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Pet Pals: New Leash on Life (PC) artwork

Pet Pals: New Leash on Life (PC) review

"Pet Pals: New Leash on Life isn't all snuggles and kisses. Through 38 patient examinations, it illustrates realistic courses of medical treatment for animals in need. Given its subtitle, though, this game should've gone further in expounding the challenges in adoption."

Pet Pals: New Leash on Life isn't all snuggles and kisses. Through 38 patient examinations, you'll have to prevent permanent paralysis, amputate injured toes, and even extract cancerous tumors. Only after a successful treatment will an animal – be it a dog, cat, macaw, chinchilla, or iguana -- have a chance to frolic and relax. Even then, the brief interaction is framed within a serious context, as preparation for a successful adoption. You're not going to find a playful new e-pet here.

When New Leash on Life begins, you step into the stethoscope of the new veterinarian at an animal rescue. A little black kitten named Sunshine introduces you to the basics of treatment. First, you question the vet techs – always personable yet professional – about the cat's condition by choosing pertinent questions from a list. Then it's time to take a closer look with a magnifying glass; you can always zoom-in and focus on a particular part of a patient's body. After that, you weigh the subject, take a pulse, listen to breathing, and measure temperature. You actually have to take the renal thermometer, move to the posterior, and click on the kitten's rear to get a reading. Every breed is rendered in 3-D, so it's instructive to see how each apparatus is actually used. Unless it's too gross. Thankfully, the administration of the thermometer isn't actually shown, unlike all the other items.

While the game is methodical in walking through the basics, it throws you into the deep-end with the more advanced instruments. In total, there are forty-four tools to utilize. That includes an EKG monitor, dental speculum, opthalmoscope, orogastic tube... the list goes on. To determine which is appropriate, you must carefully read their functional descriptions and match it with the patient's symptoms; the computer doesn't provide any spontaneous prompting. There's always a single correct choice, but even when you have a general idea the answer isn't always clear. In one case, a bull terrier comes in with a nasty infection, and an antibiotic is necessary to clear it up. Is it proper to administer the medicine orally, by injection, or with an IV? Sometimes, all three are necessary!

Forget using a process consisting solely of trial and error. Each examination is judged on a point scale; correct actions receive points while most mistakes dock your score. You can call the treatment complete at any time, but that also means you can overlook vital procedures. If your score isn't high enough at the end, then the checkup must be repeated from the beginning. In fact, if you do something really dumb, like poke the scalpel into a patient that doesn't need surgery, then you'll be whisked out of the exam room in an instant. You are given four chances to successfully heal the patient before the head vet takes over case, which provides an adequate amount of leeway. If you can't figure out the next move on your own, though, the game has a hint system that flat tells you exactly what to do next. It costs a few points, but even asking for every step results in a passing grade, as long as you execute without error.

Leaving you to figure things out alone is a trend, as New Leash on Life chooses to educate after the fact. The last step in treatment is to deliver a diagnosis. Like the game's periodic quizzes, it's multiple-choice. Yet, sometimes it'll throw out proper medical terms here for the first time. If you look into the glossary... the word isn't there. In an educational game, that information should be readily available. But after you potentially pick the wrong answer, the game thoroughly explains the patient's ailment, along with the dangers of withholding treatment and the healing effects of your efforts. It's illuminating information, but I would've enjoyed hearing more about it as the case progressed.

For a select few pets, your relationship doesn't end after they leave the examination table. Some need help finding good homes, but this is where New Leash on Life begins to drop the ball. You help by performing enrichment activities, which is a fancy way of saying you play with the animals. After a quick brush and bath, a little petting, and a few tosses of a frisbee or ball of yarn; the patient is ready to make its way into the arms of a caring owner. The new owner will even leave a glowing phone message for you later in the game. Unfortunately, the routines are generally the same for every animal. So while these exercises do offer a brief respite from the rigors of medicine, they do not provide a unique experience that would really invest you in the welfare of a particular pet or educate you about the need for these types of activities.

The game doesn't recover when comes to placing animals in the right homes, either. Your very first adoption case is Admiral, a macaw who has been plucking out his own feathers. His diagnosis makes it very clear he needs someone with a lot of free time to play. Going into the process, I expected to look over profiles of potential owners and choose the most appropriate home based on Admiral's criteria. Instead, Pet Pals served up a card-flipping memory game. That test would be fine with the other auxiliary minigames, like the word search or jigsaw puzzle, only available during downtime. But in this spot, it denies an opportunity to reinforce important points.

Still, Pet Pals: New Leash on Life is a useful tool for any budding vet or animal care specialist. I'm a little skeptical of the 8+ age recommendation because of the medical terms and the lack of specific directions, but that just means it's a better opportunity for some parent/child teamwork. This sequel continues the lessons from Pet Pals: Animal Doctor, illustrating realistic courses of medical treatment for animals in need. Given its subtitle, though, this game should've gone further in expounding the challenges in adoption. Some pets need extensive behavioral adjustments before they're ready for a new home. By including unique enrichment scenarios and more scrutiny of potential owners, Pet Pals would have completed the New Leash on Life picture.


woodhouse's avatar
Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (December 08, 2008)

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