EyePet’s first release in 2009 was an odd affair, a new approach to the virtual pet game that impressed in some areas but didn't quite come over as well as hoped in others, and 2010’s EyePet: Move Edition fixed many issues to become one of Move’s stronger first titles. A further year on and an all-new sequel reaches shelves, this time with the added hook of multiple monkey-cat-dog-mogwai things displayed on-screen simultaneously.

As with the first title, EyePet & Friends uses PlayStation Eye to constantly film the playing environment and display it on-screen, overlaying the wonderfully cute whatever-they-ares with augmented reality so that they appear to be rolling around on your living room carpet. The stark contrast between the quality of the pet visuals and the streaming video of the player and background makes an expected return and cannot be blamed on the developers due to the nature of the hardware. While this couldn’t be improved, the fantastic quality of the motion input has been retained, any tools or toys used appearing to replace the Move controller in your hand and responding just as you would want them to. The mildly dodgy cursor from the original, which sometimes needed a rapid reboot to work properly, has also been shown the doggy door — the pointing works without a hitch now.

Your fuzzy new friends are cared for in exactly the same way as in the first game. You’re presented with an egg to warm and play a quick game of Simon with, tapping it in the places it’s bulging. Within a couple of minutes you’re coaxing the beast from its shell ready for a feed of cookies dispensed by a mid-air container, lathering it with shampoo for a quick clean or checking its health with a handy X-ray scanner. Neglecting EyePet will not cause any heartbreaking deaths, but it makes sure to cheekily remind you when it needs something; by dragging out a food dish, for instance. An ever-informative and enthusiastic narrator is on hand and doesn’t let anything slip by, either, whether it’s advice or instructions on how to use new tools. He does go on a bit, but you can skip his speech with a tap of Triangle.

Just as essential to any pet as the core care is play time, and there’s plenty of opportunity for that. The creature can become your own little dancing bear through the trick stick; educate it by drawing pre-set shapes on the screen and it’ll chase its tail, play dead and moonwalk on command. Carpets worldwide can be virtually drenched with the water pistol, a laser pointer begs to be chased and a trampoline provides a high score game of its own as you try to keep EyePet airborne for as long as possible. A camera option lurks behind the Start button, to be pulled out to capture magic moments in still or video form at any time that can later be uploaded to the Internet or exported to the PlayStation 3 XMB.

Whereas the first EyePet employed a diary system, unlocking new items and activities each day, EyePet & Friends is less linear. Pet tokens are now doled out after every single complete activity, from mini-games to general care, which provides constant reward and encouragement. The result is a game that feels less restrictive. These tokens can be taken and spent on other in-game items such as extra amusements, stickers and hundreds of items of clothing.

Added pets have been requested in EyePet from the very start and Sony has finally delivered in EyePet & Friends. With a second Move controller an extra animal can be introduced so that a fellow friend or a parent can join in and help out, or a solo player can look after both. The pets will interact with one another and their owner, and mini-games can be played competitively. It doesn’t really add a huge amount to the game, but it’ll at least prevent squabbling over who gets to play with the little furball.

The true hook of EyePet & Friends is actually in the customisation and creavity options, which have seen plenty of expansion for this sequel, and will surely be the proverbial ball of string to a kitten for creative kids. Pet owners can dress up their creature in a ridiculous number of outfits, altering hats, masks, tops and bottoms, the options ranging from food products and farm animals to robots and rhinoceroses. Want a dino-Pinocchio that’s ready for battle? Mix a suit of armour, a dinosaur tail and a snowman’s nose and you’ll have something to that effect.

Playing with stock items for fancy dress is fun enough, but now it’s possible to customise every individual item by adding stickers, scribbling on them with marker pens or splashing paint and glitter everywhere, with or without the use of stencils. This all applies to your pet’s natural coat: fur length, pattern and colour can be adjusted, right down to each limb, and unique markings can be sketched on in freehand fashion.

