Review: PlayStation Vita Pets (PSV)

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Title: PlayStation Vita Pets
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (1.6 GB)
Release Date: May 28, 2014
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developer: Spiral House
Original MSRP: $19.99 (US), €19.99 (EU), £19.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 5
PlayStation Vita Pets is exclusive to the PlayStation Vita.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

For years I’ve wanted a pet-sim game for my girls to play that is fun and keeps their interest for longer than an afternoon. One of the reasons I got a 3DS was for Nintendogs which turned out to be a dull and unresponsive simulation. Then at E3 2013, Sony showed off their upcoming PlayStation Vita Pets game. Not only did it put the player in charge of a cute little dog, but you embark on an adventure finding clues left by King Rufus and his loyal dog Cosmo. Will it turn out to be another dull and frustrating pet-sim which ends up sent to the ‘farm’ or will it become another great addition to the family?

Gameplay:
You begin with the surprisingly tough decision of picking your pet, my daughter couldn’t decide as they all looked so cute. Thankfully with a little guidance we took home a golden Labrador and named him Chase. There are four different breeds, each with their own characteristics and voice. I ended up with three save files, with myself and my girls each having our own pet.

Before embarking on the adventure into Castlewood Island, you have to train your little dog and make sure he has enough food and water. But don’t worry, your dog will tell you what to do as these dogs can talk, more on that later. Each and every thing you do in this game rewards you with Buddy Points and quite often money. You can spend money in the store, buying a wide variety of clothing, collars, toys, food and water. The more Buddy Points you have, the more things are unlocked. At first the game seemed quite sparse, but within an hour of play I had unlocked loads of things and my initial worries quickly faded away.

Movement is controlled by either sliding your finger around the screen or using the standard controls. Selecting anything is simply done by pressing it on-screen and your dog will do it all, from opening gates to grabbing a book from the shelf. You naturally follow your pet when out for a walk but if you want to venture in another direction you just point the camera that way and off you go. It is also a good idea to look around the environment as you might find some hidden pathways or collectibles.

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After a long walk and a game of tether ball, the little dog was worn out and fell asleep in the garden. What was strange is that I didn’t want to wake him up. It then dawned on me, not only had my girls begun to act like it was a real animal, for a split second, I had too. It’s a great achievement by the developers, apart from the talking, this acts like a real dog; from running around in the woods sniffing for scents as he goes, to playing with the tug toy, it all feels natural.

Even my daughters voice commands work great, making the dog do a wide variety of actions from sitting, rolling over, crawling and loads more. Thankfully you never have to do them as there are always simple touch gestures available instead. You’ll have to make your pet do some of these commands during the adventures but you always have the prompts showing you what to do. Movement around the game world is very simple and my youngest daughter can manage it with ease.

When we get back after a long walk, our dog will normally need a shower as he tends to get covered in mud after digging up buried treasures and junk. If you have ever played EyePet then the shower routine will feel right at home here. Then we use the TV-Store to sell anything we don’t want and grab some more food, water and maybe a new toy for Chase.

You can tell the developers worked on EyePet as some clothing, accessories and even some of your pets mannerisms are very reminiscent of Sony’s older mascot. It also shows in the overall quality of the experience, adding an adventure that anyone can enjoy to a competent simulation is great. It gives reason to training your pet with games that are actually fun to play. They slowly increase the difficulty but never make it too hard for the younger player to accomplish.

Visuals:
Everything in the game world looks colorful, bright and fun. There is some pop-up in a few areas when you’re taking the dog for a walk but seeing as you’re going for a gentle stroll and not racing through the countryside in a rally car, it didn’t bother me or my girls.

The first area you come across on your adventure is the woods, the various pathways in there can look very similar and without a map it would be easy to get a little lost. Once you open up other parts of the map, it becomes a lot easier to navigate and you also find tunnels which act as quick travel points on the map. My girls loved pointing out different animals running or hopping around in the woods. But sadly our dog didn’t acknowledge them, he must be the only dog not to chase after a squirrel. The entire map is quite large and has a few distinct areas, like the woods, windmill, castle, and even a graveyard.

One almost hidden feature is the inclusion of Smart AR, where you can see your dog in the the real world using the Vita’s built-in camera. Just like in the Invizimals games. Yet again it works surprisingly well and my girls like seeing their pet walking around our living room floor on the Vita’s screen.

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Audio:
There’s some easygoing background music which is pleasant enough. However the most important thing to mention is the pet’s voice. It fits very nicely with the overall style of the game and sounds how you’d expect an animal from a Disney movie to sound. Whilst the lip-syncing isn’t brilliant I hardly notice it. You will hear many things repeated but it wasn’t a problem for me. Normal dog sounds, like barks and growls sound just fine as well as the ambient noises. All the sound effects, speech and music levels can be adjusted in the pause menu.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
It might be aimed at a younger audience but I happily played the game and enjoyed it. It was challenging enough for my girls and very enjoyable. I was so glad the training/mini games were fun, satisfying and never felt tacked-on. A fun adventure that can be played at any pace by all the family made this pet simulation so much more, it felt rewarding and worthwhile.

PlayStation Vita Pets is the best pet-sim game on any platform, and a welcome addition to the ever growing list of child friendly games on the PS Vita and my girls’ gaming collection. Well worth a purchase.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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Written by Chazz Harrington

Chazz Harrington

You can find me on everything: PSN, Twitter, Wii U, Origin, Steam, etc using my universal ID: ChazzH69

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