Monday, December 6, 2021

EyeToy: Play

Of the various peripherals released for the PS2, one of its most experimental and overlooked is perhaps the EyeToy, originally released in 2003. At the time it came out, it was an early serious attempt at motion control gaming, where it didn’t require a traditional controller and instead relied on using your body through the EyeToy camera. If you're unfamiliar with the EyeToy and this description sounds familiar, its modern day equivalent is the Xbox Kinect peripheral, released in 2010. While there were a good number of games during its lifespan that were specifically designed for the EyeToy, only eight of them ever made it to North America.

The EyeToy was originally packed with a game known as EyeToy: Play, a collection of minigames designed to show off the capabilities of the peripheral. Aside from its later sequel EyeToy: Play 2, this was the only EyeToy game I had at the time and so I have some nostalgia for this particular game. After revisiting the game for review purposes, I found that the fun factor was still there.

The EyeToy itself has a simple operation, explained through an instructional video that plays on first-time startup and can be viewed again at any time. The direction of the camera can be freely adjusted to match your current position and the lens can be twisted to adjust the focus, both of which may require outside assistance to get it right. Even then, however, it is still possible for the image to come out a little blurry regardless. It is also encouraged you play in a well-lit environment and a red light will even flash on the camera if it detects that the room is too dark. You can also cancel out of a game at any time by placing your hand (or finger) in front of the camera lens. This ease of use enables the EyeToy to be a more accessible device, helped by its more plug-and-play design that only requires one of the PS2’s USB ports to function. Humorously, the instructional video even acknowledges that you can cheat by moving closer to the camera, while at the same time discouraging the practice for taking the fun out of it.

The EyeToy is easy to operate.

The core gameplay of EyeToy: Play is in a set of 12 minigames designed to show off what the device can do, each of which has well-designed visuals and requires extensive use of your upper body. Most of these are played with the player facing the camera head-on, however the Boxing Chump minigame switches things up by having you play from the left side of the screen to immerse you in the role of a boxer. Some of the minigames are a little more difficult than the others even on a lower difficulty setting, though one of the more challenging ones is Mirror Time, which regularly flips the screen on you in different directions to mess with your hand-eye coordination.

Of the minigames, the one that stuck with me the most from when I first played it was Wishi Washi, in which you use your hands and body to clean windows to an infectiously catchy song about cleaning windows. Though one of the easier minigames, I also liked the idea behind Rocket Rumble, since it’s a lower-stakes affair involving making a fireworks display and can be used as a safe way to have that experience. Since you use your arms a lot, they can get tired after an extended play session, not helped by games like UFO Juggler and Plate Spinner that require you to hold them up more often. I will say that the minigames all have very good hit detection, a must for this type of experience, though I’ve had it where, due to playing in a slightly more cramped space than is ideal, I’ve had it where my elbows were registered as hits, throwing me off in Mirror Time and Plate Spinner.

The back of the box give you a good idea of what
the minigames are like.

There is also a local multiplayer mode, with options for 2-4 players or team matches. The rules are the same as in the Single Player minigames, except each player switches off between rounds and competes for score. Though simple, this feature also gives EyeToy: Play the potential to be a decent party game with the right group of people.

For those that don’t want to bother with the minigames or want something more out of the game, there is a sandbox Playroom mode where you can mess with different visual effects such as snow, leaves or underwater among others. Only have one visual effect can be active at a time and you can exit a Playroom at any time by obscuring the camera lens. After going through all of them to see how they worked, I found that the No Effect Playroom is accurately-named, though it technically has the effect of mirroring your position for whatever reason. I also question why the Spiders and Bees effects are even in there, and the Copycat and Nervous options are either fun or potential nightmare fuel depending entirely on your viewpoint. Though I didn’t explore this feature too deeply, the game also includes a Video Messaging feature, in which you can record a video of yourself and either delete it or play it back later.

After nearly 18 years, EyeToy: Play holds up well and is a must-have for EyeToy owners. The game serves as a perfect introduction into the world of EyeToy and is an enjoyable package in its own right even if you don’t own any other games designed for the peripheral.

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