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Derby Dogs - WiiWare Review

Game Info
Derby Dogs

WiiWare | Aksys Games | 1 Player / 2-8 Players (online versus) | Nintendo Wi-fi Connection Pay & Play DLC available
Out Now (North America) | 500 Nintendo Points
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer)
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19th February 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

Centrally founded on an admittedly good concept, Derby Dogs may appear to be an adequate purchase. But parents in particular shouldn't be so trusting. After repeated plays, it's not long before anyone (child or otherwise) realizes the game for what it is: a simulation game that feels distant in the interaction it provides and flawed in the elements it presents.

    At the start of the game, players take on the responsibility of caring for one of three dogs who will later compete in dog racing events in the area. Right from the start, there's little warmth to be had in the way your dog-to-trainer relationship is conveyed. It's almost purely about material gain, leaving little to be immersed with (or even a desire to do so). Although I didn't think much of it at the time, later on I realized that this should have been my first clue that the game wasn't going to do much for me in terms of engagement. 

    When set to the main training area or menu, your dog is shown in a fenced-in area with the most basic of doghouses. And before you ask, the answer is no: there's nothing you can do to spruce this place up, or make him/her feel more comfortable by placing toys for him to play with. The most interaction you get is aiming a special hand cursor at the screen to rub your pet with. Your pet shows very little concern for your supposed act of kindness, but perhaps it's because he can see right through this. Really, the player doesn't honestly and truly care about him as an individual, he just wants him to make money. And the way everything's presented most certainly reflects that feeling.

Continuing with that thought, I felt it was weird that there were no actual hurdles or obstacle courses set up in and around your general area of focus on this menu. What's more, although the wide open space would suggest a typical dog training area, you can't actually zoom out and see the whole training ground. That's because instead of treating it as an entire venue, the developers arranged things in such a way that each activity would be shown in a different area as if to suggest this was all done within the confines of the same area. This sense of disconnection most certainly doesn't do the game any favors when it's already suffering from a lack of immersion.

    Speaking of activities, Derby Dogs has a total of eight different training exercises that you can put your dog through. There's Frisbee throwing, jump rope, and rabbit chasing events, just to name a few. Most of these also have different variations of the same activity meaning you can train your dog to further develop a specific attribute, or slowly introduce more advanced experiences to the less experienced. Problem is, the execution is just so mediocre. You don't actually take part in the training. Everything is automated, which yet again brings up issues of not effectively interacting with the player. To be fair, their choice to do this does make some sense for a child who may not be as adept at using the controller. But I would still argue the game wouldn't be as boring if they actually allowed players to participate in this aspect of the game.

At the conclusion of any training session, you'll get a brief report on how your dog did and how he's holding up health-wise. Along the bottom are two meters for Power and Spirit. The former is represented by a horizontal bar which indicates energy levels, while Spirit is shown in a semi-circle where a needle falling to either side will indicate low or high willpower. Off to the right of the screen is a box that shows you how strong your dog is in seven different fields: Speed, Acceleration, Physical, Turn, Jump, Stamina and Friend.

    If you continue to neglect your dog's "emotional needs", he'll not only lose motivation to do anything, but he won't see you as a "friend". In actuality though, your so-called "friendship" is only measured in points, and not through your dog's visible manifestations of their emotions. Even when the Spirit and Friend meters are very low, your dog will still be seen smiling. Whether you choose to call this laziness or a missed opportunity, it really doesn't matter. Either way, this only further emphasizes what I mentioned before about the lack of immersion or connection between you and your dog.

    When the results screen is displayed, you can also feed your dog one of three randomly-selected foods that will rejuvenate his spirits and add a few more points to one or more of the attribute fields. I thought it was interesting that it did actually matter what foods you chose to feed your dog. Dried sardines and lamb, for example, will increase Turn abilities, while beef will improve the rate of acceleration. Not all foods will fully bring your dog back to full recovery, though. You'll need to take it for walks periodically and, as mentioned before, use the special hand cursor to pet it.

here is some strategy to be had in how you approach your dog's individualized regime. As it turns out, once your dog has participated in an undisclosed number of training sessions, it will be forced to retire. Leading up to that point, dialog boxes will appear with messages like "Your dog is in its prime" to indicate how your dog is doing in the grand scheme of things. Although it was purely out of curiousity that I reached the point of retirement, I thought it was quite interesting that they added that in. This actually encourages experimentation with other dogs (either by renting another one out, or through breeding).

    Once you feel your dog is responsive to commands, you can enroll him or her in an eight-dog race. Each cup serves as different league of skill level, each with different stadiums (Stakes) to test your skills. As all dogs take to their positions before the start of the race, you'll see a brief overview on the stats for each of them along with a percentile that forecasts your chances of coming in 1st place. The crowd will boo, clap for or cheer on each dog, depending on how popular they are and what they're overall track record is (no pun intended). 

I was pleased to see you could actually take part in the races, especially after the lack of player input required for the training activities (which is funny, because I would've thought it would be the other way around). Swinging the Wii Remote will activate a quick boost, while holding A and swinging down will be a more powerful "Go!" command. You can also offer encouragement by pressing the 1 Button, or even reprimand your dog for his performance by pressing the 2 Button. When Power levels are about to run out, you can press the Minus button to command it to slow down. Doing so repeatedly will quickly bring your power back, but your dog had better have good acceleration if he hopes to catch up after that. The racing element actually reminded me of the Chao Garden races from the Sonic Adventure titles, just more involved. And it's quite a relief to see that's the case. 

    Not only can you participate in local single-player dog races, but you can also use Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to race with up to eight other players from around the world. The idea of implementing online here works somewhat well, but I almost feel like the developers were a bit deluded in their thinking. I mean, did they really think this was such a great game that people would just flock to it? Especially considering the lack of marketing or attention shown to this game, it was of little surprise that I've never been able to find anyone to play with. 

There are also online leaderboards where you can see how you rank in terms of overall prize money, race participation and a couple other areas. At least these leaderboards confirmed that there are people out there who have connected online at some point. The developers also included DLC in the form of additional doghouses set at 100 Wii Points a pop. Some downloadable content that is - absolutely worthless! Plus, there's a pop-up that appears as you leave the online shop where a dog would complain that you didn't treat him to a "fancy" gift. I thought this was nothing more than a sorry and sad attempt to earn more money from consumers.

    What's there to say about presentation? Not a whole lot. The game's visuals look average, and the music is very repetitive, even annoying at times. There are some pretty weird animations though, like seeing a large dog jump back and forth in the air. But other than that, everything is really basic.

    At the end of the day, Derby Dogs is very flawed when it honestly shouldn't be. The game as a whole suffers severely from a lack of connection and immersion, not to mention extremely shallow gameplay. Even for kids, I would hesitate to recommend this. Yes, the way it's presented is fairly user-friendly, but there's not a whole lot to the execution that would excite them or keep their attention for a prolonged period of time. Although it may seem decent at first, it's not long before feelings of boredom and disinterest will set in. 

14/30 - Below Average

Gameplay 5/10 - Very shallow especially with the automated activities, certain foods increase different skills, impending retirement creates some strategy
Presentation 5/10 - Average effort all around, repetitive music, some animations look very odd, missed potential with the training ground
Enjoyment 1/5 - Lack of input required for exercises leads to a boring experience, lack of connection between you and your dog, races are somewhat fun
Extra Content 3/5 - Can experiment with different dogs, almost impossible to find someone to play with online, Wi-Fi leaderboards, worthless DLC

Equivalent to a score of 47% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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