The idea behind the original EyePet wasn't exactly new. Kids have been enthralled by the likes of Tamagotchi since the early 1990s. The execution was what really intrigued people since it used the PSEye to give us a glimpse of our own world with a virtual pet. The game did well enough, as it certainly stood out during the PlayStation Move launch. Surprisingly, no one has tried to emulate it. With no other competition, Sony's London team decided to take another crack at the series with EyePet & Friends, a sequel that throws in more options but falters in execution.
The first big knock against EyePet & Friends is with the configuration process. Unlike most other Move games, this one asks you to position the camera rather low and point it down. From there, you have to point at the camera with the Move and hit the Move button to start the configuration process. You then have to make the sphere hit the floor and hold down the button so the game knows where the floor is in the space. However, this is where the system hangs, as it fails to recognize the fact that the sphere is indeed touching the floor. It's not until you start making the sphere float that the game recognizes its version of the floor. While the game ultimately makes it so that all of EyePet's movements interact correctly with the real floor, the bad directions are sure to frustrate those who don't accidentally stumble upon the solution. You always have to set up the game in the same way before you can play, so that ensures the process goes much smoother the more you do it, but that doesn't excuse the poor instructions in the first place.
Once you finally get everything configured, the hatching process and initial orientation uncovers another issue: the controls. Hatching the egg requires you to use the controller as a heating tool to warm it up. Initially, it's frustrating to find the spots where the game recognizes the Move is doing something, but you'll soon find the right position to get everything to work. This same problem occurs again with things like the shower head. Placing the head close to the pet makes the environment wet, but the pet somehow stays dry. Placing the shower head farther away from the pet somehow does the trick, even though that's not how it works in real life.
The game also likes to include several tasks that can be done with your hands, such as tapping the egg to help it hatch, tapping on the floor to get the pet to come to you, or brushing the pet so it'll take a nap. Unfortunately, the pet didn't recognize hand movements at all, as none of them registered with it. However, when using the Move controller instead, the pet seemed attracted to it and did everything exactly as expected. Considering the different tasks available where hand movement and recognition are necessary, the lack of visible interactivity can become frustrating.
When everything finally gets sorted out, you have a good number of activities available. You can let your pet loose on a soft brick playground of your own construction and watch it interact with the environment. You can transform the Move controller into a variety of things like a laser pointer, squirt gun, or trampoline and let the pet play around with those toys. You can let it participate in a few minigames, such as bulldozer basketball and helicopter flying. You can also teach it tricks, feed it cookies, bathe it, and monitor its status to see what its needs are so that you can fulfill them. While you can't harm your pet (accidentally or otherwise), neglecting it will often make it dirty and dusty.
Customization, which was a big part of the first game, returns in a more expanded role. You can dress up your pet in clothes and accessories as well as customize the color and style of its fur. You can still create greeting cards and drawings with your pet as well as take pictures and videos of them. There are stickers you can create as well as toys that you can craft for the playground. Should you get tired of what's available, you can go online to download other people's creations and upload your own. For the creative types, there's quite a bit here to keep you from getting bored.
To be honest, that's about it. There's no overall quest to undertake, no checklist of things that need to be accomplished, no pet leveling or anything of the sort. It's just you and your pet as the main focus, and that's all you need for the game's intended audience. It is a mostly stress-free experience with a pet that turns out to be exciting and relaxing enough in its own right, so the exclusion of game-related objectives turns out to be a redeeming quality.
The hook for EyePet & Friends is the inclusion of a second player. Unlike before, a second player can use a second Move controller to interact with another EyePet on-screen simultaneously. As nice as this is, the real magic comes from seeing both pets interact with each other instead of just occupying the same space while unaware of each other's actions. Like seeing two of the same animals interact with each other, having two EyePets on-screen often results in something unexpected but often cute or hilarious.
There are only two drawbacks to doing this from a gameplay perspective. First, this isn't accomplished via a jump-in/jump-out mechanic. If someone is playing alone and a friend or sibling wants to start playing with his own pet, the user has to quit the game, go back to the main menu, and select a two-player game for that to happen. Second, all of the activities must be done simultaneously. If the second player wants his pet groomed, the first player can't just go off and feed his pet some cookies. The same goes for the minigames. If player one wants to play the basketball game, player two can't just take his pet into the UFO game. Ultimately, those are small gripes, but they are something to be aware of if you're planning to have two pets interact in the same room at the same time.
There are a few other things, beyond the controls, which drag down the experience. Choosing an activity or tool for the first time instantly brings up the voice of the announcer, who goes out of his way to give a very verbose explanation of its benefits and how to use it. All of this is nice, but the explanations take so long to get through for something so simple that you'll already have discovered what to do and be waiting for him to finish his minutes-long speech before you can actually perform the action.
Another element that needs some work is the slowdown. Giving the pet a shower, for example, produces a fogging effect on the screen, and when combined with a large puddle of water, the game's frame rate takes a noticeable dive. It gets worse when two pets are present on one screen since that triggers frame rate fluctuation. Finally, the load screens are numerous and last for a long while. The screens last about 35 seconds and contain a funny movie of a frolicking EyePet. The screens are cute, but since they appear anytime you change tasks, the times add up, and what was once cute becomes frustrating — especially if you chose the wrong activity and need to go back.
Graphically, the game does pretty well. The tools and some of the environments look bright and colorful, while the EyePet can't help but look adorable. The face is very expressive, and its movements, including its fur, are rather lifelike. The only thing dragging down this category is the quality of the video feed coming from the PSEye. Presented with an odd color level and plenty of visual noise, the low-quality video makes the augmented reality look out of place since the computer-generated elements are crystal clear. While the fault lies mainly with the hardware and most likely can't be corrected until a new camera is made, it results in a less-than-optimal visual experience.
The sound is rather well done. The music is lively but toned down dramatically during gameplay, so it doesn't mar the bonding experience between you and your pet. The effects from the tools are nice, and the sounds from the pet, which sound like a mixture of yapping and meowing, are cute and endearing. The long-winded announcer sounds too excited, but since you don't hear him after you get his initial tutorial for everything, players will be able to tolerate his overly enthusiastic nature.
EyePet & Friends could have been a cute game for kids who want to play with a virtual and exotic pet. There are a decent amount of activities as well as a great number of customization options. The addition of a second player makes the basic interactions more enjoyable and the minigames more worthwhile to play. The graphics and sound are also good, and the implementation of augmented reality was fairly well done from a visual standpoint, technical limitations aside. However, all of that is heavily marred by the controls, which are unresponsive for actions not requiring the Move. Those that do require the Move don't seem to react as you would normally think they would, resulting in lots of compensation that makes little sense in the real world. Unless you really need that virtual pet for yourself or loved ones (and those people are infinitely patient), you can rent this game or wait until the control issues are sorted out before even thinking about buying this one.
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