Often viewed as a casual corner of the gaming experience, many titles have actually utilised the mini-game nature of nurturing dependents and incorporated such mechanics into the wider gameplay. From collection based simplicity such as Pokemon, through dryer God-sims or even fast paced action such as the Chaos in Sonic Adventures, numerous developers have implemented this simple hook, thereby showing there is clearly depth and an addictive quality that keeps players interested.
In recent years the more forthright pet experience that is Nintendogs has arguably ruled the roost (or should that be kennel?) and perhaps it is no coincidence that when Sony tried their hands at the genre they aimed for the cute, cuddly , fluffy end of the creature spectrum. The one area that was more revolutionary, when EyePet first appeared on the PlayStation 3, was the use of the PS Eye. The camera functionality was core to the game, allowing an amount of interactivity that had previously been denied to users staring at a creature trapped behind a screen. This crossover with the real world helped differentiate the title, but now that it is heading to the pocketable PSP, will London Studio have the wherewithal to firstly translate the experience to the smaller screen, and perhaps more importantly, what does this new found portability bring with it?
As mentioned, the developers had already laid down the overall style with the PS3 iteration of the game, with the emphasis being on the adorability (I may have made that word up) of your creature. The small screen does little to detract from the EyePet’s charm; the seemingly half simian Gareth Bale lookalike is just the kind of bundle of fur that youngsters will want to interact with. The PSP can’t handle such intricacies as fur with the same polish as its beefier console sibling but London Studio have kept it looking textured and it is only on very close inspection that it gives away its true straw-like quality.
Animation is similarly well handled, with the many little tics, twitches and facial expressions meshing seamlessly. There is the usual blockiness one would associate with shadows and the more complex polygonal models, but thankfully the creature itself is always prioritised and seems to benefit the most from the processing power of the handheld.
The menu system will certainly aid the younger audience as it prioritises easily identifiable symbols over text and even on the PSP screen manages to avoid seeming cluttered. When wording is necessary it is in a pleasingly bold and easy to read font, so there should be little confusion.
The monotonous elevator-tunes nature of the background music may slightly grate after prolonged play but it’s far more in the LittleBigPlanet mould of mildly charming rather than a stab-a-pencil-in-your-ear spiral into muzak madness.
As with any pet simulator, be it the tangible but gimmicky Furbys or computer generated Nintendogs, the key is to teach them new things. Once you have named your little one, and a helpful mentor figure takes you through the basics, you are left very quickly to your own devices, able to choose what you do and when you do it. The range of activities is reasonable, with games, drawing and pampering options all accessible straight away. They are to an extent all interlinked though, as teaching a pet a drawing will then bring the successful sketch to life, such as a car, which you then can use to participate in mini-games with. If you reach the high scores necessary within these games you are rewarded with prizes in the form of apparel to deck your creature out in.
It is a simple progression and one that works from the viewpoint that the implementation of the varied and inventive costumes makes having one more crack, at whatever mini-game has yet to yield its full bounty, imperative. The problem lies in the fact that the games themselves are rarely fun. Monotony can be accepted when the key mechanics of the task you are being asked to perform are solid and engaging. EyePet relies heavily on a few different games that have minor variations as you progress through them. Racing a miniature car around your play area, you will first drive through markers, cones will be added and so on.
There are only a few stages to each and there is little in the way of true innovation amongst the large amount of filler material, which proves to be a shame as some of the games have been well designed utilising the benefits of the PSP’s Go!Cam. Bowling for example involves lining up your EyePet with the D-Pad, manoeuvring the PSP by positioning yourself in relation to the card needed or the camera as a fiduciary marker and blowing to send the bundle of fun rolling into the skittles. For youngsters this is engaging and innovative, but few of the mini-games follow this trend of successfully integrating the camera functionality.
Drawing could have been a prime example of where creativity and videogames meet for burgeoning young minds, but the fact that there are few options and the camera can be a touch picky in what it’ll recognise will likely put off those unable to get the feature to work or worse, have them relying on a picture that is accepted and simply reusing it to trigger the ensuing animation/game.
The saving grace for EyePet is that there are many options available for kitting the little blighter out, which should prove sufficient for those still in the grip of collection mania, be it stickers, toys or anything else. The game may underestimate its core market in some ways, but the areas in which London Studio prove the worth of ingenuity and the adept realisation of the central character will likely be enough to draw an audience.
How long a pet simulator lasts is hardly an exact science. It can vary on amount of mini-games available, the addictiveness of said games, the amount of creature options and finally the button bashing youngster’s own attention span. That said, with there being no obvious differences in playthroughs, the four save slots appear only adequate for several players to have their own fluff ball rather than multiple attempts at raising individual independent creatures by one gamer. Once prizes have been gained, it is unlikely many will return to most of the mini-games. Progress is steady and continual provided you play regularly but this seems a pet simulator more suited to weeks rather than months as, beyond cuteness, the hooks needed for replayability are fairly blunt.
EyePet is solid in terms of graphics and integrates camera usage well, but beyond a few areas of innovation that admittedly will excite young minds, the majority of the gameplay features have already been implemented in other games and many with better results. The supposed entertainment to be found in taking your pet into the outside world remains limited beyond the initial novelty factor.
- Lovable creature
- Some inventive use of the Go!Cam
- Accessible for younger gamers
- Monotonous stages to mini-games
- Limited replayability
- Lack of variety
Eyepet PSP Review
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