Review: Petz Beach

Petz Beach is not a game for adults. It’s a game an adult plays right before a fleet of black SUVs raid his front yard, suited men rush to confiscate his computers and his following decade or so is spent learning locker room sword fighting from guys with names like “Bubba” and “OJ Simpson.”

Petz Beach is not a game for adults. It’s a game an adult plays when his Girl Scouts of America membership card expires and his trusty binoculars fall and break from a strategic viewpoint across the street from a mommy & me yoga dojo.

Petz Beach is not a game for adults. It’s a game an adult plays before rushing into a police station in blood-soaked garments and confessing to crimes that would make Luis Garavito blush… okay, that’s a bit much.

But Petz Beach really isn’t a game for adults. It’s a game that panders to a denominator so low that it practically scrapes barnacles from the Titanic. There’s no narrative, emotional hook, conflict or established goals in Petz, and everything is so sweet and saccharine that, in my 25 or so hours with the game, I couldn’t help but expect Wilford Brimley’s face to pop up and tell me that I qualify for a free meter from Liberty Medical.

It’s good, then, that Petz Beach is a game for kids.

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Welcome to the village. It’s no ordinary village, though. It’s a special village. It’s a village with a mayor that has enough time to explain how dogs should be fed to complete strangers (and follow you around like a deranged Craigslist stalker). It’s a village in which every person owns and obsesses over Petz. It’s a village with an item shop and adoption center but no grocery store or medical clinic. It’s a village that belongs in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Seriously, what do people in “puppychow98,” the name I chose for both my villages, eat? Do they eat the Petz? Is that why there’s so much emphasis on the “happiness” and “cleanliness” of these animals? Does the mayor know? Is he at the helm of the operation? Why are there so many puppies and no trace of adult dogs?

Those questions and more are not answered in Petz Beach. Instead, you’re fed some indoctrinating philosophical hogwash about how life should be about adventuring with Petz and caring for them and making sure all their needs are met (often at the cost of common sense and sanity). It all reminded me a bit of that one episode of Futurama where space cats invade earth and use their cuteness to brainwash humans. Yeah, it’s that type of creepy.

Sadly, exploring mindf*** village isn’t particularly thrilling. Small as it is, getting around is a real pain in the ass. You’ll pull your Petz by a leash (because apparently slapping outfits and glasses on puppies isn’t torture enough), which is a process I found to be sluggish and frustrating. Although Petz will excitedly follow stylus commands like champs, they don’t seem capable of detecting walls, trees, bushes, rocks, air or virtually anything else in the environment. Having a player character (rather than an eerie invisible leash handler) would have been useful.

At least you won’t be brutally dragging your Petz around town for nothing. Villagers are everywhere, and they serve no purpose other than to dispense Quests like cheery, upbeat Gestapo. And Quests, which are essentially glorified package delivery jobs, are something you’ll have to ask for during casual conversation because, A) f*** common courtesy, and B) you’re at the mercy of the robotic citizens because, A) Quests = coins, and B) Quests make up 90% of the games activities.

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As is expected of things featuring animals in human clothing, the Petz games can be an exercise in repetition. Most Quests involve the aforementioned package deliveries, and while some more “elaborate” missions will have you gathering collectibles for the Collection House (think Animal Crossing’s Museum), Petz Beach doesn’t offer much of Animal Crossing’s addictiveness, forcing players to train in various arts of “Sniffing” (which are apparently skills Petz need in order to locate and differentiate seashells from mushrooms) before embarking on a mission to stay awake throughout a terrible mini-game.

These missions break the monotony of running around like an enslaved mailman, but they’re also the most annoying of the bunch. Why? Well, because pushing the stylus around the screen and following a virtual puppy as it leads you to a seashell is about as fun as passing a kidney stone. In fact, considering the crippling pain and subsequent trip to the hospital in back a speeding ambulance, there’s more entertainment (and bloody urine) with the latter.

Worse luck, you’ll need to run through a bazillion Quests before anything worthwhile is affordable. Thankfully, more often than not you’re rewarded with a gift-wrapped stash of coins (Petz’ primary form of currency), which can be used to purchase decorations for your home and accessories for your animals. The customization options aren’t especially deep, but as an ancillary feature they’re good enough. Houses can be littered with Petz related goodies (inside and out), and animals can be run through a variety of outfits that should come with a lifetime ban from all SPCA facilities.

