As much as the EyeToy is a cunning little invention it also reeks of gimmickry; something you admire for its bold innovation, but ultimately another peripheral that's swiftly consigned to the cupboard with all the maracas, bongos, fishing rods and giant tank consoles. Recent attempts by Konami to hop onboard the bandwagon have proved utterly hopeless, and although Sega's efforts recently with Superstars were sound, it's the sort of quick fix party game you would only ever put on to try and get relatives and stroppy girlfriends to partake in. You wouldn't seriously contemplate a spare evening on your own with EyeToy - and there lies both its problem and its genius.
If the games are actually any good, then it's almost impossible not to have a whale of a time with EyeToy with your hapless family, or drunken mates. Last Christmas was the perfect example; an increasingly dull Boxing Day afternoon was drifting into a bloated stupor before EyeToy Play was fired up and suddenly my parent and siblings were flapping about like loons. My father, in particular, ever the competitor was hooting like a baboon at the craziness of it all - and this from a man who regularly berated his son for his interest in gaming. It was a revelation. But although this scene was almost the perfect advert for Sony's invention, the novelty wore off quicker than my sister's fake tan in a thunder storm. Once you've gone through the games a few times, the compulsion to come back to Wishi Washi or the header game just isn't there. The games were easy to pick up, but incredibly shallow and once you've seen then a dozen times you really don’t need to see any more.
Sony then produced the quickfire cash-in, EyeToy Groove, and the novelty factor was exposed even more. Expanding the pointy dancing mini-game of Play into a full package wasn't really worth the asking price and the well of ideas seemed to be running dry - the challenge was to come up with better games, simple as that. And EyeToy Play 2 goes some way to meeting that challenge.
Comprised of 12 new games and some excellent experimental ideas, the package this time around is a far deeper, yet still as instantly playable as before. In short, it's a whole lot more imaginative than before, and will definitely keep players occupied two, three, four times longer than before with multi level games, each with their own series of bonus games and surprises. You can't help be charmed by it, however bored you may be currently with the idea of more arm waving antics.
Of the main games, there are some outstanding efforts this time that really push the technology and of course some howlers that foul up the package. Of the very best, Table Tennis is an obvious pick, giving you the chance to play a reasonably convincing game of Ping Pong against a typically cocksure computer opponent, using your hands as bats and doing a decent job of measuring the speed and trajectory of your 'shots'. With your body positioned face on at the end of the table, it's one of those genius ideas that works very well indeed. Once more accurate motion capture cameras start appearing, this is exactly sort of game you'd happily play for hours - for now the potential is limited thanks to the limitations of the technology, but it's mightily impressive for an initial stab.
Another sporting mini-success comes from Goal Attack, which puts you between the sticks against a bunch of rampaging forwards and a shot machine to test your mettle in the onion sack. An amusing Brian Clough-esque coach tells you in a typically condescending voice what you're required to do (save 6 out of 10 shots, stop the opposing team scoring a set number of goals, etc), and a shrunk down version of your waving, diving torso appears in goal, with your dive momentum left and right appearing on screen as appropriate. It doesn't always seem to match what you're doing, but it's still great fun.
The axeman cometh
Air Guitar ought to be the absolute all-time crowning glory of videogaming history, such is the potential on offer here, but ends up being a rather limp effort, with your right hand expected to strum in time and the left match one of two chord postionings. This would be as fun as it sounds were the EyeToy capable of detecting your hand motion accurately, but the problem is it doesn't. In any case, the game itself is too limited and predictable to ever be anything more than an initially amusing diversion.
Moving on, Knockout and Kung 2 are fairly bog standard reprises of games from the original set, with the former mixing things up a touch with a boxer that switches screen sides, a knockout recovery system that has you clearing stars from the screen, and some between missing bag punching. Kung 2 works much the same as previously, with Ninjas leaping out the sides of the screen and the player expected to chop, punch and head butt them out of the way in time. Elsewhere, Monkey Bars is plain confusing and ill conceived, expecting the player to guide a monkey down the side of a building by punching one of four corners of the box he appears to be in. It wasn't fun, didn't explain itself at all well and we imagine will confuse non gamers utterly.
Rather better are the likes of DIY and Secret Agent, which are much more what EyeToy games should be about; simple, cunningly conceived and addictive. The former has you performing all manner of handyman chores, from sawing wood (move your arm in a sawing motion), demolishing walls (wishi washy style), tile flipping, and even wall building. It's cute, imaginative, fun. The latter is another rather ingenious effort, requiring the player to avoid searchlights, laser beams and the like, while attempting to nab the required objects (such as hacksaws, keys, documents, etc) to foil plans for a super weapon. The basic trick of staying still if a beam touches your arm follows throughout, and a great idea well implemented.
