PlayStation Vita Pets is a new pet simulation game that offers a lot more than you may expect. Typically a pet simulator allows you to take care of and play with your pet, but here you can go on an adventure with them exploring a large map full of secrets and treasure. The game has its own story which and your pet will slowly discover. The name “Vita Pets” might lead you to believe there is a variety of animals to choose from but you can only pick from four different breeds of dog. I was disappointed when I first saw this but having a dog as your pet is the core of the adventure story in the game so this limit will quickly make sense.
When you begin you are greeted with cheerful music and can choose what breed you want and pick from three possible colours. The dogs have set genders and personalities so if you want a collie it will be female and if you want a labrador it will be male. I chose a dalmatian who loved to shop and named her Dolly. Another feature I wasn’t expecting is that the dogs all speak English, they will tell you when they’re hungry, complain when you don’t wash them and talk about what a fun time they’re having when you play together. This grated on me at times hearing the same phrase repeated over and over but this is a children’s game and having the dog react to revelations in the story and the environment around you keeps it interesting.
Once you have your pet selected you’re left to discover the game for yourself. As you move around different objects will highlight on screen prompting you to touch them and then you will be given an explanation on what you can do. Knowing what to do and where to go next wasn’t very clear at times and I felt a better tutorial or explanation would have helped. You can feed your puppy, wash it, dress it up in costumes you find or buy and play a collection of games. Each game levels up your puppy’s experience in that area which lets it explore the world further. By practicing with a tug toy your puppy will be able to pull open doors and playing with a tetherball will help your puppy jump higher. Interacting with your puppy gives you buddy points and collecting these unlocks new tricks to teach them and new items to buy for them in the shop. Learning new tricks lets you progress further on the adventure too, for example learning to lie down and crawl lets your puppy get into otherwise impossible to reach places.
The adventure you go on revolves around the story that an old king and his dog hid their treasure long ago from invaders and left clues behind so that one day someone worthy would find it with the help of their own canine best friend. By teaching your puppy new abilities and going exploring with them you gradually unravel the clues left behind by the king and solve his puzzles to reach his treasure. The adventure is paced out as this is a pet simulator at the end of the day so its not made with speeding through the story in mind, by the end of the adventure most of the abilities will need to be maxed out in order to complete it.
I would have liked more variety in how you can level up the puppy’s abilities, there is only one game that improves how athletic the puppy becomes so you will have to replay this obstacle course again and again in order to be strong enough to finish the adventure. On the other hand there are four different fetch games to play to build up this ability which you don’t need for adventuring so having a more balanced variety would have made levelling up feel less tedious. After the adventure is complete you can still explore the rest of the world with lots of collectibles to find to keep you busy. There is an abandoned mine where you can race down the tracks in a cart. Because my puppy was a dalmatian this reminded me of a scene from the live action 101 Dalmatians which ends with Roger designs a video game level with dalmatians in a mine cart escaping Cruella de Vil Anyone else remember this? No? Ok lets move on…
PlayStation Vita Pets makes great use out of the Vita system. Visually the world looks great and is full of bright colours and detail, I did find it odd that rabbits and squirrels would run by but they were just part of the scenery and Dolly would not acknowledge them at all. It was a strange choice to add this detail and then have the puppy ignore it. The touchscreen is used for almost everything from picking up sticks to play fetch, petting your puppy, to wiping condensation off the screen after washing them. You can swipe the touch screen to get your puppy to perform tricks or you can use the microphone and just say “sit”. I had a bit of trouble with this and Dolly not recognising my commands so I mostly stuck to using the touch screen. Each day you switch on the game the front camera focuses on you so that the puppy can see you and say hello. The back camera is used for Augmented Reality so you can have your puppy running around on your desk, bed or bring it outside. The AR cards are not needed for this, just pointing your Vita at a flat surface is enough.
PlayStation Vita Pets is out now for €29.99, its a fun pet simulator that goes the extra mile by giving you a story to play through and lots of collectibles to find. As a game for children, clearer instructions would have been welcome but with a bit of guidance there is great enjoyment to be had here with virtual puppy. The biggest set back I see this game facing is that the Vita is not a console which has been aimed at a younger audience so parents will need to be willing to hand it over for the kids to play.