When EyePet was first shown off at Sony’s summer press event in 2008, it looked like a potential killer app for Sony’s floundering PlayStation Eye camera. It also looked too good to be true; the video showed a horrific little Monchichi clone scampering about on a family’s television, responding to their every action. He copies pictures you draw, and he purrs when you pet him! Now, after a spotty European release, it’s out as a showcase for the new Move motion controller. After such a prolonged birth and rough upbringing, the EyePet seemingly should be uncontrollably urinating on your virtual floor. Instead, it’s pretty great.
It certainly makes the wrong first impression, though. While setting up the tech to is painless, the beginning is painful. “The Professor” meets you at the EyePet Center and guides you through hatching your dog-monkey-cat-person from a Day-Glo egg. The tutorial helps acclimate you to interacting with an intangible object through your television, but the gaudy neon aesthetics, the yeoman’s job by the token quirky professor, and the critter itself all reek of careful focus testing. But the succeeding tutorials will go a long way toward endearing gamers to both the game and the Pet. You’re shown that you waggle your fingers to make it pounce. You’re walked through using the Move as a changeable toy, shower, haircutting tool, and feeding dish. The controls work impressively well, with rare hiccups. (It’s strange that feeding your pet is the most error-ridden process; it requires you to get cookies out of a dispenser using the Move as a cup, which subsequently gets caught on the other objects onscreen.)
These basics are interwoven into the actual game of EyePet. Each “day” with your pet, accessed through the Pet Center, gives you four challenges. The initial challenges are tutorial tools—how to perform the basics above, plus others, like drawing, singing, and styling—but they soon evolve into game-style tasks. You receive gold, silver, or bronze medals depending on your performance, which in turn unlocks new challenges and new clothing, accessories, garden decorations, and other flotsam for your pet. The challenges are simple, clearly intended for young children, but they’re addictive nonetheless. Seeing that you need to photograph your pet napping while wearing a turtle costume triggers the compulsive gamer impulse to find out how to unlock the turtle costume ASAP.
This would all go by quickly if the game didn’t stop you from playing after a certain point, but the limitations reinforce EyePet’s emotional hook rather than making the game feel artificially lengthened. The little guy gets tired, dirty, and hungry. In the spaces between menus, challenges, and online shopping malls for accessories, when you’re able to just interact with the technology that’s creating an imaginary pet, the game can be remarkably affecting. Cynics won’t be able to see past the aesthetics that were kid-tested and executive-approved, but the curious might just find something wholly unique and affecting for their PlayStation.