I always feel like somebody's watching me...
It's easy to see why so many people are "casual' gamers and not "hardcore' ones. Just take a look at the PS2 controller. You've got two analog sticks, four shoulder buttons, four face buttons, a D-pad, Start and Select, and most games use every single one of them. It's not a problem for geeks like me (or you, probably) who have mastered Multitasking Finger Technique, but how can you expect your mom or kid sister to manage so many things when they can't even program the VCR?
You can't, which is why only 1 mom out of 1000 plays video games. But even so, moms, grandmas, younger cousins and the controller-impaired in general deserve some quality time basking in the television's warm, glowing, warming glow.
So gather them all together and stick "em in front of Sony's EyeToy, a revolutionary new gaming gadget that's very long on the gadget, but a little short on the game.
We actually saw the precursor to the EyeToy back at the Game Developer's Conference in 2000. Shawn and I stood in front of a TV swatting a basketball back and forth across the screen. No wires, no controllers, nothing except our hands waving in front of a little camera. It was super-cool for 5 minutes, which was a lot better than the retarded gaming gloves and 3D glasses at every other booth.
Thankfully, the EyeToy has evolved quite a bit since then. The box contains a little USB camera and a game disc; just stick the camera on top of or under your TV, plug it into the USB port, pop in the disc and you're ready to go.
The EyeToy works by way of motion sensors. You stand in front of your TV and the camera projects your real-time image onto the screen. You then navigate through menus and interact with the games by moving your limbs around. You don't need a controller at all, just two arms and a head.
Amazingly, the thing works. You might have to adjust light sources to ensure that you're lit properly or the camera doesn't work perfectly, but a built-in sensor will tell you if it's too dim. At first it's a little unsettling, but quickly you'll realize that what you have in front of you is a big, brave new step in technology.
However, it isn't exactly a big step in gaming, despite coming with a dozen games to play. These are broken into a few styles: whacking things, spinning things, dancing with things and waving at things.
The best game in the lot is clearly Kung-Foo, in which you have to fend off scores of little ninja dudes leaping at you from various angles. It works really well and looks hysterical, thanks in part to the great kung-fu "whoosh' sound effect that accompanies your movement. Finally, a way to perfect my Jittery Eel Stance!
The other whacking games aren't as good. Boxing Chump seems cool at first, letting you duke it out against a virtual rival, but the hit detection isn't great and defense is sort of nonexistent. Slap Stream is a dumbed-down version of Kung-Foo, making you flick little rat men appearing on four immobile clouds. Soccer Craze also seems like a winner as you have to juggle a soccer ball and whack it into enemies, but the physics are bad and again, the hit detection isn't so hot.
The spinning games are equally mixed, the best of which is UFO Juggler. This forces you to twinkle your hands at UFOs to launch them offscreen, but as more appear it becomes something of a juggling act. Plate Spinner is sort of the same thing, though keeping the plates spinning requires much more precise hand twinkling.
Disco Stars is the other big winner, essentially a game of Simon set to a variety of funky beats. You have to emulate the tiny, awesome dancer boogying onscreen by hitting lights in the correct order, and it's just a lot of fun. The other music game, Beat Freak, makes you rhythmically hit speakers to catch flying CDs, but it plays a bit awkwardly.
Then there are the two workout games: Wishi Washi and Ghost Eliminator. The former is exhausting, forcing you to " get this " clean the grime off your TV by waving your arms around like a maniac. Not fun. Ghost Eliminator is just as tiring as you chase little ghosts across the screen while repeatedly waving your hands at them to make them pop. Great exercises, bad games.
Mirror Time is an interesting little puzzler that flips your screen image around while you try to grab at the green lights and avoid the red ones. It's discombobulating and mind-bending and under no circumstances should be attempted while drunk. Rocket Rumble, though, is decent regardless of your condition. You have to ignite fireworks and try to set them up into combos, much like Fantavision.
So out of these 12 games, only two " Kung Foo and Disco Stars " are good enough to really warrant multiple plays, and none of them are really good enough to play alone. There's just something creepy and lonely about standing in front of your TV waving your hands around like a maniac. Remember to close the curtains. Seriously.
But invite a few friends over and suddenly the EyeToy is the coolest thing ever, making you the coolest host ever. Watching your buddies dance around wildly while fending off fake ninjas is almost worth the price of admission alone. Plus, the EyeToy has a few other features that make it great for dorm room get-togethers and house parties alike. You can record video messages, complete with sound, which comes in handy to remind your roommate not to lay one filthy hand on your special doughnut. There's also a cool little Playroom ability that gives you a bunch of video feeds that warp the effect on the screen. Stick it on "Nervous' and watch your drunk girlfriend freak out as she walks past the TV, her image twitching like something out ofJacob's Ladder. Muahaha!
Speaking of which, we're constantly on the prowl for games that will appeal to our girlfriends/potential victims, and the EyeToy earns huge marks here since the games are so simple and the technology so neat. My old lady (whom I hope never reads this) mentioned that if she had this as a kid, she wouldn't have left the house'which is exactly how I felt growing up with an Atari 2600.
If you take the EyeToy for what is currently is " a gimmicky device with mostly subpar games, but a blast at parties " it's pretty clear that the Grand Theft Autoset isn't going to be clamoring for it. The potential here is big, though, evidenced by a recent Sony event in which the EyeToy folks showed off the ability to have the camera track your head movements, which has some very cool if possibly nauseating implications on first-person shooting.
So do you buy it? That depends on who you are. It's great for kids and non-serious gamers and a fun party favor, but those of you with a taste for the finer things in gaming life will be let down by the largely disappointing games. It will make your mom and your girlfriend happy, though, and to us, that's priceless.