Buying items and completing quests doesn’t just fulfill your need to glamorize every sliver of Petz, though. As you progress, you’ll earn Happy Points which — despite sounding like something Chuck E. Cheese’s would charge a non-refundable deposit for — help your village expand. And as the town grows, new items will become available for purchase, new Petz will become adoptable at the adoption center (the game features over 50 Petz, mostly different breeds of dog) and new villagers will pop up to offer more quests in exchange for more coins. Vicious cycle? Some would say so.

Naturally, Petz themselves are the most desirable collectibles (which, if you’re apposed to slavery, is kinda disgusting). That’s really where Petz Beach and Petz Countryside are most divergent. While the landscapes are different enough (in one case it’s a seaside village with sandy beaches and rocky surroundings, in another a cozy town with greenery and open fields), there are several “rare” animals to collect. There’s no interesting system involved in acquiring them, but if dolphins are your cup of kibbles ‘n bits, stray from the sun kissed fields of Countryside. And if you’re more into pandas and lions, you’ll want to avoid the water and sand in Beach. While the selections of “exclusive” animals make no sense whatsoever (I’m pretty sure penguins don’t live in sunny, ocean-adjacent villages and lions don’t roam dusty, country towns), it’s a nice way to give children the illusion of choice.

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Expectedly, Petz Beach looks like s***. Despite boasting about “white sands” and “towering palm trees,” environments appear to have been drawn in MS Paint by a limbless nature photographer whose only inspiration was found footage of Bigfoot. Everything from the trees, gravel, sand water and fields looks as though it was filtered through a food processor. Even the humans inhabiting the villages look poor, with crackhead grins and laugh-lines that paint a picture of year-long heroin binges and forgotten promises of sobriety.

Petz, on the other hand, are adorable. A majority of the animals aren’t incredibly polished (and colors are duller than ’90s printer test sheets), but as with Nintendogs and its 1.3 million knockoffs, it’s hard to resist the urge to “aww” every time a puppy taps at the screen with its paws. The animations are also pretty amusing, with a glut of scratches, sniffs and wags to compliment the (fairly) accurately modeled creatures.

Thankfully, there’s an entire portion of the games dedicated to enjoying your Petz’ cuteness: Home Life, which plays to the tune of a robust Tamagotchi. You’ll feed, accessorize and play with your Petz, and there’s facial recognition for bonding exercises and voice commands for teaching tricks (note: don’t play this portion on a crowded bus). Things like hunger, thirst, cleanliness and affection will require your attention frequently, and you can gauge your Petz’ needs by watching its behavior as you walk about the village.

Interestingly, Petz Beach borrows one of Animal Crossing’s greatest selling points: year-round replayability. Seasons change, and with them different events and holidays to enjoy, such as the October costume party (where Petz can be subjected to the sort of dress-up fun that animal testing facilities in Guam would deem too cruel). Items change daily, too, and new areas, shops and functions become available as time passes, encouraging players to check their villages often.

Another nifty feature is the game’s Street Pass support, allowing for photos to be sent and traded with friends. You’ll also be able to visit friends on “Playdates,” but on account of my being the only adult male in existence to play Petz Beach (without it having been the result of an especially cynical game of truth or dare, or the grooming of a recently abducted child), I decided to dodge any potential allegations by just playing with myself. And my Petz, of course.

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Closing Comments:

Yes, Petz Beach is a game that Dateline could use to lure prospective predators. And yes, it looks like its been dipped in a vat of acid. But for all its faults, Petz Beach offers some of the same relaxing screen-tapping you’d find in Animal Crossing or Disney Magical World. Unfortunately, and in spite of countless collectibles and options to explore, it’s not very fun; there’s virtually no challenge and it’s mindlessly repetitive. No, it’s not a bad game, but before you take the plunge, here’s a list of people that would appreciate Petz Beach the most: little league coaches with boundary issues, middle-aged Cub Scout leaders, laundromat attendants that keep inflated air mattresses in the back room and children. Particularly that last one.

3outof5

Version Reviewed: 3DS