I love animals. I've had pets of some sort my entire life, and I've been a big fan of the whole pet simulation genre of gaming. There's just something about caring for an animal (even if it's not real) that really strikes my fancy. That's why EyePet was the most exciting Move game to me, and for the most part it delivers a more satisfying experience than any of the pet games I've played to date.
This is mostly due to EyePet's augmented reality approach. Rather than interacting with a virtual pet in a detached way, you actually see yourself on screen with the EyePet, and while it still involves a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, I felt more connected to this pet than I have with any of my other virtual pets. However, that element of realism comes with a bit of a cost in set-up time.
In order to get the optimum results from EyePet you have to position the PlayStation Eye at a specific height and angle, otherwise your pet will appear to be floating in the air. It took a few adjustments before I was able to get it just right. The game suggests that the camera should be placed at knee height, but I actually found a bit lower than that produced the best results. In addition, you're supposed to clear out anything in front of the television so you have a large piece of empty floor on which to play. Needless to say, this can be a bit challenging if you live in a small apartment.
The extra effort turns out to be worth it once you actually get into the game. You begin by getting an egg from the EyePet Institute. A professor from the institute serves as your guide in getting started. While I completely understand that this game is aimed at families and kids, the professor character was still a bit too juvenile. Everything he said was delivered in a fake, condescending tone that made me think he had failed his audition for "Barney." Luckily, once you get the gist of playing with your pet, he doesn't show up that much.
And then there's the pet himself. Male or female, young or old, if your heart doesn't melt a little bit when you see this guy, then you really need to check your pulse. After finessing the egg by tapping it in various places, the top will crack, and your pet will show his face for the first time. After that, you'll be walked through the basics of caring for him and playing with him.
The EyePet needs frequent feeding, bathing, physical and mental exercise, and affection to keep him healthy and happy. You can quickly get a sense of his condition by using a scanner on his various organs to get a status update. After scanning, you can also send a report to the institute. Good marks on these reports are rewarded the following day with toys or clothes.
The other way to unlock toys and clothes is to complete the Pet Program challenges. There are a total of 60 challenges, broken into sets of four over 15 days. The challenges range from getting your pet to perform tricks, like catching food in the air or jumping through a hoop, to dressing him up in a specific outfit and taking a picture, to more action-oriented games like flying on a plane to pop balloons or driving a car through a series of gates. Some of these tasks had a fair amount of challenge to them, and they all feature three tiers of scoring (bronze, silver, and gold) with you needing to get the gold medal in order to unlock all of the prizes for that challenge.
Throughout all of these activities, the Move controller worked perfectly. I never found myself struggling to get the various tools and toys to respond the way I wanted. But the Move controller isn't the only way to interact with the EyePet. You can also use your hands, feet, or anything else in the environment to get his attention. This type of interaction worked well most of the time, but there were some times I found myself wiggling my fingers or tapping on the ground to no avail. It's difficult to say whether this is a fault of the game, or the EyePet simply acting like a real pet and choosing to ignore you every once in awhile if he's preoccupied with something else.
However, when these interactions worked, the payoff was great. Seeing the EyePet jump out of the way as some my co-workers attempted to kick him, or watching his head follow a spinning office chair in a circle were very cool moments. Another nice touch happened after soothing the EyePet to sleep. If you can get him to sleep long enough, he'll start dreaming about your previous experiences together. Another time, he started joyfully singing while I was petting him.
On top of this, you can dress your pet in any of the clothes, hats, or costumes you've unlocked, as well as customize the color, pattern, shape, and length of his hair. The customization options are vast, meaning no one should have trouble creating their perfect-looking pet.
Even with all of these features, it's difficult to tell how long the game would remain interesting after all of the challenges are complete and all prizes are unlocked. The game will slow your progress through the challenges, but you can do more than one day's worth on any given day, and if you're willing to change your PS3's internal clock, you could theoretically do all of them at once. Sony also plans to offer DLC for the game, though they haven't disclosed the details of that yet.
It's also important to note that during my playthrough of the game, I encountered two crashes and a challenge that was simply broken. I was playing a debug build labeled for review on a test kit and not a final retail copy, so it's possible the issue arose from these circumstances. Sony tried to replicate the problems I had, but was unable to, so these issues have not been factored into the score.