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EyePet
Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: London Studio
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Mini-Games/ Family

Graphics & Sound:
Talk about reinforcing the notion that there's nothing new under the sun... If you're old enough to remember when Tamagotchi was the new thing, EyePet will seem a rather obvious evolution. True, it does take advantage of some very cool technology, but the underlying premise and presentation of the game isn't revolutionary. If you already own the PSP Camera, this game takes advantage of that peripheral to superimpose the cute little EyePet onto your world. Seen through the lens of the camera, but aided by the software, EyePet quickly becomes a much more interactive partner than we ever found in Tamagotchi. Playing games with EyePet means creating a virtual playground, or racing a virtual car through an obstacle course. These activities appear to take place on your coach or kitchen table, so the aesthetic feels scaled back. Instead of creating a world, the EyePet developers use your world, by virtue of the PSP Camera. They populate that world with virtual objects, most of which are relatively low resolution and sometimes phase in and out if you have a shaky hand. EyePet is in the same boat, with decent graphics that struggle at times to remain cohesive if you move your PSP around. This is the challenge for developers of camera-based games on mobile platforms; unlike developing for the shelf-top consoles, you can't count on the camera remaining still. Within the virtual space where EyePet plays, you have lots of fun sound effects and music to keep things engaging. Well-placed sound effects go a long way toward convincing the player that they really are doing the things depicted in the game, which is important as developers must sustain the illusion of having EyePet transported to your daily surroundings.

Gameplay:
Virtual pets have a tendency to grow old and die. We don't mean literally, although that approach has been tried, but just like any toy in which kids eventually lose interest. The prime demographic for EyePet is likely to be a younger player, one that hasn't yet latched on to the thrill of deep gameplay. When you compare this to 10 hours on a RPG or action/adventure game, it comes up looking thin, but that's not really a fair comparison. Playing EyePet is about instant gratification. You don't have to struggle to earn access to the game, and you're rewarded constantly for small achievements. The byproduct of this is that it's painless to turn on your PSP and jack around with EyePet for a while, then get back into whatever else you were doing. The only caveat to this is the need for a targeting card that currently seems to be the industry's crutch for creating games with the PSP Camera. Toting this card around is a bit of a drag, and the PSP camera as a peripheral makes it harder to stow-and-go with your device. Playing EyePet doesn't mean real advancement in the sense of a story. There are a series of short games you can engage in with EyePet, such as racing a car around a small track or jumping on trampolines to pop balloons. Scoring well is the goal here, to open up new challenges. The scores will also unlock gear you can use to outfit your EyePet, and there's a virtual salon for dressing and grooming the little thing. You can snap pictures at any time, showing EyePet in funny places around the house or outside, and the game will scan drawings and bring them into the game for interaction with EyePet. Most of what made Nintendogs fun has been recreated here, with the additional dimension of augmented reality. Ease-of-use isn't quite as high here, and lack of variety won't keep this on shelves for nearly as long.

Difficulty:
Technical or hardware challenges are where EyePet really loses points. It feels in many places more like a tech demo than a game, like something put together to showcase the PSP Camera's capabilities. Not that gameplay was an afterthought, but engaging play that will spur gamers on to keep trying isn't in surplus. From a novice gamer's perspective, the challenges are reasonably challenging, but these are also the kids most likely to be herky-jerky with the PSP and suffer glitches related to the camera. Watching a 7 year-old play is instructional - he had a perfect understanding of what he was supposed to do, but found the execution frustrating. Only about 25% of EyePet could even be construed as challenging, in the classical sense. More of the game is devoted to interactive play with EyePet, taking pictures, and doing dress-up or customization of the pet character. Even though it seems smart to allow players as much access as possible for play with EyePet, there's a case to be made for unlocking features gradually and giving players more incentive. The experience we expect most will have with EyePet is a spike of fun and excitement over the technology, followed by a trough and flatline upon realizing that the game has virtually no hidden depth.

Game Mechanics:
Controls are simple enough, and explained clearly each time you embark on a game or activity. The PSP Camera creates opportunities to interact with your PSP much as you would with a DSi, using voice or blowing on the screen to interact. There's no motion involved, which is a shame, but the new abilities for interaction are translated nicely into gameplay. You will still find that button presses are the most reliable way to control EyePet, but at least in the bowling game, we found that blowing on the screen to launch the EyePet worked nicely. The way in which the developers used the camera to simulate motion controls is by way of the so-called "Magic Card." Using this as a reference point, tilting the PSP does trigger motion on the screen. You can see this in terms of perspective and scale, where you move around EyePet or see it magnified as you move closer. These are subtle and probably difficult things to build into the game. The downfall of this technology seems to be that moving the PSP around too much creates visual glitches, as does extreme lighting conditions. It's not hard to find these two in combination, when you have young kids playing and moving around the house, or going outside in the bright sun. The PSP Camera screws right on to the system and feels relatively stable, but it also juts out precariously from the PSP, looking very much like it's waiting to be sheared off in some freak accident. Compared to a durable, built-in component like the DSi camera, we felt apprehension handing this over to a very young child. The promise of EyePet delivers from a "Gee Whiz" perspective, but fails to stand up on the gameplay front. It's clear that work went into shaping the experience you have with your EyePet, adapting the PSP to become a type of interactive toy. The problem, true of most kids' toys, is that EyePet lacks the qualities needed to endure. Also like real-life pets, the cuteness of puppies and kittens eventually wears off, and parents will relate to being handed stewardship of pets bought for kids. In this case, the pet becomes a used game and gets traded in. Unfortunately, a likely scenario here.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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