristics, while these might lie dormant, breeding has a chance of bringing out some of the more peculiar traits, and the more you breed, the less stable the eventual dog becomes.
I have made some absolute little freaks already, and I love them. I’ve got Meatball the hulking dog that glows bright purple, Spud somehow has a tiny little head but spindly legs like a spider, and poor little Bagel looks like they shouldn’t exist. The fun is in just slapping together different dogs and seeing what happens, and the weirder the results, the more I love them.
Each element of Wobbledogs is chilled in its own way, and you can participate as much as you really see fit. The more you play, the more you get rewarded, but there‘s no punishment for doing or leaving certain things. I flit between just toying with my dogs in different rooms and breeding little monstrosities, but I ticked off plenty of goals in the process, and occasionally the game throws you an item called a capsule that pops up with additional treats. There’s no right or wrong way to play Wobbledogs, but there is plenty to do in whatever direction you choose.
I’ve had a good time with Wobbledogs, but admittedly a lot of that feels in spite of the game itself. The hands-off approach also applies to tutorials, which swiftly drop you into the fray clearly to allow you to experiment on your own terms. But hours and hours in I still don’t quite get a lot of elements, and I’m unsure of whether I’m doing the right thing or not when breeding. A couple of tips or tricks hidden away in a menu would have been great and not interfered with the experimental ethos. I just never appreciate having to search YouTube to understand something that a game should tell me.
Also, while Wobbledogs has a purposeful lo-fi look with chunky shapes and silly design, the actual graphics leave a lot to be desired. Everything is here and the bright colours and low textures fit in with the idea of a children’s playground for dogs, but a little more clarity and detail be amazing. This is also coupled with an atrocious framerate on Switch, which seems to hover at 30 at best, but can dip significantly as you move around. I’ve also experienced freezes, soft locks, and full crashes in my time. Luckily, I’ve never lost much progress, but there’s a lot to do in each moment, so I begrudge having to redo different parts.
While Wobbledogs already runs worse than a pug in a poncho, it’s also hampered by some very typical issues when moving games from PC to Switch. The main way to interact with things is by using the right analog stick as a cursor, a cumbersome and often ineffective way of moving around. Next up, the actual camera movement is dreadful. ZL and ZR zoom the camera, and while left and right on the left analog stick move you accordingly, up and down move the camera forwards and backward. There’s no way to simply lift the cursor up towards the top of the screen without awkwardly tipping the camera angle, and it makes interacting with dogs a hassle, especially when they pupate (wretch) and hang from the ceiling.
I admire everything about Wobbledogs, and I have a big smile on my face as I see the jiggly guys wander around, decorate their house, and breed them into oblivion making some freakishly disproportionate little dogs that I love with all my heart. But the issues with performance, camera control, and the general lack of direction make me feel like I’m often fighting against the game to have that fun. There’s a lot to love here, but I hope a couple of patches can teach this dog a few new tricks.
Wobbledogs Console Edition review
Like a loveable puppy that’s peed on the carpet, it’s hard to be mean to Wobbledog. The adorable pet sim has a distinct personality and loads to do. I just wish it wasn’t quite so aimless, and that the performance and controls on Switch matched the heart that the core gameplay so clearly has. You’re a good boy Wobbledogs, but you can be better.