The one true thing that can be said for both the PlayStation 3 and PSP versions of Sony's EyePet is that it's cute. It's hard to remain aloof in front of its furry, wide-eyed wonderment as it paces around the screen as helpless and beseeching as a puppy in a pet store window. Sadly, the feeling doesn't stick around for long in the PSP incarnation of the game, whose requirements for play are so complex that it becomes nearly impossible to enjoy the experience. The game feels out of its element--the immersive aspects of the virtual pet genre are nowhere to be found, replaced by painfully slow loading times and a shortage of content, turning what should have been a fun and immersive day out into a sluggish and chiropractically unsafe venture.
The game comes bundled with a PSP camera, which you must attach and use in conjunction with a magic card, which is a rectangular-shaped plastic card that's about the same size as the PSP itself. Here's the catch: in order for the game to work, the PSP camera must have an unobstructed view of this card on a flat surface at all times. This immediately eliminates a wide variety of locations where you might play with a PSP, such as on public transport, in the supermarket queues, or in the bathroom. There is also the problem of posture--because the PSP needs to remain relatively still while you are playing to make sure the magic card stays within its designated range, the lengthier challenges can sometimes result in a stiff neck and back depending on how you choose to sit when you begin playing. Forget about looking around the room or shifting position mid-challenge: the moment you move, the gameplay stops until you reposition the PSP. Most of the activities also require a clear area twice the size of the magic card in order to work, which means that playing on your lap or even at a desk is not a viable option. About the only place where the PSP EyePet does work 100 percent of the time is on a large, clear section of the floor, which means you might as well just play the PS3 version instead.
A large part of the appeal of the virtual pet genre is the illusion of a relationship between something that is real (you) and something that isn't (the pet). The fact that you can interact with a virtual being through touch is one of the main draw cards of the PS3 version of EyePet, manifested through a variety of activities and challenges that are supposed to foster this relationship. This aspect of the gameplay has been removed from the PSP version, taking with it a large part of the game's charm. The interaction is limited to button pressing, and there is only so much emotion you can invest in a virtual pet without the proper avenues to take it to the next level of immersion. Why else is its fur tantalisingly long and soft, its tail tantalisingly springy, and its chin tantalisingly itchy? This is a virtual pet crying out to be played with, but there is nothing here that allows for this kind of interaction.
The gameplay is composed of seven main activities broken up into smaller challenges, with two or three challenges per activity and an extra option for free play in some cases. The activities are not as easy as you'd expect from a game like this, so there is a certain amount of satisfaction that comes with successfully completing the challenges and then going back to get a better high score. There's also a lot of variety in the activities, provided you're not spending too much time setting up the designated play area: jumping on a trampoline to pop balloons, catching coloured fish in a lake, growing flowers and protecting them from bugs, driving and sailing around obstacle courses, bowling, and hunting for treasure. The problem is that there aren't enough of them: once you've finished playing through them and become bored with earning gold trophies for high scores, there's not much else to do except do them all over again. This would probably be a viable option if it weren't for the excruciatingly slow loading times, which, in some cases, hit upwards of 30 seconds in between activities or when going back to the main menu.
All of the challenges are played using a combination of the X button and either the analog stick or D pad, with some activities requiring you to move your pet around by calling it. You can do this either by blowing into the microphone repeatedly or by pressing the right shoulder button (the latter is recommended if you don't like passing out). Once completed, challenges win you prizes in the shape of new hats and outfits for your pet. These can be tried on in the Pet Home area of the game, which is where the EyePet takes a break from the real-world space and enters his own virtual reality in which you can feed and style him, take photos, look at his fancy aquarium filled with fish caught in the fishing challenge, or read his challenge progress in the pet diary. There's not much to keep you entertained in this section; the only slightly interesting feature is that you can teach your pet to draw a model car or sailboat. This is done by drawing a car or sailboat on a piece of white paper and holding it up to the PSP camera. The EyePet then attempts to copy whatever you have drawn. 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, but not for any real purpose. The only kick you might get out of playing dress-up is aesthetic pleasure--the game looks good, with bright and colourful animations and a soundtrack that manages to stay interesting while switching between the main theme and lots of lively, toylike sounds during the activities.
While EyePet for the PSP offers activities that are creative and challenging, the action is short-lived, leaving you with a brief but unsatisfied foray into the world of virtual pets. The fact that the magic card must always be in view of the PSP camera for the game to work, not to mention on a surface that is large enough to accommodate its designated play area, makes this a very uncomfortable experience, largely devoid of the level of immersion required to fully enjoy the virtual pet relationship.