Simulation pet games have had a pretty bad rep for the abysmal quality they’ve brought to the genre over the years. Starting with Nintendogs on the Nintendo DS, the pace was set for b-grade lap-dog games looking to grab onto the original’s commercial bandwagon without giving a tenth worth the amount of effort. PlayStation Vita Pets isn’t a very creative title, but at least it’s bringing something new to the once thought-to-be-dead genre.
Vita Pets kind of brings a new spin on the virtual pet, blending a strange version of Tamagotchi with Treasure Island, taking you on an idyllic tour of an ancient kingdom full of secrets to sniff out. Unlike other titles in the genre, you’ll need to keep your pup fed and happy by discovering their favourite treats and figuring out which of the minigames make them happier than others. There’s also a great storyline intertwined with a role-playing feature set on top.
The levels are littered with stuff to keep you and your pooch-pal delighted and aren’t too perplexing. Vita Pets also takes advantage of the console’s hardware in interesting ways. The tug toy utilises the touch screen by prompting the player the direction in which they need to swipe, or batting a ball back and forth on the swing machine. Each activity will unlock the next by increasing the statistics of your pet and unlock another path in your surroundings, furthering a fairly straightforward narrative involving a monarch and his pooch.
The story will never be recognised as remarkable, but for what it’s worth, its very well presented in the form of novels and pop-up books, and complements the packages all-embracing upbeat vibe. The visuals and scenery are worth a mention too, and are the best I’ve seen on the Vita, on par with or better than Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Sure, the exploration aspect is very much straight-forward, but it’s difficult not to acknowledge the title’s beautifully artistic achievements.
The narrative speech however, is another story. The extremely irritating voice-acting will make you want to have your hound put down. The rest of the audio is fine, along with some great orchestral motifs, but these maddeningly optimistic voices from the dogs in the gameplay are infuriating. There’s also an array of voices attached to different pups that you’re able to choose from at the beginning of the game, ranging from a Dalmatian, Border Collie, Husky and Labrador, each with it’s own barking-mad accent.
It’s tolerable during the first hour of gameplay, but this title suffers heavily from repetition enough to drive you up the wall, and make your pooch’s vows of friendship forever feel hollow. Switching the Vita to mute might make you appreciate that the rest of the game is stunning, and the interactivity is huge amounts of fun. The game feels wholly complete, along with being able to teach your canine new tricks and seamlessly recording unique voice commands using the handhelds on-board microphone.
Although there are a thousand activities to do, you’ll find yourself having to sometimes do the same thing over and over just to advance the story. This is especially true for the beginning of the game that almost feels like an endless cycle of monotonous ball-throwing and would be enough to put a lot of people off the game right from the start – especially those like me with short attention spans. The game is good for leisurely play, but if you just want to get on with things, you’re going to find yourself running around obstacle courses several times before you’ll have enough experience to move on.
Thankfully, once you’ve opened up levels, it’s really easy to manoeuvre around the map through tunnels that lead to pivotal points of interest. While exploring, you can also keep your furry friend busy with makeshift games of fetch using sticks, while you constantly discover new sniffing destinations widespread with buried treasure. Some of the trinkets will be dress-up items for your dog, and others are uninteresting, but can be sold in the title’s in-game store. Meanwhile, various progress meters keep track of your daily activities and in turn, will unlock new items and tricks to learn.
Vita Pets isn’t an original purebred, but it is a winner in the league of it’s own genre recognized for its triteness. There are a couple of problems with repetitiveness that may feel like you’re chasing your own tail, as well as the irksome voice acting. Look beyond this, and you’ll find an entertaining world of activities and a virtual best friend you’ll be happy you invested time with, even if it does feel monotonous at times.