Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Taito Corporation
Release Date: March 9, 2009
Just looking at the cover art for My Pet Shop, it's probably pretty easy to dismiss this as a shovelware title for the DS, one of many games that are cheaply produced for the handheld to appeal to kids, but with little to no real content. Thankfully, that's not true, as My Pet Shop has a strangely unique and addictive appeal, which you'll discover as you run your pet shop within the confines of a small town.
As the game begins, you're introduced to the basic mechanics by your character's mother, who acts as a guide through the entire game. While you might think that it's overkill to have a guide in this title, there's a surprising amount of options to navigate, menu buttons to learn, and an overall need to manage your daily events; it can be quite a bit to take on at first. The title remains as simple as possible, obviously being built to appeal to a younger crowd, and while there is a decent amount of text in the game that would make it a barrier to younger gamers, it's not too complex to read through or navigate.
Your first day in town is spent getting acclimated to the inside of your pet shop, which basically serves as a hub, so you'll end up spending a lot of your game time inside this very store. When you begin and have learned a little bit about the use of the pet houses, your room, and so on, you'll be tasked with going out and finding your own pet. You see, when the store opens, it's totally devoid of animals, which obviously seems like a bad idea when you're trying to open a pet store. However, in the world of My Pet Shop, an endless supply of little furry creatures is just a screen tap away. Once you back out to your map screen, which shows all of the houses in town for easy access, you'll be able to select from a number of nature-themed zones where animals tend to hide out. At the outset, you'll only have one area unlocked, but eventually the game expands to more zones, each of which will contain different types of animals.
Once you select an outdoor area, you'll have to find an animal within that zone. The game doesn't start off by giving you any prerequisites; you're just going to go with the first animal you come across. Later, there are specific goals you'll need to meet based on whatever the townsfolk require or ask for, but in the beginning, the title keeps things relatively simple. To find an animal, you need to shake every bit of foliage you can find. There are multiple areas within each zone, and you access them by tapping left or right on the d-pad or the on-screen arrow buttons, so if you come up with nothing, simply switch to another area within the zone.
Eventually you'll be successful, and you'll gain your first pet. The design here reminds me a lot of Nintendogs, but My Pet Shop is more detailed. The animals are all based on real breeds, and there's a pretty big variety within each type of cat, dog, etc. Once you have your new friend, you'll go back to your house and be introduced to the pet care menu, which lets you bathe, feed, play with and take care of the critter. All of this is pretty much a tutorial to get you ready for taking on other people's pets, and it does a great job of preparing you for the rest of the game.
After the initial day is over, the game starts to pick up, and you'll take on jobs from random people. People will often approach you, but you can also choose to explore the town and talk to whoever you see standing around, which is done by tapping on them. There's also a general store from which you can purchase items, and at the end of the day, you'll gain an allowance from your mom that serves as your primary way of making money. If you perform a certain task during the day or take care of a customer, you'll typically gain a bonus too. Money isn't really an issue, and while you need to spend some quite often, you'll never feel like you're going to run out of funds.
That's pretty much the gist of My Pet Shop. It's not particularly complex, but there are a lot of animal types to unlock and gather, and it'll appeal to completionists, who feel compelled to collect everything. The game does a good job of guiding you along that path, with plenty of tasks and jobs to take on during each day, and at the same time, it provides limits to keep you coming back to get other stuff done. It's not super deep or particularly innovative, but it is definitely addictive.
Obviously, this isn't the game that would normally appeal to me or most players in my age range, but I feel like pointing out that if you get a chance to play My Pet Shop, don't scoff at the idea, since it's actually pretty fun. If you're a parent who's looking for a game that your young child can play, then this is a great game that would be worth picking up. Unlike a lot of kid-themed titles out there, this one is well worth the money and will keep them busy for more than a week.
The design used here is somewhat similar to Cooking Mama; that's what the character art reminds me of, at any rate. There's not much animation work in the game beyond the animals, and everything you do is from the first-person perspective, so when you talk to people, you just see a text box and avatar. It's definitely a bare-bones title and was probably created at a low budget, but the underlying gameplay mechanic of running a store and keeping customers happy works really well.
My Pet Shop is definitely worth checking out, and I'd suggest that players who are beyond the title's targeted age range try it out if they're looking for something different to play. My Pet Shop can certainly surprise you, as it did me, and while it isn't going to be a triple-A quality title, it's still worth a shot.