EyePet was originally released in Europe at the end of 2009, long before the arrival of PlayStation Move. Back then the game only required a PlayStation Eye, with everything controlled by your hands and a piece of plastic that you held up to the camera. It worked rather well for what it was, but the arrival of Move improves things remarkably. Europeans that previously purchased EyePet need not re-buy the Move Edition as you can upgrade via a free patch downloaded from PlayStation Network.
EyePet introduces you to an adorable monkey-cat-thing, and naturally it’s your job to take care of it – feeding, bathing and entertaining it until its heart’s content, and you’ll rest easier knowing that the cutest new addition to your family isn’t going to cause heartache by keeling over should you accidentally neglect it for a week/a month/a year. By taking your PlayStation Eye and placing it at about knee height, adjusting it so that it points directly down, you create a play area for your new friend: your own living room floor. In the same way as a game like Start The Party, whatever is ‘seen’ by the PlayStation Eye is shown on the TV. Your EyePet is then overlaid on this video and, like magic, will react to any movements you make before the camera: hopping with surprise when you slide a foot under it, pouncing when you run your hand along the floor for it as you would for a cat or purring with joy as you stroke it. The difference between the quality of the CG and the resolution of the video streamed from PlayStation Eye is jarring initially, however, and takes away from the experience until you have grown accustomed to the disparity.
The game’s initial European release had you controlling tools and play things to further interact with your pet by use of a plastic ‘magic card’, which worked but required a lot of messing about when playing in artificial light. Replacing this card with a Move controller fixes these issues to an extent; some adjustment may still be required when the sun isn’t pouring through your window, but the glowing sphere at the crest of the controller helps PlayStation Eye track what is going on better than before. Anything you can do without tools, with hands alone, can also be done using the Move controller. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that EyePet may have had a hand in the design of the controller’s pointing device, given that its light helps to soften issues with the game’s finicky lighting requirements; also, the frequent desire to tap the orb on the floor to call your creature could have, in part, inspired its squishy nature, sure to do less damage to pristine wooden floors than a hard plastic ball.
EyePet takes every opportunity to endear itself to players, all the while showing off the technical muscle behind Sony’s technology. Within the first few minutes – before your EyePet is even born – players are asked to reach forward and rock an egg back and forth between their hands, to tap different sides of said egg in response to a Simon Says-style game to encourage the little monster to hatch, and to use the Move controller as medical apparatus to scan for any problems. Over the course of the game you’ll take control of a range of toys, cleaning equipment and vehicles, all controlled with Move. The most impressive thing is how everything, whether it’s your hand interacting directly with the zoologically-baffling creature or Move’s tools, works exactly as you would expect the vast majority of the time. There is the odd blip if your lighting conditions are not optimal when using artificial light – sometimes the pointer will not work on the menu properly at all, forcing you to switch the Move controller off and back on again before it will respond correctly – but generally tools will follow your movement 1:1 in 3D space. Place your Move on the ground while a tool is selected and roll it along the floor and the on-screen item will do exactly the same thing across your TV. It’s actually impressive enough just messing around with the tools’ movement in relation to your hand, never mind that you have a creature running around to play with too.
SCE London Studio’s target market is clearly children and families, but its approach is well set to appeal to any number of people. The game allows free play but is also filled with a series of challenges that unlock as you progress; these challenges serve as a central structure to EyePet, introducing new gameplay mechanics gradually, meaning that children will not become overwhelmed by everything at once while also giving older players aims to fulfil. New challenges, and thus new activities, are unlocked as the days pass by, and there are also hundreds of prizes to unlock, often funny articles of clothing to adorn your pet with. With all these garments at your disposal, alongside a salon with a plentiful range of different fur colours and styles, there’s a countless number of looks for your EyePet. If what you unlock isn’t enough, you can also buy extra costumes through the PlayStation Store.
Many virtual pet simulators can be reliant on the same old ideas: feed, wash, play with pet, repeat. These basic elements are present in EyePet of course, but the controls make for more interactivity than many games of the same ilk. For example, rather than just clicking a button to feed your little monkey, you physically take a jar, take food from a dispenser and empty it into a bowl – or make it into a bite-sized game by hurling food into the air for your pet to catch. To wash the creature, you have to move a shower head around to drench it all over – condensation building on your TV screen that you can actually wipe away, as you would on a mirror in reality – before shampooing and rubbing its fur with your hands to scrub the grub off, finishing with a few blasts of a hair dryer. It all adds to the illusion that there’s a living, breathing thing rampaging around your front room, but with none of the associated mess.
EyePet is smarter than the average pet, though, and so the developers have gone to town with as many ideas and tools to experiment with as possible. The result is a game packed with variety, a virtual toy box: pop a speaker tool down in the virtual play space and your Move controller becomes a microphone on-screen; hold a button, hum a little tune, and the PlayStation Eye’s microphone will record your voice, only for EyePet to repeat it in a fashion ten times more adorable. Similar sound-activated antics crop up when playing by a pond, the furry fisherman swiping up pond dwellers upon a player’s clap command when a prey is swimming nearby. EyePet can also learn to draw, creating a variety of new objects in the process: by drawing on a piece of paper in thick pen and holding it up to the camera, or by drawing in thin air with Move, following on-screen templates, EyePet will copy whatever you have created down to the dot. From these drawings, vehicles such as cars and planes can be built and driven around; better yet, how about a puppet to play musical statues with?
If you’re particularly proud of your pet, you are encouraged to create an online profile for it. This lists statistics about the pet, such as how many challenges it has completed, or how many times it has jumped, for all to see. Each profile also acts as a media hub, showing all pictures or movies that a user has recorded and uploaded using the in-game camera function, which can be used at any time throughout play to capture your favourite moments or complete challenges. Upload of these items is fast, though they are not immediately added to the online galleries. It's possible to search media according to what activity the pets are performing in them, and there are also weekly themed photo challenges to take part in.
Sony’s choice to go against the age-old advice of working with children and ‘animals‘ deserves to pay off. EyePet: Move Edition is a well thought out piece of software that bursts with enough imagination to keep its target audience entertained, while simultaneously reaching out to older crowds with its impressive grasp of the technology behind Move and a friendly, open challenge-based structure that can appeal to all. It has some problems – namely, the image quality difference between the pet and the backing video, and occasional configuration problems with artificial light – but it’s so adorable that these issues can be looked past. EyePet will delight you even if you are in your twenties; just imagine how much you’d love this if you were a child again.