Everybody loves a good snuggle from their favourite cat or dog – but what if you’re part of the population that remains petless? Happy Pets is a new Facebook pet game that, unlike most other games in the genre, is actually about caring for pets. It’s time to put away those anthropomorphic avatars of games like Pet Society and Petville and get your hands dirty in the virtual litterbox.

Imagine running a virtual home for wayward pets. You’ll need to feed them, play with them, and clean up after them just like you would a real animal. Then, like any good animal intermediary, you’ll send them off to a good home once they’ve received enough love and attention to become cuddly playmates.

There are a number of different activities you’ll engage in when caring for your pets, most of which require little more than selecting the right option with your mouse and clicking on a place that makes sense with that option. Click on the food and drag it to the food bowl. Click on the pooper scooper and drag it to the litter box. Happy Pets keeps things simple and intuitive – a key to success in any Facebook experience.

In addition to basic pet care, you’ll also spend a good deal of time playing with your pets. Selecting toys like a plush mouse on a string or some dog biscuits will trigger some quick-play mini-games that really help foster the feeling that you’re actually playing with a pet. These mini-games vary enough from one toy to the next to keep things interesting, though there aren’t really enough toys available yet to gauge whether or not this will continue to be the case.

As the game is still technically in beta (what isn’t these days?) many of the toys and other items in the store suffer from a bad case of “coming soon.” Still – we really liked the little skill-testing mini-games that were available to us at this stage of play. Tossing dog biscuits played out like a catapult game, but one that actually require skill as you’ll need to hit your target (in this case, the dogs mouth). The mousey play went in a completely different direction, acting like a game of keep-away.

Like many Facebook games, expect to earn experience and coins for each of the actions you perform. As you level up you’ll gain access to new animals and open up more animal slots, which means you’ll be able to care for a greater number of animals as your experience grows.

While the game definitely strays from the current conventions of what defines a pet game on Facebook, that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of similarities. Like other pet games on the market, there’s a heavy shopping vibe attached to Happy Pets. Keeping your pets happy means keeping them pampered, and that means letting them live in the lap of luxury. You’ll be able to outfit your home with a variety of furniture and accessories.

The game will also start you out with one room but open up more as you proceed through the levelling system, just like you’d find in most other pet games. In turn, you’ll want to focus on decorating these rooms too. The difference in Happy Pets, though, is that these changes are purely cosmetic. Adding a new window or a footstool for your cat to snuggle up on isn’t going to earn you experience or aid you in the growth of your pets. It’s a shame, because while the shopping is fun there simply isn’t any real motivation to do it.

We were also disappointed with how shallow so many of the tasks were. Sure playing with your pets is fun, but feeding them, cleaning up after them – it’s all done with simple clicks and over in a few seconds. It would have been great if the game offered up the same depth across the board that we saw in the “play” elements, but for the most part it just wasn’t there.

Happy Pets developer CrowdStar has added one more little touch that, while trivial, just can’t go unmentioned. Unlike other developers who are content to keep their games running independent of each other, Happy Pets actually incorporates their immensely popular Happy Aquarium experience into the game. Right there in the Happy Pets living room is an aquarium that provides you a quick shortcut to its underwater sibling. The aquarium is more than just a shortcut though – its appearance changes to show you the current cleanliness and hunger conditions in the other game. If your Happy Aquarium tank is dirty, your tank in Happy Pets is dirty. If your Happy Aquarium fish are visibly hungry, your fish in Happy Pets are visibly hungry. It’s a brilliant piece of cross-promotion that I have no doubt we’ll start to see cropping up in other games.

CrowdStar has once again proven themselves willing to buck popular trends and do their own thing. In this case that meant making a pet game that was actually about pets instead of being just another anthropomorphic people simulator. There may have been fewer things to do here than we would have liked, but for gamers looking for a cuddly and cute opportunity for kitten care that doesn’t require a whole lot of commitment, Happy Pets should fit the bill nicely.