Part simulation, part toy, this curious title for the Nintendo DS handheld invites you to care for a virtual puppy. Three versions of Nintendogs are sold, each with a different six canines. For example, the Dachshund & Friends pack includes a golden retriever, pug, Shih Tzu, Siberian husky and beagle in addition to the beloved sausage dog.
After you pick up your puppy at the game's kennel, you interact with him or her by tapping on the DS's lower, touch-sensitive screen and speaking into the DS's built-in microphone. Your dog will answer to its name and respond to basic commands -- barking, tail-wagging and so on.
To teach new tricks, combine voice commands with stylus gestures, such as when you gently move the stylus down as you say "sit." You can also teach your dogs to chase their tails, shake and roll onto their backs -- then take them out for walks and play catch with a ball or Frisbee.
Just like real puppies, Nintendogs need regular care and feeding, including occasional baths administered by moving an on-screen sponge around with the stylus. Failure to stay on top of these dog-keeping chores will be rewarded with such sights as your pup scratching himself as fleas jump off of him. (You can't, however, kill your pet, no matter how hard you try.) Although the DS's screen isn't exactly high definition, these puppies still look eerily realistic.
Somewhat as in real-world dog ownership, your Nintendog puppy can help you meet other people. By setting the game in Bark Mode, your puppy will seek out other Nintendogs on any DS handheld within wireless range (about 100 feet), then play with them. This also can get you access to the other 12 breeds not included in your own copy of Nintendogs. -- Tom Ham
Nintendo DS, $30
NASCAR 06: TOTAL TEAM CONTROL,
NASCAR team rosters don't change as often as the lineups in most major-league sports, but that doesn't mean EA can't ship a new NASCAR game every year -- especially since it now has an exclusive license to publish video games based on the stock-car racing league. But buyers may not jump at the chance to buy each annual update: EA's new Total Team Control, with fewer new features than last year's excellent NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup, seems unlikely to appeal to casual fans who already own its predecessor.
As the new game's name implies, it emphasizes team racing: Instead of sitting in the same car for the duration of a race as you make a succession of left turns, players can jump from vehicle to vehicle in any given team. This has little effect in abridged versions of races, but it adds new elements of strategy for fans prepared to drive every lap. For example, now you can take Jeff Gordon's car to the front of the pack, then let the computer take the wheel as you jump into Jimmy Johnson's car back in the pack and try to move into second place.
A new voice-recognition system lets you bark short commands to your computer-controlled teammates and pit crew. This technology doesn't always hear your commands correctly, but when it works, it takes you much deeper into a race's action and suspense. Total Team Control also includes all of last year's features -- for example, its deep-career mode, multiple online racing options and the ability to jump straight to the end-of-season chase -- but leaves out street racing against other NASCAR drivers. If you haven't spent $50 on last year's model, Total Team Control is an easy purchase; otherwise, it's easy to skip. -- John Gaudiosi
PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50