Raising Pocket Creatures On the iPad

A fairly new iPad title called Pocket Creatures from Tactile Entertainment takes the concept of pet-caring far beyond what you’ll see on most social networks and devices.

This virtual pet sim allows players to care for a bizarre looking critter that sort of looks like a cross between a portly lemur and a bear. You get a refreshing range of things you can do with your pet, including some surprising interactions between it and the environment.

Obviously, we named ours Dr. Wigglebottom. Shortly after hatching, players are given directions on how to play in the form of quaint, chiseled tablets, and almost immediately, the basics are explained. Dr. Wigglebottom must be well fed, rested, and healthy.

As far as the latter goes, our portly little fellow hasn’t gotten ill just yet, but regarding the rest, its actually pretty logical. Essentially, the more you play, the more your creature tires. Recharging it appears to be passive once the game is off. It effectively creates the same Energy mechanic seen in just about every Facebook role-playing app to date, but does so in a more invisible manner.

In order to satisfy the critter’s appetite, however, you simply drag food to the creature’s mouth. That in mind, upon doing so, a wonderful bit of style becomes apparent. Unlike many pet sims of its ilk, Pocket Creatures actually has the animal react to whatever you pick up, watching its every movement with a curious sounding “ah?” It seems small, but it truly does add to the immersiveness of the world. After all, it is technically a floating object from Wigglebottom’s point of view.

Actually, this immersiveness is well beyond just one or two stylistic elements. Virtually everything in this realm is interactive in some way, shape, or form. For starters, many objects can be picked up, moved, shaken, and/or stored for latter use. Curiously, that use is not always known right away, but thus far, everything we’ve messed with has had a point sooner or later. Moreover, each object can often interact with other parts of the world as well as your creature.

Here’s an example: If you pick up a worm, you can coax a platypus out of his aquatic hiding place. Then, you can use the platypus’ beak to dig a hole in which to plant a seed (you do start with some; others are found randomly in the space from time to time). Now, to water it, you use an ant to attract an anteater, which can be picked up and suck water out of a pool, then used as a watering can. Couple that with animal fertilizer (use your imagination on how you get it) and you can now grow plants and crops to feed your pet with. Combine all this with all the other interactive objects and you have a wonderfully immersive element of player experimentation. They’ll just end up trying to combine things in wonderance of how and if it might work.

The best part of all this, is this is still only the environmental interaction. All of this is made further in depth by the creature itself. You see, as players care for the critter, they can affect its mood. The most basic of means is stroking it with a finger to make it happy, slapping it to make it sad (dragging your finger quickly across it), or poking it to make it angry. When one does this, an icon above the creature’s head changes, from which the player can touch and drag some form of magical effect to change the world temporarily. For example, if you have rotten fruit, make your pet happy and use the rainbow to revive it. If it’s angry, drag the thunderhead to strike down bugs and pests (animals that come wreck your stuff). Or if it’s sad, use the tears to water plants… even if that sounds horrible when you think about it.

It needs to be said, however, that these are only the three most basic of moods, and there are a ton more that can be garnered by special plants that range from spreading love to the onslaught of a new ice age. Additionally, you can even use these moods to make your pet like or dislike animals and food. For the former, if you use a woodpecker to peck its head, it probably won’t like them. If you slap it while it’s eating something, it’ll stop liking that particular dish. The reverse is true if you pet it while eating.

Socially, Pocket Creatures is empowered by OpenFeint, so it makes use most of the network’s social features. The one that stands out the most, however, is the more curious use of its achievements platform. Typically, one earns achievements, shares them, and that’s all there is to it. However, in honor of trying to personalize one’s virtual pet, unlocking achievements will actually earn wearable in-game items such as devil horns, angel wings, viking helmets, and so on.

Unfortunately, it appears that your friends on OpenFeint cannot interact with your virtual pet at this time. That said, with the overall level of depth that comes with interacting with your own pet (of which the tip of the iceberg has barely been touched/discovered so far), it’s something that really doesn’t feel too negative. However, that isn’t to say negatives do not exist.

Perhaps the biggest qualm with Pocket Creatures is that while it is a universal application – meaning it is on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch – there appears to be no way to sync your pet between the different devices. So, say you download the app on iPad because the increased screen real estate makes the game less cramped and better looking. Now say you want to mess with your creature on your phone while in the waiting room of some office: Well, if you use your iPhone, you’d have to make a whole new pet. The iPad version won’t transfer over.

Beyond this, the game does advocate the prospect of shaping your pet’s personality. Sadly, this is only half true. Any personality traits are short lived, meaning that if you make Dr. Wigglebottom angry, a few loving pets and he’s happy again. Moreover, other than an egg form that lasts about 10 seconds, the creature doesn’t actually grow, so there is no real feeling of evolution or actual raising of a pet.

Nevertheless, Pocket Creatures is still a very strong game. It’s not perfect, but it brings a level of depth and immersiveness that most virtual pet sims can’t even touch. Moreover, the use of achievements is interesting enough, that when combined with the rest of the game’s mechanics, its weaker social outlets are easily forgiven. Currently, the game is running $2.99 across all platforms, and if you like this sort of app, it’s certainly a title that will last you a good long a while.