Friday, October 31, 2008

Never Underestimate The Appeal of Cute Little Critters

My youngest daughter is 10, and sadly moving away from all things 'little girl-ish.' The Polly Pockets have been pushed aside to make room for her manga collection, the Pokémon posters have been replaced by ones of the Beatles, and her collection of candy dispensers she used to carry in her purse? Replaced by tubes of lip gloss. Shudder.

So when I received a copy of Littlest Pet Shop for the Wii, I wasn't sure how interested she would be. Would she put down her iPod long enough to play with a bunch of cute, virtual wide-eyed animals? Come to find out, the toy form of the small, plastic animals are still very coveted among her and her tween posse. In fact, she opened her backpack to reveal, somewhat sheepishly, a small collection of them stored in there that her and her friends break out on the playground after school. I didn't want to tell her how relieved I was that she didn't pull out a pack of cigarettes and a Danielle Steel novel.

The game, which features pets from the Littlest Pet Shop line of toys, allows the player to interact with their own pet and earn 'Kibble' as they play various games. They can then use their Kibble to purchase items such as collars and hats and also to earn new pets. This was a stroke of genius on the part of the game designers: Combine cute little creatures and shopping - what girl could resist? The only thing that could have made it any more appealing would have been to wrap the entire game in chocolate and bubble gum and make it redeemable for a day off of school.

Another feature my daughter loved was the way the 'new' pets arrived: riding into town on a spiffy little train. This is in sharp contrast to how our real cat arrived- hissing and being jostled around in a tattered cat carrier in the back of our van while I cursed and drove like a crazy person home from the animal shelter. You can see why I may never have a video game for kids based on my life.

But one of the things my daughter and her friends liked the most about this Littlest Pet Shop (and other similar games, such as Nintendogs) is that the play is all of a non-competitive nature. It's not really about winning so much as it is about taking care of your pet and helping them explore their environments. (The game features four unique 'worlds': Pet Plaza, Winter, Jungle and Garden.) I wish that could be a lesson for other game designers: not all games that appeal to kids has to feature the annihilation of other human beings. Granted, the average teenage boy isn't going to want to help his animated polar bear buy a new hat, but maybe something in-between? How about a kinder, gentler version of Grand Theft Auto, where the guy just nicely asks to borrow the car?

I can see my daughter and her friends getting a lot of mileage out of this game, especially in their quest to acquire more pets for their menagerie. And this works out great for me, too, since she's been asking for a dog, and another cat, and a hamster for some time now. I'm happy to let her have all the imaginary pets she'd like - as long as there's no pixelated litter box I'll have to clean.

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tags: | nintendo wii games reviews | |

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