Impressions: EyePet (PS3)

It's real, folks. We first learned of EyePet over a year ago, and approached it with both excitement and skepticism. When we had a chance to see EyePet running on PS3 live, we were blown away at how what we originally thought was a concept video had been completely real all along.

For those not in the know, EyePet is a virtual pet simulator that takes advantage of the PlayStation Eye. With the addition of a "magic card," players will be able to play with a virtual monkey that lives in augmented reality. The television will display what the PlayStation Eye sees: you, and your body. Your on-screen pet will then be able to respond to all your actions. You'll be able to virtually pet the creature on the head, grab a bowl of food and feed it, and play a variety of mini-games. The tactile sensation of owning a pet will be gone, but in its stead will be an unworldly adorable creature that uses tech that feels like it's from the future.

Perhaps it's best summed up with video, as EyePet truly needs to be seen to be understood. You can do so many things with the critter, and his incredibly detailed and lifelike animation makes this "game" all the more believable. For example, you can try sweeping your arm across the bottom of your TV view, and the pet will jump over your arm. When your pet goes to sleep, you can clap loudly and get it to wake up ... (although it might be grumpy!)
Sony calls the quality of the visuals "Pixar-like" and in our opinion, that's not hyperbole. It's easy to understand why EyePet looks so good: it only has to render the one pet on screen. With all of PS3's rendering capabilities going towards a single character model, it's no surprise the visuals looks so impressive. The detail on the fur is remarkable, but what really sells the experience is the animation. I'll reiterate that the visuals you see in the trailer aren't pre-rendered -- the game really does look like that.

EyePet is clearly the precursor to what will undoubtedly be a growing number of Eye (and motion controller?) games. One of the cooler things to do in the game is to drop down the "magic card" on the floor. This simple black card will be detected by the Eye and a spinning holgraphic menu will shoot out of it. Players will be able to gesture Minority Report-style, around the menu to access various options, like toys and health check-ups.

Unless you're heartless, you'll want your pet to be happy and well-fed. You'll be able to transform the magic card into an X-ray machine and look at the insides of your friend. You'll see how happy he is, and how hungry he is. You can then transform the card into a food bowl, throwing food for the pet to catch.

There are a number of toys you can play with, each with their own goals, achievements and objectives. You can play EyePet "just for fun," but gamers will be able to try and beat high scores to the various minigames in the collection. For example, one game has you playing ping pong with your pet. You don't want to beat your pet. Rather, you want to continue the rally for as long as possible.

Should you get tired of the toys included in the game, one amazing feature that works better than we'd imagine is the ability to draw and import your own creations. You can play an airplane minigame, for example, by drawing a helicopter for your pet to drive. All it takes is a white piece of paper and a black pen. You'll have to draw the pieces necessary to make a working helicopter, and then you'll be able to scan the image with the Eye. The drawing then gets scanned into the world and your pet will attempt to recreate it. (The more you teach it how to draw, the better he will perform.) Your handwriting and drawing turns a real 3D object in the world. In the flying minigame, you'll use the PS3 controller to guide your pet in a balloon-colllecting minigame.

Obviously, EyePet won't be a very compelling experience for the hardcore gamer, but we can't help but be impressed by the confluence of technology and super-cuteness. The fact that EyeToy simply works is a true technological achievement that really clues us into the future of Microsoft's Natal and the PlayStation motion controller. EyePet has been announced for both US and European release, with a holiday target in Europe. The game will be available in two flavors: Blu-ray disc, or bundle which includes the game and PlayStation Eye.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.