We try out Sony's upcoming USB camera peripheral for the PlayStation 2 and its suite of games.
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We recently received a preview version of Sony's upcoming EyeToy peripheral for the PlayStation 2 and the EyeToy: Play disc that will come with it. The peripheral is a USB camera, with a built-in mic, that is used in conjunction with the EyeToy: Play disc's games and video messaging feature. While console peripherals have not traditionally had much success, we have to say that the EyeToy and the EyeToy: Play disc are turning out to have a bit more charm than we expected.
When you first fire up the EyeToy, you can immediately plug it into either of the PlayStation 2's USB ports, or you can wait until the intro movie on the EyeToy: Play disc begins and walks you through the plug-in process. You want to make sure the camera is aimed at you and that your image is roughly in the center of the screen so the camera can track your movement. Once it's connected, you'll see the first menu, which will present you with several options. You can watch the opening cinematic again if you missed something, adjust various camera options, save and load your progress file, select video messaging, or select game modes. If you choose the video messaging feature, you can pick from one of several backgrounds for your message and then select a length from 10 to 60 seconds. Once you've made your selections, the unit will offer a short countdown and will then begin taping--the unit's built-in mic will capture the audio. Once the message is recorded, you can review it and save it to your PS2 memory card.
While the video messaging feature is a nice perk, the meat of the EyeToy lies in its game offerings. There are 12 minigames to choose from, each of which makes good use of the camera. The games have three difficulty levels, and they support two-player turn-based battles. Wishi-Washi is a window-washing simulator in which you must clean windows as quickly as possible en route to the top of a soap-covered skyscraper. Kung Foo puts you in the middle of the action as small ninjas and bamboo bad guys attack from both sides. You'll have to defend yourself by smacking them as they jump at you. Plate Spinner challenges you to keep a number of plates spinning on poles by waving your hand over them, while keeping an eye on their speed and any pole-climbing drunk monkeys in the vicinity. Boxing Chump is a six-round boxing match where you face off against a boxer on the opposite side of the screen. You'll have to avoid your opponent's punches to keep from being knocked out, and you'll have to get in some solid hits to take out your opponent.
Mirror Time challenges you to hit specific targets that appear in each corner of the screen. The catch is that the entire screen (including your own image) flips and rotates every few seconds. Keep Ups challenges you to prevent a soccer ball from landing on the bottom of the screen. To complicate matters, you'll have to exert some solid control over the ball, targeting certain individuals who'll appear onscreen and avoiding others. Beat Freak will challenge you to hit speakers as CDs pass through them while music plays. UFO Juggler is a variation on Plate Spinner, and it challenges you to spin UFOs as they appear, raising them to the top of the screen to help them successfully launch. Your task is complicated by the appearance of an enemy spaceship that will freeze the UFOs if it hits them with an energy beam. Fortunately, if you're quick enough, some frantic waving over the ship will send it spinning out of control.
Slap Stream is a variation of the circus classic whack-a-mole, and it charges you with smacking gassy rats that appear in the sky while avoiding more benign and friendly bunny girls. Boogie Down will challenge you to hit lights on the screen in time to a music track in the same order that an onscreen character hits them. Ghost Catcher will throw an assortment of ghosts and bats at you, and you must take them out by waving your hand over them. Finally, Rocket Rumble challenges you to create fireworks displays. You select assorted rockets onscreen by waving your hand over them, and then you hit detonators in the lower left-hand or right-hand side of the screen. While the gameplay in the minigames is somewhat similar from game to game, there's just enough variety to give each one a distinctly different feel. In addition to the traditional games, EyeToy: Play also features a "playroom" mode that will let you apply a variety of different visual effects to your image.
The control in the various minigames is impressively simple and accessible due to the EyeToy's mechanics. Everything is handled by a visual interface that you navigate through by moving your hand over the appropriate buttons, and you can briefly reset it by covering the lens. You won't need a controller to cycle through options and select choices, which makes everything quite user-friendly.
The graphics in the various minigames are simple and stylized but won't be setting any new standards in visuals on the PS2. Your image is the centerpiece of each of the games and is framed by different-themed polygonal images, depending on the game. There will also be assorted original characters on hand to offer advice, encouragement, and disdain, depending on your performance. The various special effects are cool and appropriately trippy, offering a wide variety of color washes and tricks that are eye-catching. The camera itself creates clear images, though its performance is dependent on lighting.
The audio in the minigames is solid and features a catchy assortment of tunes and sound effects that match their themes. The audio quality of the video messaging feature is surprisingly good, considering you'll usually be standing a few feet away from the EyeToy when recording.
Based on what we've played, the EyeToy is shaping up to be a unique peripheral with some potential. Sony has already stated that its developers are looking for ways of incorporating support for the unit into upcoming games. Only time will tell if that pans out. However, in the meantime, the EyeToy and its minigame disc offer a solid diversion that's perfect for younger players or casual gamers. The EyeToy is currently slated to ship this November.