There are few things more rewarding than taking care of a pet. Having an animal companion in your home for whom you are completely responsible gives you a new perspective on life; it shows you what’s really important and rearranges your priorities. However, many people can’t have pets for various reasons, which can be a source of anxiety and sadness for them. Thankfully, video games are here to offer that experience vicariously. Here are the 15 best virtual pet games out there right now, so you can know what it’s really like to have a little animal best friend.
A quick disclaimer before we start: we’re mainly focusing on commercially-available or higher-quality gaming experiences here. There is an absolute avalanche of virtual pet mobile games out there, but unfortunately, most of them aren’t really worth your time due to predatory free-to-play mechanics or lazy design. Let’s get started!
Described by its creators as a “game about farming, creatures, and adventure”, Ooblets marries the kind of farming sim gameplay you’d expect from Animal Crossing or Story of Seasons with the creature-rearing satisfaction of Pokemon. You’ll grow to know and love your adorable little Ooblets as you collect them, spend time with them, and even pit them against one another in dance battles. Ooblets is a relaxing experience, too, so you won’t need to worry about getting stressed out while you’re hanging out with your critters.
Cards on the table: Pokemon Scarlet and Violet feel like unfinished games, which is a strange thing to say about a franchise that has always counted polish among its highest virtues. The games feel technically wonky and close to broken at times, but don’t let that distract you from one of the best Pokemon games in years. Scarlet and Violet offer an open-world, open-ended experience that lets you explore wherever you like, collecting Pokemon and learning to love them as you go. The story is surprisingly deep, too.
Remember Nintendogs? Little Friends: Dogs & Cats is pretty much a spiritual successor to that venerated pet-rearing classic. You can, as the title suggests, care for and raise both dogs and cats in this game, petting them, playing with them, and dressing them up however you like. There are also minigames on offer so that you can test your pet’s skill, but if you don’t feel like putting them under that kind of pressure, you can while away hours simply hanging out with your pet and cuddling them. This is the perfect virtual pet experience for those who want something more realistic.
If you’ve ever harboured any guilt about not being able to pick up a pet from a shelter (which many of us do), then Animal Shelter could be the perfect game to give you some catharsis. Games Incubator and PlayWay’s sim lets you run your very own animal shelter, helping pets to find their forever homes by caring for them, photographing them in flattering lights (and what other lights are there when it comes to animals?), and making sure your shelter is up to scratch as well.
If you’re lucky enough to have a PC VR headset, like a Valve Index or a Meta Quest, then you should definitely check out Little Island. It’s a pet-rearing VR game created by Nayuta Studio, and it lets you hang out with cute animals in a VR space. What more could you ask for? You can care for, play with, and pet bunnies, cats, and dogs, and there are a variety of different environments available to check out, as well as several minigames that you can take part in alongside the animal care elements.
It’s a little unfortunate that EA felt the need to sell several features we’d consider essential to The Sims as DLC packs, but that’s the nature of the beast in modern gaming. Cats & Dogs adds the ability for your Sims to own adorable little pets. Your Sims can bond with their pets, care for them, and train them, and you can even make your Sims vets now, so they can professionally tend to animals for a living. The expansion also adds a new area with stray pets to look out for.
Microids and It Matters’ My Universe: Puppies & Kittens is another game along similar lines to Nintendogs or Little Friends: Dogs & Cats. You can raise and rear animals from 20 different breeds, and with both dogs and cats available, you’re sure to find a pet you love. You can take your pet out for walks, hang out with them at home, and engage in minigames to address your furry friend’s needs. Everything you could possibly want from a pet game is right here.
The creatures in Clouzy! feel almost weapons-grade adorable. They’re little bouncing, flying animals that sort of resemble a cross between cats and guinea pigs, and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, then the fact that you run a “cloud daycare” should clue you in. You’ll raise adorable cloud animals, cook meals for them, and explore the world of Clouzy!, finding new things to do as you go. If you love Stardew Valley or Ooblets, you should definitely check this one out.
Wobbledogs is, if you’ll forgive the pun, a rather curious breed. It’s a pet sim game, but it’s also a sort of physics simulator, and it contains a genetics system as well. Wobbledogs’ adorably wobbly creatures are procedurally generated, then simulated “all the way down to their guts”, as the Steam page puts it. The game is a chilled-out experience that’s perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to put up with too many gameplay obligations and would rather just hang out in a virtual pet environment.
10. Petz Horsez 2
As one of the only games still available from the much-loved Petz franchise, Petz Horsez 2 is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who wants to pick up a virtual pet sim. As the name suggests, this game lets you care for horses, raising them, building up your jockeys, and rescuing the horse ranch from ruin. The visuals are a little dated by modern standards, but if you can put up with that, then you’ll find a rich and rewarding pet sim behind the facade.
This is a pet sim with a difference, because rather than letting you experience what it’s like to have a pet, you can actually play as the pet yourself. In Cat Simulator, you play as – you guessed it – an adorable little cat on a farm. It’s up to you to keep the farm free of pests using your sneaky cat skills, while also exploring the farm, collecting coins, and trying to steer clear of any animal that’s bigger and tougher than you. This is a fun, quirky experience with a lot of heart.
In this adorably wholesome indie game, you are given the task of rebuilding a cat cafe and filling it with cute cats. What’s not to love? As you play, you’ll attract cats that will live in your cafe with you, delighting your guests and you with their playful behaviour. You’ll also explore the environment around you, collecting magical potions with delightful effects like transforming a cat into a giant version of itself, allowing you to ride it around (don’t worry, the cat doesn’t mind).
13. To the Rescue!
To the Rescue! puts you in charge of your very own dog shelter, and it’s up to you to find homes for all of the dogs in that shelter. Of course, technically speaking, To the Rescue! isn’t really a pet simulator; these animals aren’t your pets, but you are still trying to help them find homes where they will be pets, so we’re counting it. The game is fun and rewarding, and as an added bonus, buying it also means you’re supporting real-world charities, since 20% of the proceeds go towards an animal charity.
In this romantic visual novel, you’re looking to find both a furry best friend for life and a human romantic partner to spend the rest of your life with. You’ll look after your dog, petting them, washing them, and making sure they’re cared for, all while searching for your very own “forever friend”, as the game puts it. The visuals are charming and cartoony, and there are a variety of people available as romantic partners, so you should be able to find someone who matches your tastes. It’s on Switch as well as PC.
Last but not least, Sonic Adventure 2 might seem like a strange pick, but many players kept on playing the game long after finishing it due to its strangely addictive and adorable Chao Garden minigame. Your Chao will hang out in their garden, and you can visit them between missions, giving them items to turn them into different forms and even evolving them. There are minigames within the Chao Garden, too, making this arguably one of the most involved and detailed side activities in any game.