If we were presented with Eye Pet PSP as a child on Christmas morning, we'd have been beyond delighted. The game's low on content, but the initial "wow" factor of watching a desk, table, car-backseat or garden transform into a variety of environments in which the Eye Pet can play never really gets old. Kids will spend hours making fun in the sandbox Eye Pet PSP provides.
For those unfamiliar with the PlayStation 3 version of Eye Pet; the franchise revolves around a cute virtual pet. The pet, or "Eye Pet", is a cross between monkey, kitten, baby — you name it. It's adorable though. The whole crux of the game is based on augmented reality - you place a "Magic Card" (included with the game) on a table-top surface and point a camera at it. The game is then able to super-impose the polygonal Eye Pet character onto the surface, allowing interaction with the virtual character in a "real-world" environment.
Eye Pet PSP utilises the PlayStation Portable's heavily underused camera attachment. Unfortunately this means the game is only compatible with the original PSP models (PSP-1000, 2000 and 3000) as there is currently no way to attach the camera to a PSPgo.
Eye Pet PSP's set-up process is much more simplistic than the PlayStation 3's version, and it needs to be given it's designed to be portable. The game is much less tolerable to the playing area you choose, allowing you to place the Magic Card pretty much anywhere and get some gameplay going. We found the game most fun on desk surfaces, but we also tested it on the carpet, our lap and the sofa. So long as the surface is relatively steady and flat, the game doesn't have a problem projecting the playing environment onto it. We also tested the game in a variety of lighting conditions which it handled fairly well. We had no issues playing the game in a fairly dark dusk, likewise we tried it in direct morning sunlight and again had no issues. Obviously you'll be unable to use the augmented reality features in the pitch-black, but we found turning on a decent ambient lamp got things working again. Because the PSP is portable, many of the set-up complaints attached to the PlayStation 3 version of Eye Pet can be solved by simply moving around and finding a good surface — something which is not possible when sitting in front of a TV.
The developers have also made some smart decision choices in the switch to making Eye Pet a portable experience. For example, if you need to move to a different location (for whatever reason), instead of the game breaking when the camera can't see the Magic Card; the Eye Pet is captured within a bubble, and floats harmlessly until the card comes back into view. Also, a new Pets Home feature allows you to mess around with the Eye Pet with the augmented reality features turned off, providing gameplay options without the need for the Magic Card or camera.
The technology behind the game is impressive and it works. There really is a "wow" factor to the way the game is able to transform "real-world" surfaces into a variety of gameplay settings. It's also cool how you can move the camera closer and further away from the Eye Pet and the proportions of the animal change as you'd expect them to in real-life. You can get up behind the animal, and even move around it. So long as the Magic Card is in view there's no limit to what you can do with the Eye Pet. That's accentuated by the game's "Photography" function. No matter what you're doing, pressing the Square button allows you to take a photograph of the Eye Pet — capturing magical moments. These photographs can even be displayed on the wall of your Pet's Home.
Children will get the most out of Eye Pet PSP by seeing the animal in a variety of real-world environments. Taking the pet into the garden, into the attic and introducing other "real-world" toys while keeping the augmented reality aspects running is where it all gets a bit magical. Again, so long as the lighting is not extreme and the Magic Card is in view of the PSP camera, it works. And it works really rather well. The Eye Pet will pounce playfully at other objects, and will react if you blow air on him. While visually not as strong as the PlayStation 3 version, the Eye Pet is still brilliantly well animated and acts as you'd expect a playful young animal to.
The actual gameplay in Eye Pet PSP is more limited. There are a variety of mini-games on offer with a number of medals to achieve. None of the mini-games are particularly fun for longer than 10 minutes — the bowling minigame probably offers the most replay-value. Here the Eye Pet squeezes into a ball allowing you to take shots by tilting the PSP and blowing into the system's microphone to push it into the pins. Other mini-games involve fishing, boating, car racing and gardening. They all take place on the table-top you're playing on, and are fun as throw-away activities. Children will probably get more replay out of the games than an adult - but still they are fairly limited and the excitement comes more from the augmented reality than the actual gameplay.
Completing the mini-games rewards you with a number of a clothing items for the Eye Pet. There's a wide variety of clothing items on offer - who wouldn't want to dress the Eye Pet as Superman? - each adding to the pet's adorable features. There's also options to colour the Eye Pet's hair and style it. Awwww.
The drawing mini-games from the PlayStation 3 version of Eye Pet make a welcome return here, allowing you to scan in pictures drawn on paper and watch the Eye Pet recreate them within the game. Like the PS3 version, the game's a bit finicky with the way it recognises the drawing on paper, but if you use a dark pen and leave big borders around the edge of the page, the feature works fine.
For all its charm though, there's not really much else to do in Eye Pet PSP. You can see the sum of the game's content in a full afternoon, and there's little reason to really go back. It's in the hands of children that Eye Pet PSP will really shine. The ability to play around with the augmented animal anywhere allows them to make their own fun, and that's clearly the game's purpose. Eye Pet PSP is a sandbox for kid's imagination. Will it keep them occupied for months? Probably not. But the "wow" moment of the Eye Pet popping into view never really gets old, and as such there's plenty of "make your own fun" potential within the package to keep them going for a good number of weeks.