Video gaming has grown up massively since its early days of pong and space invaders, but one thing has remained fairly static ? the devices we use to control the games. Although light guns, steering wheels and fearsomely complicated joysticks have each won a following, the game pad is the weapon of choice for most games because of its versatility. Try playing a shooting game with a steering wheel or a driving game with a light gun and see how far you get. Many try to dethrone it (Nintendo Powerglove anyone?) but none have so far succeeded. Which is a shame. There are whole swathes of people out there who don’t know that circle means cancel and X means action and if you just push the analogue stick a little bit, you’ll walk instead of run. These things aren’t intuitive and a lot of people haven’t the patience to burn these rules into their brains through repeated play.
Which is where the Eye Toy comes in. I know this is a review of the game Play, but the whole experience is so connected with the style of control that you have to talk about the Eye Toy itself. For those unfamiliar with it, the Eye Toy is a camera that plugs into your PS2 and sits atop your TV. The camera then displays an image on the TV of what the camera is pointing at so you’ll get a picture of your living room or bedroom and (this is the important bit) you. The camera has motion sensors and can translate your movements into in-game control in a completely obvious way. The games that you load up add other things to the TV image like footballs, boxers or ninjas. If a ninja jumps at you onscreen and you wave your hand at it, the ninja is sent flying. Only a willingness to stand up and wave your arms around is necessary and this is the towering strength and crippling weakness of the Eye Toy. But more on that later.
Play is a series of twelve games that have been developed specifically as a showcase for the potential of the Eye Toy and to show other developers what can be achieved with their peripheral. As a launch title it has succeeded remarkably well in having something for everyone and being a great deal of fun. This is more to do with the fact that the Eye Toy is versatile and people get to see themselves on TV rather than fascinating games. The twelve games have some serious limitations to overcome and by necessity have to be very simple in design and execution. All the games have to have a person in the centre of the screen, have static backgrounds and work around the fact that 60-70% of the PS2’s processing power is eaten up just translating the input from the Eye Toy into the image on the screen. Bearing these things in mind, the Team behind Play has been remarkably inventive and most of the games have very unique methods of control. The games require you to swat ninjas, clean windows, spin plates, dance and more. The only obvious repeat I saw was spinning plates/launching spaceships which required the same motion. Overall though the team have been very inventive and the variety means that there really is something for everybody.
The actual gameplay is a let down with many of the games though. They all lack any sort of depth and the only reason to replay them is to get better scores and improve your skills. This means that Play is going to appeal to people who are looking for an alternative to Karaoke at their parties and those who have mastered Dance Dance Revolution and want something to do with their arms now. Having said that, the designers know their target audience well and have made their games simple to learn and incredibly difficult to master. There are three difficulty levels which are just about spot on. Easy is good enough for your granny to get up and have a go, normal is fine for casual games player and Hard is for people who really want a challenge and a workout at the same time.
Oh, didn’t I mention? Play is exhausting! You are required to wave your arms, jump up and down, fling yourself from left to right and generally react to onscreen threats. This can be far more exhausting than dance games because there are only four buttons (or at most 8) you need to use and there are only so many combinations of moves you can do. With Play you are jumping around, using your shoulder, elbows, head and any other moving appendage to do things. It is a much more energetic game and this alone means that unless you are very fit then solo play for extended periods of time is not recommended.
Some of the games also appear to have been poorly coded the Football keep up game in particular. The aim is to head a football and keep it aloft while hitting baddies with it when they pop out of windows. If you hit the right people you can get multiple footballs onscreen or even shrink your football down to a ping pong ball. So far so good except the collision detection is far from perfect. You need to move your head quite a lot for the football to react to it and it is all too common that you move your head a bit too much and the football bounces once up and immediately straight back down. 90% of the balls I lost in this game were due to this particular eccentricity which is appalling considering that to solve it would only have meant programming the football to not respond to input that knocks the football straight down.
The other games have a simple premise but one which is very difficult for our brains to process. One game in particular reflects your image each round on the screen and requires you to work out how to move your arms to touch coloured objects. When you need to move your left arm up to touch an onscreen object at the bottom right of the screen, you know instinctively that this is a game you need a clear head for.
There are also some games that stand out as being really good fun and my favourite is the Beat Box. CDs fly to the corners of the screen and you have to touch one of four speakers when the CDs hit the centre. The closer the centre the CDs hit, the more points you get and the bigger you can chain your combos. This is done to music and can be really hectic and difficult. You can always pinpoint the exact moment that your precision pointing turns to frantic arm waving as you lose the rhythm and more and more CDs whiz past your defences.
Wishi Washi, the window cleaning sim is also more fun than it has any right being. The TV screen starts off being dirty and gets clean as you move in front of the camera. This invariably leads to people leaping about like a spawning salmon missing its waterfall as you use your entire body to wipe the screen clean. As another nice touch, the soundtrack is “When I’m Cleaning Windows” from Ukulele player George Formby which perfectly suits the game.
Despite some simplistic gameplay, Play is a solid title that tries hard to please everyone and very nearly succeeds. If you have friends round and they aren’t scared of a little jumping around then this is definitely a game you want to get. If there’s alcohol involved, all the better! If you are 1337 on most games but have trouble climbing a flight of stairs I can safely say to give this a miss. If you are looking for a great party game with more fun and variety than Dance Dance Revolution, pick up a camera with Play today