Super Size Me
One idea that doesn't really come off at all is Mr Chef, which thanks to dodgy motion detection is just damned frustrating. The basic idea of concocting fast food meals to order is sound, but actually grabbing and placing the ingredients is fiddly, rarely works and you simply don't get enough time to do what's asked of you. Just as well, then that the likes of Home Run and Drummin' are excellent fun that you're not too worried. The former is a basic Baseball game, where you have to whack the ball as it's delivered, then occasionally perform a running motion to scoot between bases. It's excellent. Drummin', meanwhile, takes the basic Groove principle of matching the correct drums at the appropriate time in a simple Simon says fashion, complete with boss face offs and quick reaction mini games.
Perhaps one of the best of the bunch is Bubble Pop - so simple and yet so instantly addictive you can't help but fall in love immediately. By filling the screen with small bubbles, the basic idea is to pop the green ones as quickly as you can, while avoiding the reds; initally an easy case of waving furiously, but very soon becomes a real challenge, with small movements necessary to almost 'pluck' out small sections of good bubbles, while desperately trying to avoid the bad ones. Definitely one of the best uses of EyeToy, and up there with Sega's Puyo Pop idea for clever use of the tech.
Once again it's by no means a consistently brilliant selection, but the slick comic touches, the regular amusing use of the action replay function as well as the constant abuse from the computer characters makes you want for more. Obviously it's more fun with a human opponent (and Play 2 supports up to 4 players, taking it in turns, usually) and you can't fail to be impressed with some of this year's games and their often superb use of the technology.
In particular, the Play Room 'experiments' show even greater promise for the future. Divided into five categories, each with two games within, some are just pointless diversions, but exceptionally good fun all the same. Motion cam, for example, lets you play a game of Pool with your arms, Colouring is a simple mess maker, where waving your arms creates colours across the screen. Cut Out cam is genuinely impressive, taking a picture of a bare scene, and then managing to overlay your body over another scene. Solar System puts your torso, literally, in the Solar System, and allows you to pick a planet of your choice and enter it and wander around looking suitably psychedelic. Chameleon, meanwhile is plain freaky, giving your whole body and face a Predator like cloak of invisibility.
Moving onto the Sonic games, here you actually use your voice to guide a submarine through rocky waters, with high pitch moving it up, low pitch bringing it down, while Sonic Goo makes visual effect relating to the sounds you make - genuinely annoying for anyone in the vicinity, but a fascinating use of the tech. The Colour cam, though, is very much the runt of the litter; based on the idea that a brightly coloured item (such as an orange) will be detected and become the control device of the game, it failed to recognise apples, carrots, but eventually worked on an orange - except that both the Citrus Fighter game and the Wizard games didn't appear to want to play ball. Ho hum.
Entirely pointless, but great fun for about two minutes are the Cameo games, where you can take a picture of yourself and create a full 3D avatar using the freaky Digimask technology. After going through a simple point by point process, you can then import yourself into two Cameo 'games' - Head Spring and Head Together. The former is simply your head, on a spring, which you can whack in order to send flying across the screen eliciting various grimaces along the way. Head Together, though, is pretty pointless - watch a bunch of floating avatars bob around the screen and bop them with your arms. Woo.
Finally, one absolute genius application is the facility to use your EyeToy as a Spy Cam, either via motion detection or audio - and Play 2 allows you to set it up with a recorded video message, so that if anyone happens to walk into the room, a blank screen will suddenly burst into life with your own personal greeting! And we all know the potential of that...
Perhaps even more hilariously, you can task you EyeToy with taking pictures if anyone walks into the room - excellent for making sure your thieving magpie friends aren’t up to no good, or maybe you just want to play the voyeur? The mind boggles. Add to that some basic video messaging functions and it's a great little package that takes the EyeToy further than ever before.
In truth, the game's really not especially interesting for the lone player, but with at least half of the games included of truly stand-out excellent quality, there's more than enough to keep you, your mates and your game-hating family members amused for another Christmas round of hilarity. It may not have the brand association of Sega Superstars, but when there are games of this high standard on it (and much more interesting frippery besides), that won't trouble you. We're still slightly frustrated at how accurate the motion detection is on certain games, but we suspect a lot of this is down to lighting conditions, the colour of your clothes versus the background and all manner of other variables - for now it's as good as it can be, but - as a footnote - we feel that if EyeToy is to progress much further than this, then the basic hardware has to improve significantly before the games can necessarily get any better or more involving. For the cheaper-than-usual price it's going for it's definitely well worth a look, but once again bear in mind that it's never going to be one of those games with the greatest of lifespans. Burns brightly, but briefly.