Clearly targeted at a younger audience, PlayStation Vita Pets is one part simulation, one part adventure game. It’s a combination that works surprisingly well, despite a few shortcomings here and there. Still, compared to similar games such as Nintendogs it’s far more wholesome and, more importantly, feels like an actual video game.
Before embarking on your adventure into the great unknown, you are presented with four different breeds of puppy. In terms of gameplay there are no advantages to picking one over the others; the only thing that does change is gender and voice. That’s right, in PlayStation Vita Pets your dog can talk. And it does. A lot.
Starting out, it isn’t entirely clear what your objective is or what needs to be done in order to “beat” the game. This is fine, however, as it allows Pets to leisurely guide you through its shopping list of features. From obstacle courses and scavenging, to hidden treasures and playing fetch, there’s plenty to see and do. It all feeds into the game’s story which has you and your pup trawling Castlewood, a lost kingdom whose ruler and his canine sidekick suddenly vanished many years ago.
Though fairly basic, the sense of mystery and adventure the story provides will no doubt have players moving from area to area, gathering clues and solving puzzles. Aside from the vast woodland itself, there are mazes, mines, and all sorts of locations to visit, each with their own items to collect and activities in which to partake.
These are usually paired with one of the game’s five skills, including strength, speed, and scavenging. Each of them can be upgraded to level three via a series of mini-games. Some are rudimentary while others requires a small amount of skill, all of them using the Vita’s touch-screen functionality.
Initially these mini-games are completely optional. However, as you continue to explore Castlewood, roadblocks will start to appear, requiring certain skill levels in order to pass. This means backtracking and repeating the same training games over and over until you can proceed. In a way it’s understandable though completely breaks any sense of immersion, at least temporarily. Apart from adventuring, there are other things to do. For instance, using the system’s rear camera, players can watch as their pup wanders around the living room, fetcing objects or leaping over obstacles.
There’s also pet maintenance to be wary of too. If your pup gets hungry you can feed it, if they’re dirty you can wash them and so on. Carrying out these tasks isn’t mandatory however, and therefore doesn’t interfere with gameplay. In fact, if you want, you never have to feed, stroke or wash your dog once though, naturally, you may feel inclined to.
This move away from tedious simulation is a good choice, and one that spills into the game’s art direction. Instead of blank, sterile rooms and the occasional park, Castlewood is a luscious expanse of greenery, dotted with castles, mills, and other overgrown locales. The puppies also look great and, despite their anthropomorphic voices, come across as believable thanks to authentic animation and their unrelenting enthusiasm.
It may present some unwanted hurdles yet, as a whole, PlayStation Vita Pets is an enjoyable, long-lasting experience. Naturally, die-hard gamers will probably let this one slip through the net though younger, more casual players should feel right at home.