Pet Playground is a time management game that has you caring for the magical pets of Fairy Woods. It’s sort of like Daycare Nightmare meets Pokemon, with neat elemental attributes, yet  awkward controls and inflexible, unclear rules. Well, at least the pets are cute.

The story is light. Once upon a time in Wonderia, there lived two young fairy sisters named Elle and Eugene (nicknamed Gin) who ran a pet shop called Luna’s Aids in Fairy Woods. One day, Elle goes into town and finds that all of the pets are being terribly neglected by their fairy owners. These poor pets are all traumatized, and hovering in corners, fearful and crying. Apparently, most fairies are workaholics who are out of the house for ridiculous periods of time, but we can’t get mad at them because they’re really busy working. Elle is outraged, and rather than call PETA, she decides to use her storage room to open a pet daycare.

Customers teleport in through the fireplace, holding pets. You need to click and drag these pet (with the mouse button pressed) to a "habitat" station, which is basically a special rug. Pets will signal their needs with thought bubbles. To bathe a pet, drag it to the tub and click to begin bathing. After a bath, you need to drag it back to a habitat station. To feed it, click on a leaf sandwich over on the counter, and bring it to the pet. To put it to sleep, simply click the pet to attend to it. If a pet wants to play, you can bring it some blocks. Once it’s ready to head home, you need to drag it to the cash register, then click the register to ring up the charges, and you’re done.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, though, with the clever addition of elemental attributes. Pets have different attributes, which are shown in their appearances. Fire Red pets are reddish in color, or have some flames displayed, while Leaf Green pets look like plants. Water Blue pets are bluish, and resemble sea creatures. Earth Brown pets look like typical "normal" animals.

Habitat stations have different effects on different animals. The effect of a habitat on each element is displayed underneath it, with color-coded dots meaning a neutral effect, upward arrows meaning a positive effect, and downward arrows meaning a negative effect.  So, for example, a red arrow point up means that fire pets do well in this environment, while a blue arrow pointing down means that water pets do not. Pets will be in a better mood if you place them in the right habitat.

You can earn more cash with bonuses. If you serve a pet quickly, you’ll get a speed bonus; bathing takes a while, but earns you +50, while breaking up a fight earns +40. If pets are extra happy, customers will tip you more. Ideally, you should try and give each pet the full service before it leaves.

As you advance, you can earn special magic spells. "Freeze" will freeze time, "blink" allows you to teleport, and "slow" will slow time down. You can only use magic when your energy bar is

Full. The bar fills up naturally as you complete actions and move around.

From the map screen, you can click "shop" and buy ability upgrades. These basically just

increase speed, patience, and energy, and don’t include items. You can replay levels in the map screen to aim for an expert score.

On the upside, the graphics are really cute. It’s fun to watch the animations as the pets play with blocks and eat and sleep. You can definitely see a Pokemon influence. The addition of elements and habitats is clever, and could definitely be adapted in other games in the future.

Unfortunately, the game flounders due to inflexible and poorly explained rules. The controls are a bit awkward, and the stations aren’t intuitive, so it takes a little while to figure out the mechanics. If you’ve clicked twice on a station, it won’t show up as two check marks, which can make it harder to keep track of things.

One of the things I found most frustrating was when pets get stuck in the bath. You aren’t told this, but there is limited room on each station to accommodate pets. As a result, only two can stay on the starter rug. If you move one pet to the bath, and then place another newcomer on the rug, you are then completely stuck (which is announced in a prompt), and you can’t continue. There’s no other place to put the pet, and you can’t swap pets out. You just have to click pause and restart the level, since the owners will never come to pick up their pets. Ugh! Aside from not making sense, it’s frustrating to say the least. The only way around this is to only accept two pets on a habitat at a time, and make the rest wait.

Pet Playground does introduce some new concepts to the time management genre, namely pet and habitat elemental attributes. While these enhance game play, they don’t override the awkward controls and inflexible rules which ultimately hamper gameplay.

For similar games, try Kindergarten, Daycare Nightmare, and Paradise Pet Salon.