Okay, maybe it’s just because I’ve been inundated with “cute” for the past week. I’ve got Atelier Rorona sitting here – which features a “cute” anime style, as fans of the series would expect – and I just completed reviewing Blade Kitten, which included another healthy dose of cute. So maybe I’m being too hard on EyePet for giving us a too-friendly professor that reminded me of nursery school, or when I say the game’s longevity rests too strongly on cutesy dress-up and virtual caretaking. It’s clear that this particular Move product is designed to be very family-friendly, and only the kids will spend a significant amount of time with it. Besides, it’s another example of how well Move works and you can’t help but smile at that goofy, charming little creature on the screen. There’s a whole lot of good here and if you have kids in the house, EyePet is definitely recommended. If not…well…
As you could tell from the available media, you’re not merely looking at a screen full of pre-rendered visuals. Thanks to the PlayStation Eye, you and your surroundings will actually appear on the screen, which is quite the impressive display of current technology. The only downside is that for such an experience to be truly effective, everything needs to be set up perfectly: the Eye needs to be at just the right level (otherwise, your furry virtual pet won’t react accurately to its surroundings), and you really need a fairly large plot of clear floor directly in front of the TV. This wasn’t much of an issue for me, but I can see how set-up could prove to be time-consuming for many. Other than that, everything looks good; surprisingly good, in fact. The EyePet is sweet enough to give you diabetes and seeing its bright, cheery reactions are a joy to behold; the overall attraction of the game really is very high.
As I sort of hinted at in the intro, I just couldn’t handle the professor (the guy who helps you along at the start), but thankfully, I was able to leave his preaching behind after playing for a bit. I also found some slight problems with the sound effects; it may have been my TV or how Move is arranged or something, but the effects weren’t always on point. It’s sort of difficult to explain but let’s just say it was noticeable, which means I sorta have to mention it. But what you do hear is perfect for the situation; EyePet’s sounds go along nicely with his undeniably appealing charisma and personality, and the audio typically enhances and bolsters the experience. For a game designed around virtual immersion, this is essential and despite a few slips and drawbacks, Sony got this part right. As usual, though, I did want more musical accompaniment.
When you first start, you get this little egg, right? And you actually have to coax the little guy out of there; be gentle now! When he arrives, you can teach and play to your heart’s content, all the while experimenting with new gameplay features. The best part of EyePet is his true-to-life reactions to your environment – remember you’re basically seeing your living room and its inhabitants on the TV – and how the little guy steals your heart over time. For instance, if you let him sleep for a while, he’ll actually start to dream about his time spent with you; sort of like a montage of your virtual toying and frolicking. I most enjoyed watching the animal respond to most anything; even someone walking by can cause him to leap out of the way in childish awe and fear. But the meat of the game centers on the 60 various challenges, designed to be attempted over a span of 15 days.
There’s good news and bad news here: some of the challenges are easily attempted and easily conquered, while others may seem confusing at first, especially to those of a younger age. And when I say “confusing,” I’m not talking about the actual goal of the challenge (that’s always pretty simple), but the required motion and movements involved. Sadly, it made me feel very, very stupid when I couldn’t quite figure out how to get the Gold medal in a seemingly straightforward challenge. This could be a subjective problem, though, and I will freely admit to that. The good news is that the Move controller always seemed to be extremely accurate, and the challenges themselves are often entertaining: these include catching food in mid-air, flying a plane around, or even dressing EyePet up in various costumes. The latter obviously aren’t all that tough, obviously, but trust me…I think some later challenges might frustrate kids.
Completing the challenges unlocks toys and clothing, which sort of gives the game a collectible completionist feeling; i.e., “I need that Gold medal ‘cuz I want this particular item!” This can take some time but maintenance is another big aspect of the experience. See, your pet needs to be fed, bathed and given affection and exercise on a relatively frequent basis. You can get an idea of how EyePet is feeling by performing a status update and he’ll let you know if you’ve been neglecting him. You can even send a progress report to the institute – the same institute that gave you the egg at the start – and good marks result in more new toys and clothes. This is the part I personally found to be a little repetitive and unfulfilling; no matter how accurate things get, a virtual pet can’t be compared to a living, breathing furry friend. Then again, kids are living in a world that relies more and more on electronic companionship so I might just be an old fuddy-duddy who doesn’t “get it” entirely.
That being said, the interaction between yourself and EyePet is tremendously accurate and responsive, and I think that’s what counts most. And because of the Eye camera, the game isn’t just reading the movement of your hand; it will also read your feet, head, etc., which makes the whole experience that much more dynamic. I will say that my cute little pet wouldn’t always respond to something I did, but maybe he’s just being a little temperamental…pets won’t always jump through hoops just ‘cuz you want them to, you know. Either way, the technicals are more than solid, it looks great, EyePet is adorable, and overall, the game is accessible and good for the whole family. Most of my complaints may be more subjective in nature but I can’t really help that. I will still recommend it as a fantastic Christmas gift for kids between the ages of 5 and 12.
9/27/2010 Ben Dutka