Version tested: PlayStation 2
It's just as well we don't mind making ourselves look like tits in the comfort of our own home. After our recent humiliating Dancing Stage antics, the Sony EyeToy held no fear, if only that it's markedly less embarrassing waving your arms like a frantic Italian at some imaginary objects than playing 21st Century hopscotch.
The EyeToy is essentially Sony's attempt to bring a new form of gaming to the masses - or in other words, games that you don't need to be a gamer to play. You may have already mentally written it off as a curious sideshow, but Sony is bigging it up as "a leap forward in home entertainment", "the beginning of a new era" and "set to change the face of traditional console gaming as we know it". Blimey. Is this really the new friendly face that will expose the mass market naysayer to the joys of console gaming, or a quirky summer novelty that'll be gathering dust within days?
True plug and play
The key thing that is likely to appeal to technophobes is that it's an absolute doddle to set up, requires no control device - other than your arms and head - and stars you in the game itself. Depending on whether you're a self-loathing Quasimodo lookalike, or the next Pop Idol, this could be either the coolest thing ever or a reminder that you really should get that barnet seen to.
Vanity issues aside, it's so stupidly simple, even your granny could, and probably would, be moved off her Zimmer frame to wobble around in front of the family TV, although we're not sure that kind of behaviour should be actively encouraged. I mean, what happens if all these non gamers start hogging the PS2 when you want a quick session of Vice City? This could be the end of society as we know it...
The EyeToy: Play pack itself retails for around £40, and comes bundled with Darth Vadar's USB webcam and a disc containing all 12 inordinately simple - but fun - mini-games to humiliate yourself to. The webcam is stylish enough, with the traditional black grooves down the side to remind you that this is a PS2 you're dealing with, as well as a manual focus in front of the lens itself and a tilt stand to allow you to position it as required.
Wobbly granny alert
Booting up provides some slightly wacky instructions on what to do, complete with said wobbly granny and big smile. Immediately you'll be slightly perturbed at your mirror image staring back at you, albeit slightly blurred, but once you've positioned the EyeToy correctly atop your set and adjusted the focus, you can get on with the important task of playing the games.
Given that you are the controller, you have to carry out the menu selection by waving your hand over the arrows to cycle through the games, and then again over the select icon. By default, only half of the 12 games are unlocked to begin with; namely Kung Foo, Wishi Washi, Keep Ups, UFO Juggler, Ghost Catcher and Plate Spinner. Once you're good enough to beat all of the first half dozen, you'll be treated to Beat Freak, Boxing Chump, Slap Stream, Mirror Time, Boogie Down and Rocket Rumble.
Some of the games are ridiculously simple, like Kung Foo and Wishi Washi. In the former you simply have to punch the oncoming attackers out of the way, while Wishi Washy tasks you with cleaning as many windows as you can in the time limit, amusingly, to the strains of 'When I'm Cleaning Windows'. If you manage to attain a top three high score you'll even have your picture taken, which makes for some amusing possibilities - especially as it's stored from then on.
On the 'ead son!
The other 'starter' games are slightly more complicated, with Keep Ups requiring you to repeatedly head a football as many times as you can, while bashing enemies and avoiding friends who poke their heads out of windows intermittently. It's easy enough to manage, especially as the physics are totally unrealistic and overly forgiving, but the two 'juggling' games Plate Spinner and UFO Juggler can begin to wear your arms out after a while. You try waving your hands repeatedly for three minutes; begins to feel weird, doesn't it?
The final starter game Ghost Catcher is, again, quite simple, and is a spirit alternative to Kung Foo, requiring you to pop the spooks before they escape off the screen. At this stage the EyeToy experience is a novel one and you won't be able to stop giggling like a girl while you're playing/watching, but very soon the stupendous ease of the initial batch of games makes it unlikely that you'll be playing them more than a few times before you, literally, tire of the novelty.
The second half dozen games in the compendium, however, are a little more challenging and help rescue the package overall. Rocket Rumble is one such tricky example, that tasks you with selecting fireworks as they shoot into the sky, and then exploding them into a shower of stars at the right time by thumping one of two detonators, with tricky to pull off chains allowing you to attain higher scores.
Bop bop, lose lose
If you've got any sense of rhythm, then Beat Freak is one of the more straightforward mini-games you'll encounter, as the user is tasked with hitting four speakers as CDs fly towards them. Unfortunately, after a few minutes the blood starts to drain from your arms and you end up on the floor having a fit. Seriously. The addition of licensed tracks such as Boogie Night, and Sing It Back are a nice touch too.
Another rhythm action based mini game, Boogie Down, has you pointing at the disco lights in a game of Simon Says that's pretty easy to get the hang of, until the latter stages, when it all gets a bit frantic. Boxing Chump, meanwhile, is pretty easy. You stand side on and have to basically bop the Robot until his energy bar goes down to nought. Three knockdowns and its Game Over. Slap Stream, however, requires a bit more concentration that most of the others. In this one, you have to slap the rats as they appear out of clouds (well, obviously) while avoiding the bunny girls, which is harder than it sounds.
And finally, Mirror Time is by far the most challenging. While bursting the good bubbles and avoiding the bad sounds easy enough, the screen regularly flips to an upside down and reverse mirror image, and your movements must react accordingly. Suffice to say we were a bit crap at that one!
Wholesome family fun
In conclusion, EyeToy is tremendous fun for a quick mess around if you've got a few mates around and fancy a few flailing belly laugh, whether at your and other people's expense. On your own, however, it feels a bit pointless, and you'll soon get bored of waving your limbs around for the sake of it.
In terms of family/party fun we can see this turning into something of a cult success, especially given that it's sometimes even more fun watching than it is actually playing it - rather like eBay classic Samba de Amigo. It's certainly a piece of technology that has enormous potential if it was incorporated into a 'real' game, but by dipping its toe into the water with such an experimental, but straightforward effort, Sony still deserves plenty of credit for trying something genuinely new at a time when gaming innovation is seemingly a low priority for the industry right now. The end results may be somewhat shallow for most serious gamers' liking, but it's a quirky, fun, amusing, and heart-warming addition to the PS2.
8 / 10