It's easy to fall in love with Sony's EyePet. This weird amalgam of puppy, monkey, and kitten is an expert at furry cuteness and wide-eyed wonder, but sadly, the love doesn't stick around for long. While the game successfully uses the motion-sensing capabilities of the PlayStation Eye camera and the PlayStation Move controller to create an immersive experience, it's ultimately short-lived. The virtual pet, while creating a very good illusion of being real, shows no signs of growth and, perhaps most disappointingly, lacks individuality.
The first thing you are taught is how to correctly position the PlayStation Eye camera--knee height and pointing at the ground--and then pick a name for your EyePet. (We named ours George.) You must then hatch the pet out of its egg by holding the Move controller upright and using it to heat the egg. Once the egg cracks, you must use either your hands or the Move controller to rock it back and forth--if you use the former, this is the first instance where you'll directly interact with the onscreen environment without a controller, and it takes some getting used to, particularly because there's nothing to guide your hands to the right place. The lack of helpful reference points means you'll go through a lot of trial and error.
Once your new furry little friend appears, things become a little easier: you tickle, push, and chase him around the room with either your hands or the controller; stick out your hand and watch him jump; or playfully push him over with the glowing tip of the Move and watch him react. This is a fun and engaging experience--it's exciting to interact with a virtual being on such a close and personal level. You are then guided through a series of pet care activities that include feeding, washing, styling, and keeping your pet healthy. However, there's no real incentive to feed, wash, or exercise him: if you leave the pet without food or a bath for more than a day--or, as we did, left George for up to a year by putting the date forward on the PlayStation 3--the only visible change will be a swarm of flies buzzing around his head and an occasional impulse to drag his food bowl into view and stare at it longingly. While these signs may be an obvious indication of what you should do, you will not be reprimanded in any way if you don't, nor will your pet get sad or sick, or stop participating in the challenges.
The main component of the game is the Pet Program, composed of 60 challenges split evenly between 15 "days" (however, you can play through about three days' worth of content in one session before the game stops you). The challenges start off rudimentary. For example, you must use the Move controller to create a trampoline on which the EyePet bounces until he reaches the goal set by the game. Most objects work that way: you simply let the camera scan the Move controller, and onscreen objects attach to it ready to wield. There is a good mix of challenges using either the Move controller or your hands, including one-off challenges and some that you can come back to for a high score.
The disappointing thing is that the Move controller adds nothing to the gameplay; indeed, some of the most intuitive and fun challenges are those where you can use just your hands. Not having to use a controller creates a deeper level of immersion--it's just you and your virtual pet, interacting without the aid of an intermediary. The fact that you can reach out with your hands, touch this little guy, and watch him react is a thrilling experience every time. One of the most immersive challenges that best demonstrates this connection is a simple game of Snap: you and your pet match off against each other with a deck of facedown cards. You use your hand to pick up a card, and he does the same by nudging the deck with his nose. Once you see a matching card, you must beat him to the deck by literally snapping the cards with your hand. Simple and elegant, this challenge is lots of fun because it feels like you're actually playing Snap, rather than playing a game within a game. Outdoor challenges also allow you to use your hands; some involve planting flowers in a makeshift garden or helping the EyePet run on a treadmill by clapping your hands whenever he comes to an obstacle to make him jump over it. Once completed, challenges win you prizes--mostly new toys and clothes for your pet. You do have the option of using the Move controller in these challenges instead of your hands, and while both options control in much the same way and are just as responsive, the latter is simply more fun.
The only place where the Move controller makes a positive difference is in the drawing challenges: in the original EyePet, you were asked to copy the onscreen designs by manually drawing them on endless sheets of paper and then scanning them in with the PlayStation Eye camera. Now, you can simply trace the outline of the image directly onscreen with the Move controller (although you do have the option of using pen and paper if you want). This is much less frustrating and probably a lot better for the environment.
While it's intuitive to expect that challenges will progress in difficulty as the game does, a lack of instruction and feedback makes some challenges impossible to complete. Each challenge begins with a one-sentence instruction that in most cases gives you an overall objective instead of specific directions. For example, in one of the challenges you take control of a small toy robot to smash watermelons with the aid of a baseball bat. The instructions are simple: "Use the robot to smash all the melons before the time runs out." That's all very well, but how do you smash the melons? Using the baseball bat doesn't seem to work, because the melons don't smash when you hit them. Running into the melons at full speed doesn't work either, nor does spinning around really fast and trying to smash the melons into each other. With no further feedback or instruction to go on, no melons are smashed, and that challenge is left uncompleted. The singing challenge, which uses the PlayStation Eye's microphone, is equally troublesome. Here, you must sing a note into the Move controller doubling as a microphone and hold it until a wine glass on the screen breaks. Besides the fact that the game is picky about which octave you're singing in (telling you to sing lower or higher if you don't get it right), you must hold the note for what seems like years, making it hard to imagine how younger players will cope. The only redeeming feature of this challenge seems to be hearing the EyePet mimic your singing with his small, adorable voice.
The customisation options, while varied, don't have an impact on gameplay--if you feel like dressing up your pet in a bee, pirate, jester, or pilot costume, then you can. This is totally cute, and a bit of fun, but the excitement is short-lived. Things become even more disappointing with the realisation that your pet will not grow, evolve, or change, nor learn anything that makes one day different from the last. There's nothing to make him your own, nothing to tie this furry ball to you other than a name. As far as the virtual-pet genre goes, this is a pretty big disappointment: while not all interactions with virtual pets have to be goal-oriented, it feels like the EyePet is not living up to its potential by excluding this aspect. The lack of character and individuality means there is no way to build a relationship with the virtual pet, and the interactions become less enjoyable over time for this reason.
There is also a big gap in online functionality, which isn't particularly fleshed out: online activities boil down to either purchasing items from the EyePet store or visiting an online gallery, where you and other EyePet owners can post videos and photos of your EyePet taken in-game. This could have been stretched out to include some sort of system where friends could swap EyePets or even play together in an online area specifically decked out with challenges and games designed for more than one player.
There's no doubt that the EyePet can fill a good number of hours with creative and enjoyable gameplay, most of which makes excellent use of the PlayStation Eye camera and creates a very immersive experience. However, the lack of instruction and feedback makes some of the 60 challenges frustrating and confusing, and because your pet doesn't grow or change, the playful fun eventually loses its luster. The experience ends up being fun but altogether unrewarding.