If clothes aren’t your thing, six types of vehicle can be bought and mucked around with, the game allowing players to draw out their own custom rockets, diggers, boats and more, which are then converted with exciting accuracy into 3D models to be used in a variety of mini-games. There are two games for each vehicle, all very simple and child-friendly but with enough room for high score improvement to keep things interesting. Moving lily pads with a helicopter so that your EyePet can reach and bop frogs, abducting aliens with a UFO, pushing rubber ducks towards your furry friend with a boat’s water gun and taking to space for as long as possible in a rocket are particular highlights, but every game has its own merits and all are easily controlled with one or two button and motion set ups.

Crafty kids can create cards, drawing, painting and plonking down stickers and glitter wherever they want. After writing a message inside they can be uploaded to other EyePet-owning friends, and converting drawings into custom stickers to be used time and time again is a cinch. The final creation option relates to soft play areas, an all-new function where children can stack up a multitude of blocks to make playgrounds for EyePet. There’s fun to be had in making basic mazes of tunnels, stairs and ramps for the little rascal to scamper over, but there’s also scope to construct larger, more concentrated scenes such as castles with extra effort. As with everything else, these can be saved and brought back up at any time.

Brilliantly, all vehicles and clothes customised can be transferred online, either directly to friends or uploaded to the Pet World portal for everybody to gawp at. Better still, it’s possible to flick through any public uploads and download anything that takes your fancy to be used in your game. The obvious exception, given the child-centric nature of the game, is the photo and video content; you’re free to look at it and contribute your own via Pet World, but you can’t save any of it to your system for offline viewing. Clear parental controls under the options menu are included, allowing Pet World content to be either completely blocked off, only open to known friends or entirely unlocked. Every contribution to the network can be rated or reported if it’s inappropriate. New, officially created clothing will be purchasable from the EyePet Store too.

For all the creature comforts it provides, however, EyePet & Friends makes some critical missteps. The largest issue by far is the length of the load times. Understandably they are not instantaneous given the amount of video data being flung around, but here loading takes twice as long as the first EyePet. That’s not just the initial load — every time the activity is changed, whether booting up a mini-game or grabbing the shampoo for a bath, you’re looking at a 30 second wait. It’s simply too long for a children’s game, especially one that is all about flicking between different sections recurrently to care for a virtual pet. Kids are going to be entertained by the adorable CG loading animations the first few times and then start to lose their concentration.

Tricks have also been missed in the co-operative mode. Each player/pet has their own total of pet tokens that pile up with each accomplished task, but there is no option to pool these resources to buy bigger and better items or games in a quicker time period. This would have been the perfect opportunity to not only add some casual maths practice for youngsters to further EyePet & Friends’ educational value, but also to foster an atmosphere of helping and sharing amongst players. Instead of working together, each person must earn their own keep and unlock everything individually; there’s no sharing of stickers, stencils, etc., either. The ability to combine ‘currency’ would surely have been immensely helpful for parents with tiny people too so that they could help them purchase new things to play with quickly before boredom sets in.

There are other technical issues that nibble away at the game also. It seems that two heads are not always better than one, as EyePet & Friends seems to have a little more trouble when players double up. It remains fine the majority of the time and is nowhere near bad enough to break the experience, but there is certainly a small increase in recognition issues with multiple hands flailing about; the creation options especially slow down slightly. This monkey is also marred by occasionally flickering textures, metallic ones such as the suit of armour and the trampoline’s frame being most affected. A particularly child-traumatising encounter occurred in our game as the entire EyePet, sans clothes, eyes and lower jaw, became invisible, only corrected by a reboot.

Conclusion

EyePet & Friends’ main push forward is in the vast range of creativity options, playing it safe and leaving the pet care side of things untouched for the most part. Doubling up the pets is huge news for those with more than one child desperate to play, but it’s in the wealth of tinkering about that the greatest fun can be found, and the sharing caring online Pet World means that players are never going to run out of new things to mess around with — as long as the contributions continue. The technical issues, particularly the ridiculous load times, absolutely needed to be sorted out prior to release, however. These things ultimately make for a game that, although much expanded in feature set in some key areas, scratches and scrapes to a level just below that of the first title rather than exceeding it as it should have.