Ian Cooper delivers his verdict on fun virtual animal sim PlayStation Vita Pets, out now for Sony’s slick handheld.
Remember Nintendogs? It was a revolutionary way of looking after your very own virtual pet using the Nintendo DS’s touch screen, which at the time was brand new and brilliantly received by the public, and gave Nintendo a kickstart in the extraordinary sales of the DS.
It wasn’t long before other developers tried to cash in by creating straight copies, but none were truly memorable or even touched upon the success of the originator. It’s been a while since we saw a decent pet game, but now developers Spiral House have created a brand new pets game for Sony’s powerful handheld, simply called PlayStation Vita Pets. It’s been published by Sony themselves, so there’s no prizes for guessing that it’s an exclusive.
Believe it or not, this is more than yet another Nintendogs clone. There is a story narrative in the form of your pet longing to be king of Castlewood, with the background of it told by your pet reading you a storybook found in the game, and by finding journal pages scattered around the impressively extensive game world. Yep you read that right: your dog can talk, which is another reason this game is a big risk take, but it’s actually not as creepy as it sounds. Each dog has its own tone of voice, and the fact your dog speaks makes it easier to tell how he or she is feeling or what they want to do. If only in real life eh?
One fault I must point out is that even though it says ‘pets’ in the title, there’s only different breeds of dogs to choose from, so cats and other type of pets are simply not present. Shouldn’t this be called PlayStation Vita Dogs instead?
The gameplay relies heavily on the Vita’s touch screen function, with a little bit of microphone in there for calling out to your dog or shouting commands and tricks he or she may have learned, and both these functions are incredibly responsive. You start off by selecting your pet from four litters of four different breeds. Each of them has their own colour, patterns and voice, so there is a good variety here and it’s genuinely hard to choose one in particular when you can hear the other ones shouting “Pick me!”
Once you have chosen your Fido, you are then required to name them, and then you’re let loose to pretty much do anything you want within your house, which is located conveniently on the edge of Castlewood forest.
You can play games with your dog, such as tug of war which requires you to complete an onscreen mini game like following a green circle with your finger; feed them food and water; shower them; and play ball by throwing it with your finger flicking gestures.
Each activity earns you buddy points which can be spent along with cash on the in-game online store, accessible via your TV. Here you can purchase food and beverages, clothing items to stylize your dog, and new toys for it to play with. Beside your TV is a book of tricks to teach your dog, and commands at the expense of hard earned buddy points. It’s a nice easy way of interacting with your mutt and becoming familiar with it. Given the many different mini games on offer – plus the different finger gestures required for your dog to do different tricks – playing ball never gets old, especially when he says “come on..even i can throw better than that!” As well as earning buddy points, completing activities also increases the statistics of your dog. For example, playing tug on the tug toy increases the dog’s strength.
The real adventure begins outside the vicinity of your back yard, beyond the gate, where you can explore the rest of the game world without the worry of a leash as Fido doesn’t go out of sight. You can find dig sights to teach your dog to sniff out treasures, once again using a unique mini game requiring you to tap different positions within two big green circles to find items. Sometime you will find junk like old boots, but other times you may find special items like new collars or those aforementioned journal pages.
Also found outside your home are obstacle courses, which are a different kind of mini game: the frisbee game, for instance, sees your little pup chase after the disc while you plan your throw, so that you can collect items that happen to be hovering in mid air. These are a nice distraction from the main game, allowing for more competitive gameplay.
Fast travel is present, which is super handy when needing to come home after a trek in the form of tunnels found scattered around or, if you want to head back quickly to where you found that picture or word puzzle. These are certainly challenging and keep you on your toes, and completion unlocks more of the backstory.
Even though the Vita can handle some impressive visuals, PS Vita Pets sadly doesn’t take full advantage of it. The whole game looks roughly presented, with low resolution textures and a terrible draw distance, cleverly disguised with indoor sections and heavy tree presence. Your dog looks much better than the world around them thankfully – and seems constantly happy, with their optimistic encouraging personality never letting up.
PlayStation Vita Pets is by no means a game of the year contender, but it’s a delightful change from the more action-packed offerings in the Vita library. While not entirely new, it’s one of the better pet simulators out there – with the nice responsive touch screen gestures and voice commands, and the daring addition of a story which actually works. Definitely worth a look.
Graphics – 3/5
Gameplay – 4/5
Story – 4/5
Overall – 4/5