Crispy Gamer

PSN Pundit: Eye Spy Games Decent and Crappy

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Who made the first camera peripheral games? No, it wasn?t Sony with the EyeToy. Back in 1999, Intel joined forces with Mattel to create the first camera that put you in the game. The USB-based PC camera placed you in various cartoonish environments. After a few minutes of setup, the gamer could flail about to burst balloons, snowboard down a hill avoiding bumbling penguins, and play a rudimentary pinball game -- but the Me2Cam was a flop. By 2002, Mattel and Intel stopped shipping the inventive tech toy.

Fast-forward now to 2008, almost 10 years later. The PlayStation 3 has the Eye camera, the nice-ish spawn of the EyeToy, all the better to see you with -- and better in low light, too. Add to that a multidirectional mic and a zoom feature, and you?re ready for play. But are the games any better now? Let?s take a look at some that have been sorely overlooked by me and practically everyone else: five small PlayStation Network downloadable games for the PlayStation Eye: Aqua Vita, Mesmerize, Tori: Emaki, and the heftier Operation Creature Feature and The Trials of Topoq.

The Trials of Topoq -- Think Super Monkey Ball in a Dungeons and Dragons setting high in the clouds with high-quality graphics and looming classic music that?s never over-the-top. You move a yellow and brown orb virtually with your hands through various mazes populated by gothic winged beasts that seem to want to push you off into the heavens. Touch them and you explode into nothingness. As you move, you?ll begin to feel the burn in your upper arms, much as you would in tai chi. The playing surface is made of bricks that rise at your virtual touch and create a slope to move the orb forward through five towering cities. The only thing I don?t like is the Mario-like happy music that plays when you finish each level. The audio payoff should be more appropriate to the Enya-meets-Wagner music provided during gameplay.

Aqua Vita -- It?s like a large aquarium with a variety of fish for you to attract, irritate and frighten. They say watching fish in an aquarium is good for your heart, but you want something to happen here, like a character from Undertow to swish by, or Sponge Bob to make an appearance with his pal Patrick. Still at $1.99, it makes for a decent screensaver, and you don?t have to feed the fish. Hypnotizing the 20 neon tetras is kinda fun, too -- except, um, they?re not supposed to be in a tank with salt water fish, as they are here.

Operation Creature Feature -- It?s like "Monsters, Inc." meets Oddworld meets Lemmings, except with less game. Here, you?ve got to lead your alien species (called Blurbs) away from mayhem on a planet being run by (what else?) dark forces. You?re kind of kinder, gentler PSI-Ops soldier, and via the Eye, you lead these funky aliens who stick to your fingers like candy. You?ll lift them through rocky confines, over black treadmills and past heavy chopping blocks (ooh, so gross when a Blurb goes splat) -- and all this to the background of Danny Elfman circa "Beetlejuice"-era music.

Turi-Emaki -- You know how in those scientific experiments they?ll get a flock of birds to follow a small plane all in an effort to learn more about migration? Turi-Emaki is somewhat similar. With your hands and the Eye you guide black crows through a Zen-like world of Japanese folk art. If you remember the artwork in Okami from Capcom, you?ll get the idea. It?s quite a trip to move through the environments full of windswept cherry blossoms, mountains, waterfalls, farmers in a rice paddy, samurai warriors, drummers -- fun for about 15 minutes. What strikes me as a missed opportunity is this: There could have been a game here, a really important casual game. Instead, all you get is another relaxing tai chi experience. You?re privy to a bit of a physical workout, and you see some pretty pictures in a world that?s more like a cutout than a 3-D experience. It?s a good start to, well, something. As art or as a game, however, it?s incomplete. Occasionally, a deep-throated male screams out in the distance, and you wonder, what could he be wailing about? Right there?s the beginning of a mystery for any game designer.

Mesmerize -- Clearly, this is the worst of the bunch. You move your hands to manipulate shapes that must have been created by someone ripping off a Windows Audio Visualizer. I mean, if you?re drunk or high, you?ll probably get a kick out of the hot neon colors and hippy-dippy shapes.

The upshot? It?s important that these Eye games get better. I?d rather spend $10 on a good game than nearly $20 for five that are just middling -- and this is part of my PlayStation Network rant. For downloadable games on the PlayStation Network to emerge as a go-to lifestyle and community that gamers can count on and, eventually, love, the games have to, have to, have to, come out on a weekly basis. Sony is still being sloth-like with putting up games, which led users to give the paltry offerings of a few weeks ago a 1.25 out of 5 rating on the official PlayStation blog. Wallpapers, videos and downloads of Nine Inch Nails party packs for Rock Band just aren?t enough. Sure, there?s tasty stuff in the pipeline. There?s PixelJunk Eden -- in which you?re just a blip on the screen, but with living backgrounds that are at once fantastical and calming, it's a bit like LocoRoco meets fl0w -- but that, and all the other hotly anticipated games, are weeks or months down the line. Upcoming games look good, but the waiting is the hardest part.