Published by Sony Computer
Developed by SCEE London Studio
The first EyePet game for the PlayStation 3 was a game that promised so much but ultimately didn't deliver as well as it could have. To put it simply there were various aspects of the game that weren't as polished as they could have been and the game had no real long-term value. However, there were moments when it really seemed as though virtual reality gaming had truly arrived and for that reason alone, it's great to see another EyePet game. Let's see if EyePet & Friends can deliver on the promise which the original game showed glimpses of.
EyePet & Friends makes use of the PlayStation Move controller in place of the Magic Card that came with the original EyePet. Of course there was a Move enabled version of the original game although I have to confess I haven't played that version so can't comment whether it improved the experience. The Move controller in EyePet & Friends works well and it is definitely more ergonomic than the Magic Card. As the name of the game implies, you now have the ability to play the game with a friend and therefore have two EyePets on screen at the same time. This requires that you have two Move controllers however and as I only have access to one Move controller it's not something I've experienced myself but, in theory at least, it certainly seems like a worthwhile addition.
Before we go any further it's probably best to point out that EyePet & Friends is still as useless for the deaf as the original EyePet and that's immensely disappointing. There are still no subtitles or tutorial messages in text. There are some basic animations which hint at what needs to be done but for the most part you'll be oblivious to the instructions the game is giving out. There can be no denying that deaf children who might have had an interest in the game have no way of understanding what's going on.
The problems caused by a lack of subtitling become immediately obvious on loading the game. The instructions for the configuration process are given verbally only and the configuration process is fiddly even with the ability to hear what is being said, so it's fair to say it's not exactly stress free when you are oblivious to the instructions. Essentially you have to point you PlayStation Eye camera right at the floor and then have the ball of your Move controller touch the floor so as to enable the game to figure out where your floor is (as that's where your EyePet will do most of his or her cavorting during the game. The problem here is that the game seems to have a real problem in detecting where the floor is. I couldn't get it to recognise my floor and ended up piling cushions on the floor which then helped the configuration process to complete. I have a dark living room carpet whereas the cushions are lighter in colour which probably had a bearing on the configuration process even though the room was well lit with sunlight.
Once you've got the troublesome configuration process out of the way, and incidentally you'll have to put up with it every time you play the game, you'll select a name for your EyePet (or EyePets if two of you are playing). After this you're taken through a tutorial process that will be familiar to anyone who has played an EyePet game before. You have to heat the critter's egg, play a simple memory game and then coax the virtual animal out of the hatched egg before spending far too long tickling it and making it jump up to touch your hand. Once you've done all of this, you can start playing the game.
So what can you do with your EyePet then? Well you can check his health (using a nifty x-ray machine amongst other things), feed and wash him. You can also train him and teach him a collection of tricks. There's a soft play area, which you can customise, for your EyePet to roam in. There are also a collection of mini-games you can participate in when you own the relevant vehicle (you'll begin with a digger) and a basketball-style mini-game. Additional vehicles (including a boat, rocket, UFO, submarine and helicopter) and mini-games will cost you specific amounts of Pet Tokens however. Thankfully you'll earn these during interactions with your EyePet so it won't be long before you have enough to purchase most of the content in the game.
Another problem with the original EyePet was its long-term value. In short the game didn't really have any. Once the novelty value wore off, it's a fair bet that most never loaded the game again. Sadly the same can be said for EyePet & Friends. The game is one big sandbox for playing with your EyePet and there are no clearly defined goals here to add some focus to game. With this being a game designed specifically for younger children it's easy to understand why the game has been designed in this fashion but I also think the game would have benefited by having some long-term goals in order to encourage you to invest time in the game. Sadly, like the original EyePet, the game simply depends on novelty value and that's not enough to hold a child's interest for long.
In addition the aforementioned activities you can also customise the look of your EyePet in a variety of ways. You can change the colour of its fur and even give it a variety of styles. There are many clothes and accessories you can use to adorn it too. There is even support for creating some toys, greetings cards and stickers. You can even film your EyePet should you feel the need to. Of course to get the most out of the creative tools at your disposal you're going to need a fair bit of patience and I suspect that since the game is really aimed at younger children, not many will take advantage of them but at least it gives the opportunity for the creative children out there to add some custom content to the game.
Visually the game doesn't appear to be much different from the original EyePet. The EyePet still looks and animates in exactly the same which will be disappointing for those who were expecting some variation in the look of the creature this time around. The visuals on the whole are very simplistic in detail and everything is brightly coloured to appeal to younger children. Unfortunately the game has some technical issues with some frame rate problems and load times that are both lengthy and numerous. Even the most patient of children will tire of the wait they must endure after spending several hours with the game.
The original EyePet was disappointing because it just didn't live up to its full potential. There were glimpses that hinted the game could really have been something special had the problems been rectified. EyePet & Friends doesn't even suggest that it could have been anything worthwhile. The game has some technical issues with long loading times being the most annoying of these. The novelty of looking after your own virtual pet will wear off pretty quickly if you've played the original EyePet as this sequel doesn't really do anything to freshen up the experience and there's still no long-term value to be had with the game. More seriously however, there is no support for deaf gamers and as a result it's a game that no deaf or hard of hearing person should consider. If there is to be another EyePet game in the series, major improvements need to be made and hopefully the first thing on the developers' list of things to add will be subtitles but some long-term goals would help to enhance the experience.