AU REVIEW--It's hard not to fall in love with Sony's EyePet. This weird little 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 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'll be taught is how to correctly position your PlayStation Eye--knee height and pointing at the ground--before being introduced to the magic card, a rectangular plastic aide that is read by the camera to produce all sorts of in-game objects. Your EyePet will appear in front of you in the shape of a large egg; to hatch it, you must hold the magic card upright, let the camera read it, and use the heater that appears to heat the egg. Once the egg cracks, you must use your hands to rock it back and forth--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. Reaching out and touching an object that doesn't exist is, predictably, a bit strange, but the lack of helpful reference points means you'll go through a lot of trial and error.
Once the EyePet appears, things become a little easier: you'll be asked to tickle, push, and chase your EyePet around the room; stick out your hand and watch it jump; or playfully push it over and give it affection. This is a fun and engaging experience--it's definitely exciting to interact with a virtual being on such a close and personal level. You'll then be 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 your pet: if you leave it without food or a bath for more than a day--or, as we did, 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 its head and the occasional impulse of the pet to drag its food bowl into view and stare at it. 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 EyePet get sad, 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 your magic card to create a trampoline on which your pet will bounce until it reaches the goal set by the game. There is also a good mix of challenges that use the camera and the magic card and ones that use the console's controller, including challenges that are one-off and some that you can come back to for a high score. One of the most intuitive and immersive of these is a simple game of Snap: you and your EyePet will match off against each other with a deck of facedown cards. You use your hand to pick up a card, and your EyePet will do the same by nudging the deck with its nose. Once you see a matching card, you beat the pet to the deck by literally snapping it with your hand. Simple and elegant, this challenge is as real as it gets, and it's hard to shake the feeling that it's just like playing a real game of Snap, only with a furry little thing inside a video game. There are also photo challenges, where you take a picture of your pet by activating the in-game camera, as well as outdoor challenges that involve planting flowers in a makeshift garden or helping your pet 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 clothes, hats, and outfits for your pet.
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 doesn't tell you what you have to do but rather gives you an overall objective. For example, in one of the challenges you take control of a small toy robot to smash watermelons with the aid of a toy 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? You are left alone to work that out. 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 ricochet the melons off 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 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 to be a very long time, making it hard to imagine how younger players will cope.
EyePet's 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. While this is certainly very cute, and a bit of fun, the excitement is short-lived. The game continues to go awry with the realisation that your EyePet will not grow, evolve, or change as you complete the challenges, nor will it learn anything that will make one day different from the last. There's nothing to make your EyePet your own, nothing to tie that 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 present here means there is no way to build a relationship with the virtual pet, and the interactions become less and 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 can 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 make 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.