PlayStation Vita Pets Review
Reviewed on Sony PS Vita
Since time immemorial the pet genre has held a special place in the heart of younger gamers. Well, since around the time of the Tamagotchi or the Petz brand really, but in terms of gaming that was aeons ago. They pop up nearly everywhere – the 3DS has Nintendogs + Cats, Kinect has Kinectimals and the mobile platforms are awash with apps offering cute companions and a plethora of in-app purchases. Considering this, it seems almost remiss that Sony have made you wait so long for PlayStation Vita Pets, their attempt to take the cutesy pet-caring genre and put their own spin on it.
Eschewing the exotic, Vita Pets gives you the option to adopt a puppy – that most classic of pet choices. The dogs come in four breeds, each with three colour options: Dalmatians, huskies, Labradors and collies await, although if you’re playing Pets along with a youngster the pleading of the first puppy you accidentally glance at will probably see you end up adopting them. There’s no play difference between each of the breeds, although voice acting is split down the middle with two breeds being boys and two being girls – all of whom give you most of the puppy characteristics you’d expect.
Picked your dog? Great stuff, welcome home. Pets begins by walking you through all the basics of doggy care – within the safe confines of your home you’ll find out how to play fetch, how to use the TV store to buy things for your dog and how to feed and water your beast. All good things, of course. As well as these doggy maintenance chores you can, of course, stroke your new pet and teach them tricks from a handy trick book. Pretty much every time you engage in any of these tasks (and indeed, anything else you do later on in the game) you’ll earn ‘Buddy Points’, and you’ll need set levels of these to buy certain items from the store or learn new tricks. Other options inside the house let you take your puppy for an AR walk in your own house using the rear camera (which works out about as naff as any AR gaming element, but the little ones loved it), shower them when they get dirty and even a wardrobe that you can fill with dressing up clothes.
Imagine my annoyance then at the attitude that faced me when playing around in the changing room with my four year old. A princess-ballerina-Disney kind of girl, she was overjoyed when she figured out we could buy stuff for her Dalmatian (called ‘Elsa’, of course) to wear from the TV, and even happier when we found the changing room and could dress the dog up. Great stuff! Dogs love being dressed up, right?! Dog love everything! Everything’s their favourite thing! Apart from dressing up in PlayStation Vita Pets. Trying to dress Elsa up in a pretty bow and skirt resulted in comments more 90210 than pre-transformation Hannah Montana; if you’re a parent you’ll understand the heartbreak I felt as my little one heard those comments, the heartbreak as her face fell and she muttered away to herself about how she thought the clothes looked pretty. Thanks, PlayStation Vita Pets, nice to see you catering for all kids there.
Anyway, if you tear the kids away from the dressing up and make it outside of the house, a new world opens up for you. It’s a pity that walking around this world is so painful; you move around at a snail’s pace, forced to follow an on-rails path through the outside corridors. Pushing forward on the left analogue stick starts this slow walk, and you’ll also use this stick to turn when you get to a junction. This is hardly seamless – for some reason the left stick also controls swinging your view to the left and right, leaving cornering somewhere between painful and a fine art. You also can’t swing the camera up and down using the stick, but for some reason you can by using the touchscreen. All this time the right stick sits there, untouched and unloved. The system feels unintuitive, which is never good for a game aimed at younglings.
New minigames pop up once you’ve escaped the garden, and a tale about a past king, his dog and their friendship unravels as you progress through the light story elements. Sniff spots, golden coins and statue relic things await you on your slow walk around the kingdom, along with a couple of extremely easy puzzles (as in, you get given the answer as an unavoidable hint) and other activities. Annoying skill gates bar your way sometimes, forcing you to return home to play certain minigames until a particular skill, such as tug or jump, have been levelled up. Depending on age, however, the kids may well be happy enough walking around randomly and digging up every spot they see, but for slightly older gamers it would have been nice to rush through the story without being forced to grind through the same activity over and over again to level something up.
It’s pretty much a dressed up version of the mobile release of Kinectimals then, although with inexplicable activity access issues. Semi-fast travel exists in the kingdom by virtue of a system of tunnels, and you can always fast travel home by using your map, but not being able to jump right into a particular minigame whenever you want is not great for a kid’s game. Want to play Frisbee? Great, go home, leave the house, click the Frisbee door. Next! Want to run the obstacle course? Great! Go home, leave the house, leave the garden, walk down the path, hang a couple of rights, click the obstacle course! Want to ride the mine cart again? You’ll need to use tunnels to get there! Fun, huh? Have the audacity to succeed in the mine cart ride? You’ll have to run to the tunnel entrance behind them, take it back to before them, crawl under something then jump over a log and then start again. By this point the virtual dog isn’t the only one going ‘Grr!’.
If we sound too dismissive it’s really because games like these aren’t aimed at gnarled old reviewers such as this one. Younger kids don’t particularly care about accessibility and free roam when they can throw a ball using touch commands and their dog runs to get it, usually complimenting them on how great they are. It’s telling that even with the dressing room fiasco in mind my own small ones wanted to return here to spend more time, although it’s perhaps more eye-opening to realise that all they wanted to do once in was to throw a ball, fill the water bowl and then return to the adoption centre and save another puppy. If you’ve got a small one of your own and money to burn then you’ll probably find something in PlayStation Vita Pets to make it worthwhile – if you’re missing one of those things then you’re best off staying away entirely or just hitting up iOS for something to tick off those basic interactions.