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PlayStation Vita Pets Review: Watch dogs have more fun than their owners

on 8 June 2014

Pet simulation games don’t stand tall in the teeming hierarchy of video game genres and offerings, possessing a reputation that slips it right to the bottom of the quality food chain. The UK-based team at Spiral House examined this glaring issue and went back to the drawing board, aiming to mend the blemishes of its pet-raising forerunners like seasoned veterinarians. The result? PlayStation Vita Pets; a game that donates enchanting new ways to interact with your pets, but falls short of convincing you that its exhibition of simulated pups are worth fostering.

Right off the bat you’re introduced to four breeds of cuddly canines that will make you smile from ear to ear, that is, until you see their anthropomorphic mouths rattle on, cloying you with their overly chipper catalog of syrupy phrases. Don’t get me wrong, the voice talent displayed services the cheerful tone of the game, but after an hour or so of repetitive chatter, you can’t help but want to strap a belt around your poor pooch’s muzzle. The blame is put less on the performance delivery and more so on the thin variety of phrases recorded – in addition to the awfully short intervals timed between each speaking line. Thankfully, this method may keep young toddlers more engaged than their parents, but it will require quite a bit of tolerance.

Once you’ve adopted your precious, but gabby pup, you’re teleported to a home that’s sprinkled with the usual playthings featured in a virtual pet sim. You’re welcomed to a series of generic tutorials that will teach you how to nurture and play with your dog. These are conveyed through signature mini-games that will usually require the use of the Vita’s touch-screen, like playing with a tug toy or petting your, well, pet. Continue to mingle with your mutt and you’ll level up your dog’s abilities; a definite requirement if you wish to move forward in the game’s campaign. 

Yes, the game has a campaign, and to my surprise, it fosters a charming narrative that covers an ancient mystery surrounding the tale of a famed king and his loyal pup, Cosmos. Herein lays the cornerstone for the developer’s vision – one that attempts to bolster the virtual pet formula by introducing supplemental design elements that are extracted from other genres. There is a story that stimulates exploration. There are collectibles and trinkets to stockpile or sell at the in-game store. There is a simple, RPG-centric skill system that invokes progression. This is all paved with good intention, but sometimes it does more harm than good.

This is most evident when the game pits you against barriers that require your pet to be suitably leveled at a certain skill in order to pass them. You’ll come across logs or doors that will call for a requisite ability, and if your pet is not up to snuff, then you’ll have to trek back home and train your tyke. Sure, playing tug-of-war with your pup is hearty the first few times, but when you realize that you can’t progress with the story until you level up your animal’s strength by engaging in the tug toy mini-game over and over and over again, the short-lived diversion quickly becomes a chore. It’s a shame, because what could have been an enchantingly lighthearted adventure is dulled into a monotonous grind fest that stalls the buoyant pace of the story – so much so that even a child would likely zone out from the confusion of figuring out which activity is tied to which skill.