Sony might take this as a back-handed compliment, but the revamped version of EyePet is probably the most successful title in the Move launch line-up. Considering that EyePet Move is a spruced-up version of a product that was released almost a year ago, and given that it's not actually a game at all, this might be cause for concern - especially if you were hoping that we were about to enter some new Golden Age of motion control gaming. Still, if you (or more likely, your child) is in the market for a new virtual pet, you're in luck. Eleven months on from the original release, this is still the best monkey-cat-hybrid simulation that money can buy.
The EyePet is more or less a direct descendent of all those Catz and Dogz games (or should that be gamez?) that surfaced in the mid '90s. Both series were massively popular with gamers who were either unable or unwilling to deal with the expense, responsibility or omnipresent faeces that accompanies real-world pet ownership. In essence, the player used their mouse to interact with a cartoon mutt or feline as they pranced around their computer screen. You fed the animal, groomed it, and teased it with toys. As an overall experience it was somewhat lacking in gameplay, but this had little impact on the kids who flocked to stores in their millions.
Last year SCE London Studios returned to the formula using some rather impressive augmented reality tricks. What we have here is a mildly revamped version of the same game, adapted to make use of PlayStation Move. You set up the PlayStation Eye in front of your TV so that you're watching a live feed of your living room floor, then when you look at the screen, you'll suddenly find you've got a new visitor charging about the room. The EyePet himself is cutesy little bugger, a four-legged furball with cat-like agility, a puppy's playfulness, and the face of a particularly good-looking monkey. With time and effort - and, I suspect, an awful lot of market research - the developers have successfully created the ultimate Frankenstein's pet. Sony deserves some credit for this, as it's actually quite hard to blend animals in this way (trust me, I have a lifetime ban from London Zoo).
Rather than being a fully-fledged game, the EyePet is really an AI-driven toy that you play with via your television. You clear a large space in front of your screen, sit on the floor and then start to fool about with your new friend: you can lean over and "stroke" him, wiggle your fingers to get his attention, or call him over by tapping the ground. You might feel a bit daft at first, running your fingers through thin air, but before long everything feels totally natural. You learn to watch the screen and not your empty room, and soon you'll be totally absorbed in whatever your Pet is up to. The technology behind this project is hugely impressive: the creature's movements are detailed and extremely well-animated, and whatever he's doing it always looks as if he's actually moving across your floor. As a result, it's easy to believe that there's actually something there - a crucial achievement that guarantees the product's overall success.
Sensibly, Sony has resisted the urge to make the Move controller a mandatory part of the action at all times. Hands-on actions like stroking and coaxing your monkey-thing are still conducted with your real-world digits, while the controller is used whenever a toy or tools comes into play. If you're washing your animal, it can be used as a showerhead, a shampoo bottle or a hairdryer; if you're doing a spot of gardening, it turns into a watering can. Originally these devices were controlled via a special piece of coloured card that the player had to hold up to the camera; while that system worked well enough, there's no doubt that things look and feel far more satisfying with the Move controller. The wand's 360 degree sensing also comes into play here, allowing you to shower your pet at exactly the angle you want. This doesn’t make a huge difference to the experience, but it does make your interactions seem a bit more precise and tangible, and thus easier to believe in.
There are a total of 60 challenges to play through with your furball, from 10 pin bowling to play fights to games of Snap, and at any given moment you can take pics or videos using the in-built camera tool. Many of the challenges have multiple score targets to beat, unlocking new toys and clothes for your creature. As you work through the tasks you'll unlock new ones, but Sony has wisely stuck a limit on how many you can open up in the course of a day - so it'll take players some time to see everything the game has to offer.