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EyeToy
Review By: J. Michael Neal
 
Developer:  London Studio
Publisher:  SCEA
# Of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Party Game / Peripheral
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card, EyeToy (required)
Date Posted:  4-7-04

One thing you can’t say of Sony is that they’ve let their PS2’s USB ports and Expansion Slot go to waste. Hard drives, keyboards, keyboard-control combos, optical mice, headsets, microphones, networks adaptors – and that’s on top of the myriad of peripherals that accompany any of today’s consoles; light guns, dance pads, arcade sticks, steering wheels, remote controls, wireless controllers, portable LCD screens, etc, etc. I don’t think any console in history has had more add-ons than the PS2.

Well, you can now add “web cam” to the mix as Sony seeks to, once again, disprove the criticism that console add-ons are doomed to failure with the release of their “EyeToy”. This little baby plugs directly into a free USB port (if you have one – here’s an idea for the next peripheral, the official PlayStation 2 USB hub) and instantly works with any compatible game. No installation, no instructions, nothing to save on a memory card – literally plug-n-play. Too bad the only use you’ll get out of it for the time being is the Play disc that comes with the hardware. That’s likely to change real soon, however, in the face of the peripheral’s runaway success – a sequel to Play is already confirmed, as well as a Groove disc that plans to capitalize on the DDR craze by offering the next step in digital booty-shaking, and a number of SCEE games are confirmed to support Digimask technology, which will allow EyeToy owners to place their faces within games. It’s only a matter of time before the devices catches on among developers, particularly if the PS3 ships with USB support.

For now, however, the Play disc isn’t a half-bad introduction to the EyeToy/placeholder until something… meatier comes out. It functions primarily as a collection of single and multiplayer mini-games, and although some are not as strong as others, the ones that score provide enough hours of hysteria-inducing, calorie-burning fun to not only warrant a serious recommendation, but to give hope to a bright future for the little gadget that makes it possible. 

The immediately striking thing about Play is that it doesn’t require a game pad at all. You don’t even need one plugged in. Everything is interacted with through onscreen indicators that must be activated by waving an object over it for a few seconds. It takes a few minutes to get use to, but once you get a rhyme for the sensitivity of the motion detection you’ll be flipping through menus in no time.

After your hand-eye coordination is up to speed, it’s time to calibrate the camera. This is easily the most important part of the whole setup. You have to be wise about where the EyeToy is - how it’s positioned, what it’s facing, and how much light is in the room. If your subject’s situated in front of reflective material or an overly “busy” background, it’s bound to interfere with the game. A blank wall is probably your best bet. If you can’t afford that, might I suggest creating a backdrop out of a sheet whenever you want to get your EyeToy on? 

You might also want to take your player’s heights into consideration. There is an onscreen outline of where your body should be positioned before starting the game, so try and angle the camera so it’ll fit the most people within the target spot. Of course, if Yao Ming and Gary Coleman drop by to play, prepare to readjust the angle of the camera after every game.

You’ll no doubt have to relight whatever room you’re in as well. The EyeToy is incredibly accurate, but without the right amount of light you’ll never know that. You can increase the light sensitivity of the camera through the main menu, but you’ll get more out of just repositioning some lamps. Again, if you want my advice, try a nice backlight and some sort of spotlight from the front – flexible desk lamps work best. If you can’t manage that, a simple lamp between you and the EyeToy should be sufficient.

Once this is all set, it’s time to dive right in: make picture profiles for all your friends, consisting of a happy face, a sad face, and a “silly” face (probably the coolest part of the whole game), and pick a challenge. No need to thumb through a manual – every mini-game has an interactive tutorial for orientation, but most are pretty self-explanatory. You will need to get in shape, however, as few games depend such physicality as Play. You could get away with just stomping on games like DDR, but with Play, you’ll be required to flail every limb the good Lord gave yah. As you can imagine, this can be exhausting, particularly when you are hysterical from laughter.

And you will be hysterical from laughter. This game is made for parties, and in all my years I haven’t seen one that was a better fit. It’s a game anyone can play - young, old, male, female, gamer, and non-gamer alike – no rhythm required. It’s universal. There’s no one who won’t find this game appealing, if only as a spectator sport. Just sitting back and sharing a laugh as someone you know makes a complete idiot of themselves on TV is just as rewarding as being that idiot, or actually worrying about scores and who’s beating who for that matter.

Scores do factor into a lot of the appeal of this game, however, as head-to-head and team-based competition this physical has rarely been seen in a game. The thrill of defeating an opponent based on physical merit is intoxicating, especially for the typical sedentary gamer, and obtaining a high score is particularly rewarding when you get to have a snapshot taken to adorn the scoreboard.

If you’re a solo only kind of gamer, you probably won’t find enough here to warrant a purchase based on Play alone. Sure, you can have quite a bit of fun alone with this game, not to mention build a workout regime around it, but without someone to share it with you’ll find the appeal limited. Throw in brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children, neighbors, parents, grandparents, co-workers, friends, and you have a whole new beast. I’d go so far as to say you couldn’t afford to miss this one if you entertain guests on a semi-regular basis. There’s a reason this has been selling like hot cakes – it’s the Twister of the 21st Century. You’ll want to pull it out at a party or lug it to a family event, you’ll want to stick the kids in front of it or show it to the Mrs. You’ll want to present it to total non-gamers to see their reaction, show mom or dad. Play begs to be shared with others and promises to be a hit with every crowd. Not even DDR or Karaoke Revolution can boast that. It’s a party game you can enjoy with your hardcore gaming buddy just as easily as you can share it with your girlfriend just as easily as you can share it with your dad just as easily as you can share it with your little cousin just as easily as you can share with grandma – how many titles can you say that about? So basically, unless you are the only inhabitant of a desert isle, you will put Play to good use.

There is room for improvement, however. Although a nice idea, the included video messaging feature seems incomplete. Sure, you’ll get a couple of laughs out of it, but in the future, recording higher quality audio and video to the HDD and sending the message to another PS2 owner’s console over the Network Adaptor, with the option for live video chat, would be ideal. Also, there are only a few of the 12 mini-games worth playing over and over. Of course those games are such a blast they’ll hold you for months, but it would be nice to see a wider selection of top-notch mini-games in subsequent installments. With Groove right around the corner, Play 2 confirmed, and a few extra months of experimenting under their belts however, I’m sure London Studios will have plenty of cool new ideas to keep gamers busy.

As it stands, the EyeToy: Play bundle is worth the price of admission. Even if no one except London Studios puts this cheeky little doodad to use, it would still be worth it for the endless hours of multiplayer fun it provides - wacky, senseless, breathless, exhausting fun that anyone can enjoy. Any other use a third party developer might have for it would just be icing on the cake.

HIGHS:

  • Unique and original.
  • Universal appeal – everyone can have a good time.
  • High score snapshots and picture profiles rule!
  • Infinite replay value.
  • Best party game you will ever find.

LOWS:

  • Video messaging feels tacked on and is of poor quality.
  • Some games are not as strong as others.

FINAL VERDICT:

There are few people who couldn’t benefit from EyeToy: Play - shallow, silly, shameless, but fun as all hell, easily the best party/multiplayer game experience on the planet. Discount priced expansions and third-party support for the hardware will ensure you get your money’s, and inevitable backwards compatibility with the PS3 make this a pretty safe purchase as add-ons go. I couldn’t recommend it higher.

Overall Score: 9.0

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