Ah, the humble Tamagotchi. So many lives were lost to one of the most despicable fads ever to grace the hands of the fashion conscious prepubescents of the nineties. These charmless pixel pets were the very bane of my primary school life, only to disappear as soon as the Pokémon epidemic erupted. Since then however, the virtual pet genre has meandered its way into video games, with the likes of Nintendogs winning the hearts of the current casual market generation. And now there’s a new one.
Enter EyePet, Sony’s latest ploy to justify the motion sensing PlayStation Eye camera, which has been woefully underused since its low-key introduction in 2007. The PS3 isn’t exactly renowned for fostering digital pets however, and as a result, its hardcore fan base will most likely dismiss it as a Nintendo reject marketed for puny children. But then, to a degree, that is exactly what I am.
The evolution of EyePet begins at the pet centre, whereby an exasperating man wearing a lab coat and spectacles sets the scene before explaining how to set the game up. Adequate floor space is required, and the Eye camera needs to be specifically positioned at knee height pointing down towards the floor. In theory, this should be child’s play, but the game is so stringent with its requirements that it can take a while to set things up properly. Once you eventually get past these foibles, you are then prompted to give your pet a sensible name. Naturally, I opted to call mine Cucumber.
Your pet is then delivered in the form of an egg, which leads to the introduction of the “magic card”, an integral plastic accessory that comes packaged with the game. This card is frequently used throughout the duration of EyePet, as it essentially acts as a central controller by morphing into on-screen objects for you to interact with.
Placing the card on the floor will initially see it transform into an on-screen heater, which is used to heat up the egg before you have to hatch it by tilting it back and forth with your hands. It’s an inventive dynamic, but it initially feels awkward and unnatural when it boils down to it, because you are physically interacting with intangible objects.
EyePet is unmistakably targeted at a casual, family-friendly audience – everything is bright and fluffy, and the game is designed to be played with you sitting demeaningly on the floor. Take its packaging for example, which seems to have been derived from a Happy Meal box if you buy the game bundled with the Eye camera. And then there’s the EyePet itself, a deliriously cute bundle of joy that will win the affections of younger audiences effortlessly.
Or at least that’s what Sony wants you to think, since I found it to be a trifle creepy and demonic – but maybe that’s just me. Honestly, I thought I was staring at the result of a perverse puppy and monkey mating session, but after many hours of pondering, I think I can now safely affirm EyePet‘s origin: it is none other than Gizmo from Gremlins. Whilst we’re on the subject of cutesy creatures, EyePet will never surpass LittleBigPlanet’s Sackboy for out-and-out adorableness.
The motion sensor technology behind EyePet is surprisingly impressive, and the animation is suitably charming as the diminutive monstrosity scurries around your living room. It’s all very convincing, and you can casually interact with your pet at any given time by stroking and tickling it, or wriggling your fingers and tapping your hand on the floor to gain its attention. The only downside is that there’s no escaping the fact you look like a prized pillock to onlookers as you caress the carpet and dotingly stroke thin air.
The game encourages you to monitor your pet’s vital statistics, such as hunger and hygiene, which can be achieved by utilising the card as a visual scanner to determine your pet’s current mood and state of health. Mind you, my EyePet wasn’t brought up in the most loving of environments, considering most of its carers branded it as “the little fucker”, so its emotional well-being was probably in jeopardy.
The problem is that, whilst you can feed and wash your pet, there’s no real consequence for cruelly depriving it of such luxuries: the result is that your pet will appear visibly dirty or occasionally hint that it’s hungry by placing its bowl into view, which means it’s impossible to actually kill it off, sadly. It all amounts to the fact that EyePet plays more like an immortal interactive toy rather than a fully fledged game.
To flesh things out in the gameplay department, progression in EyePet is achieved through a series of daily challenges dubbed as the Pet Programme, played out as a set of 60 glorified mini-games. These challenges offer a decent degree of variety, ranging from simple tasks, like bouncing your pet on a trampoline, to more elaborate challenges, such as teaching your pet to sing or grow a garden set.
The Pet Programme soon becomes samey however, and many of the tasks are devoid of clear instructions, which can be grating. For example, one challenge asks you to take a smiling photo of yourself with your pet, but there is no explanation of how to successfully accomplish this, meaning that, despite my numerous attempts of awkwardly lying down beside my pet to take such a photo, I could never complete the challenge, no matter how cheesy my grin was.
If you are the sort of person who likes to shamelessly degrade their pets by fallaciously dressing them up, then there are all manner of clothing options to make the EyePet look even more disturbing than it already does, and additional items can be unlocked by completing the challenges. The customisation on offer is basic however, restricted to simple clothing and fur colour options.
Some of EyePet’s more innovative moments come from its drawing challenges: hold up your hand drawn artwork to the camera and EyePet will attempt to replicate it by drawing a copy of your infantile doodles with its mouth, although it isn’t always entirely accurate. Lighting is a significant factor here, but for the most part it’s a novel feature that really showcases the Eye camera’s potential, and later challenges take things a step further by morphing your drawings into playable vehicles.
Best of all, the system is entirely open to abuse, meaning that, should you be feeling juvenile, it’s possible to teach your pet to draw elongated genitalia. In fact, my pet enjoyed this so much that it started to instinctively draw a parade of penises all over the floor completely at random without any prompting. Oh the hilarity.
EyePet is a fun distraction for a while, but it’s ultimately a shallow experience. The pet never grows or evolves, so perhaps a choice of additional characters or more extensive customisation options would have been welcome, since you are stuck with the same freaky Gizmo lookalike at all times.
It does serve as a belated but tantalising glimpse of the unearthed prowess within the Eye camera however, which will hopefully be pushed to its full potential with the advent of the upcoming motion controller. As for whether or not EyePet is a viable alternative to a real life pet, at least it won’t chew on your furniture or soil your carpet.
Integrity Note: Gamer Limit did not receive a press copy for this review.
Eyepet's colourful presentation is sickingly sweet, but the subtle pet animations are well conceived.
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Interacting with EyePet works to a degree, but it often feels too unnatural. The array of activities on offer help to add some variety to proceedings, however.
The tutor's voice and inane jokes wear thin all too quickly, and the pet's noises are predictably cute along with the soft soundtrack.
There are 60 challenges to play through, but the novelty soon wears thin.
There is fun to be had in EyePet and the motion technology is admirable, but, as with the majority of PlayStation Eye games, it is little more than a short lasting sugary novelty.