It’s startling when a cuddly little critter, called a dot, stares at you with its gigantic eyes — even if it’s happening through a screen. Dots are the stars of Peridot, the latest release from Pokémon Go creator Niantic Labs, and they’re sort of like puppies, only a lot weirder. Depending on their type, they can have fuzzy bellies or huge horns or feathers like a peacock. Some look like walking bananas. No matter what, though, they all have those big puppy dog eyes to lure you in.
Peridot is essentially a high-tech version of a Tamagotchi. It takes what Niantic is known for — location-based games and augmented reality — and applies it to the virtual pet genre. Initially, the appeal is undeniable. They’re just so cute. Raising a little dot from a baby to a full-grown adult is a satisfying experience that involves lots of pets and feedings. But after playing the game over the past week, I’m already unsure about Peridot’s long-term appeal. Those eyes definitely pulled me in, but I’m not sure how long they’ll be able to keep me around.
In the lore of Peridot — yes, this game has lore — dots are magical creatures that have been hibernating for a few thousand years. You’re part of a “keeper society” tasked with helping the little guys survive in a world vastly different than the one they used to live in. To start out, you get an egg, which will hatch to give you your first dot to take care of. One of the main hooks of Peridot is that every creature is genetically unique, created with a combination of seven different traits covering things like “horns,” “plumage,” and “face.” My first dot was a teal fuzzball with a monkey’s face, ears like a bear, and a nub that would grow to be a narwhal’s horn. I named it Willow.
Taking care of your dot is mostly pretty simple. They have two main needs: to eat and to play. No harm will come to them if they don’t do either (dots can’t die), but they’ll be sad until they get a nice meal and spend some time playing fetch. Additionally, dots have desires, which change regularly, where they might want a specific type of food or to go somewhere in the real world. Satisfying those desires is what helps them grow. Aside from that, you can pet them and teach them tricks, which doesn’t really change much but does look cute as heck.
The AR aspect of the game is truly impressive. Not only does the game look great, but the dots interact with the real world in surprisingly realistic ways. In order to forage for food, you draw a circle on the screen, and your dot will dig in that spot. But they can recognize different surfaces, so you’ll get different food depending on if you forage in water or on sand, for instance. They can similarly recognize things like flowers (which they will sniff) or other pets (which they will also sniff). You can even bounce a tennis ball off a wall while playing fetch. In a cluttered space, my dots would sometimes glitch through the environment, but usually, when they got stuck on something, they would switch to moving through the air, floating around like Mew. When I went for a walk, they’d scamper along the sidewalk in front of me.
The real-world elements, however, aren’t as interesting. There’s a map full of points of interest, just like in other Niantic games, but there isn’t much to do besides forage and look at other dots who have been there. I took Willow on a hike for a few hours and didn’t get much out of it, aside from some bits of kelp to feed it. Most of the desires my dots had could be satisfied inside my house. And if they couldn’t, I just waited a few hours for those desires to reset to something different. It’s a strong contrast to Niantic games like Pikmin Bloom, where walking is the game, and you can’t make much progress without going outside.
As you fulfill desires and keep your dot happy, they’ll steadily grow. Much like a starter pokémon, each dot has three stages: they start as a baby, move to an awkward teen, and finally become a full-grown adult. The process does not take long. Willow grew to a teen within a day and became an adult just 24 hours later.
It became clear pretty quickly that, despite being a pet game, actually raising dots isn’t the main point of the experience. The process is too fast and simple to be engaging for long, and there isn’t much to do once they’re grown. Instead, Peridot is really a breeding simulator. Once your dots become adults, you can then connect with friends to “hatch” a new dot, which will take on characteristics from both parents. To help facilitate this, the game has Niantic’s social app Campfire built right in, so you can chat with other players. That’s how I was able to connect with another nearby tester and breed a little baby that looked a lot like Willow but also a little bit like a banana. (Its name is Bort.)
Once you have a new baby, you can... raise it the same way you did with your starter. You can have a number of different dots (I currently have three) but only one active at any given time. (I assume they go to some kind of magical kennel, but it’s never specified.) The process of raising them to adults is always the same. Peridot pulls a number of ideas from Pokémon — you even choose your first dot by selecting one of three eggs — and that seems to tie into the breeding aspect. In Pokémon, you try to catch ‘em all; in Peridot, you try to collect all of the characteristics by continuously breeding your dots to hatch new ones so you can have pets with a tropical fish pattern or a skeleton tail. As hooks go, it’s not quite as catchy. But the more you play, the more characteristics and archetypes you’ll unlock.
The breeding also ties into how the game is monetized. While it’s free to play, you can pay to buy things like extra food and toys, as well as nests, which are required to hatch a new creature. So far, I haven’t run into any aspects where it feels like I need to buy things, but I’m still just a week in and haven’t used up all of the free nests I received when I started. Outside of virtual goods, for players in the US, the game’s shop will also have a built-in Amazon store for buying physical goods like Peridot shirts.
I don’t mind the breeding aspect, and it sounds like a great way for players who love to collect things to find some fun. But I wish the actual pet part of Peridot was as engrossing. There’s just not that much to do with your dot outside of a few feeding and play sessions each day and snapping some cute pics while you’re out and about. Of course, it’s likely more features are coming — keep in mind Pokémon Go didn’t even get battling until a few years after launch — and this aspect could become much more fleshed out in the future, provided Peridot sticks around for a while (which is not a guarantee). Right now, though, those big puppy dog eyes are doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
Peridot is available to download now on iOS and Android.