If you thought owning a dog, cat, bird or rabbit was hard work, try selling them. These pet lovers can be pretty demanding at the best of times, and you’ll get a taste of this firsthand by playing through Pet Shop Hop, the latest time management game from PlayFirst.

While this pet store simulation has its charm, it’s a little “ruff” around the edges – but we’ll get to our pet peeves in a moment (sorry, couldn’t resist two puns in one sentence).

You play as Cassie, a zoology major who grew up working at her grandfather’s modest pet store. But one day along comes the big bad Megapet Superstore, threatening to put Cassie’s family business out of, er, business. While Cassie’s grandfather is ready to throw in the towel, she decides to fight it out – thanks to the advice from her entrepreneurial friend Flo, star of the Diner Dash games — by turning the small store that sells only a few fish into a pet emporium with a wide variety of animals for sale.

In the main Store mode, customers come into your store and ask for a specific pet – such as a black rabbit or green fish – or else they may, say, have a question mark in front of a silhouette of a puppy or hedgehog, meaning they’re not picky as to which one you’re selling them. When you see what they want inside the speech bubble above their head, you must click on the appropriate pet and give it to the customer, who pays you to complete the transaction. Cassie must also keep an eye on the food and cleanliness for each section of the store, because you’ll need to click and drag, say, cat food and kitty litter, when these things need some attention.

At times customers may ask for you for a cage for the rabbit, a tank for the fish, accessories for a bird or vet certification for a pet. For cages and tanks and such, this means you need to click them first, then bring it to a water/shavings station and press the correct button to fill them up, and then drop the animal in before handing it to the customer. Pet certification means you need to bring an animal to a table, wait for it to be certified and then give it to a customer.

Needless to say, you don’t start off with all the animals at once. You will gain access to new animals every few levels, plus you need to purchase the animals with the money made each day (and yes, like other time management games, your goal is to reach a minimum amount before moving onto the next day). Purchasing the animals for sale, as well as other cosmetic or productivity upgrades for your store, is very much a core part of the gameplay. Because if you don’t buy enough animals (e.g. 4 grey rabbits, 5 blue fish or 6 Dalmatians) customers may ask for them, and if you don’t have them, they’ll leave your store empty-handed and upset.

The mascot you can purchase after level 10 is a good idea, however, where the store pet you choose (such as a dog), will come out of his home if you click on it, and will entertain customers — though it might track mud through the store, too.

Unlike the 50-level Story mode, an optional Challenge mode has Cassie catering to a steady stream of customers to see how much money she can make in succession. You can choose from one of three difficulty levels.

A couple of issues were found while working at the store. For one I found that not all clicks were registered – therefore you think you’re clicking on a customer to give them the pet they asked for but nothing happens until you repeat the action. Also, it was annoying that Cassie couldn’t certify a pet once it was in its cage or aquarium. Why not? Now you have to recycle your work and start again as the customer gets increasingly impatient.

Graphically, while the “whiteboard” art style is cute, which shows words and graphics drawn on a board with different color magic markers (during the pet purchasing and level summary screens), the game itself doesn’t look that good – even though it’s in 3-D. I found the characters a little blurry, plus there isn’t much customer variation either (only two are introduced until the 7th week!). The comics were also so-so, with a lot of text on the screen, so it can be hard to know which cell you should be reading next.

With the exception of the kittens, the animals aren’t animated enough either, so many will just sit there until you pick them up; you would think a developer with a name like Mean Hamster Software could dream up cute animations for these pets while they wait to be purchased.

Pet Shop Hop is not a, er, cat-astrophe (tee hee) but it could’ve been improved in a few areas. That said, economic component and wide variety of animals and accessories gives this game a lot of depth and playability.