Sony PS Vita
When your grubby little fingers prised open the box of your shiny new Vita they probably skipped over the random blue package there, your mind too busy dealing with the combination of the heady scent of new smell and concern at how easily you were getting greasy marks over that nice piano matt finish. ‘YOU’LL NEED THESE!’ the side of the package yelled, imploring you to keep the contents safe so that you could ‘play amazing augmented reality games’. If you are anything like the majority of Vita users then the AR cards that were hidden within that blue package have probably been kept very safe indeed, unused in the depths of a drawer, a game case or even still nestled within the original console box. Open Me! may well be the game that has you go and dust them off, if only for a little while.
Rather simplistic in concept, Open Me! proves to be quite the brain tickler when you get down to it. Developed by those inspired loons over at PlayStation C.A.M.P. the game presents a series of levels, each one of which consists of a box that you have to open. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Then throw your AR card down on the table, point the Vita’s rear camera at it and away you go. Boxes can range from requiring simplistic poking and swiping to being hellish little devices requiring logical leaps and dexterous fingers. Checking out all of the box’s sides is also important, so regularly you’ll be walking around your AR card in a circle in a hunt for that last elusive button or catch. Proceedings are spiced up even more with some boxes displaying protective countermeasures such as spinning blades of doom or crazy looking spikes – accidently touch one of those and you’ll lose a virtual finger; lose ten and you’ll lose the level.
The puzzles can also require a large degree of lateral thinking, rewarding players who can (incoming pun alert!) think outside of the box. Without going into detail, some of the later more complex looking boxes can be rendered fairly simple by a quick mental jump or an in-depth examination. While the puzzles can be both taxing and engaging, by their very nature they are really ‘one and done’ - apart from some leaderboard shenanigans there’s no real reason to return to them. There is a creation mode where you can utilise traps and switches to create your own puzzle boxes that you can then share with friends, but if you think you are going to be able to channel Pinhead and devise Hellraiser-worthy items from the off then you’ll be sadly mistaken. All of the good stuff is hidden behind experience gates and you (and any friends you may spam with your creations) could face a long grind to get to the devious little boxes you desire.
Technically Open Me feels far more robust than early AR releases such as Table Top Tanks, which is appropriate seeing as how it’s designed with the whole concept of moving around in mind. It’s actually not that easy to lose recognition of the AR card as long as you keep it mainly in view, and the game didn’t stutter or pause once when we threw ourselves around in as much wild abandon as we could muster. Tilt your Vita enough so that the AR card begins to be hidden, however, and your puzzle will disappear from screen leaving you floundering. Luckily normal service is resumed sharpish as soon as you manage to manoeuvre the AR card back into camera view, so the only real loss is your chance at a leaderboard-worthy score. We should also point out that if you have no idea where your AR cards and can’t be bothered to print some new ones out you can also play the game on a flat, contrasting surface – although it should be evident that you’re better off with one of the AR cards.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Open Me however is how easily it encourages you to join into the AR metagame. Most boxes will have you scurrying around the AR card, examining the box from all four sides as you try to figure out what to poke or what to swipe. It’s easy to forget about some of the technical abilities of the Vita sometimes, but here the merging of the camera and the touchscreen (as well as other elements) all fuse together effortlessly, just as long as you are happy to get up off of your chair and walk around a bit. Your own interaction with the Vita will go further than just a bit of circling and poking too - I’m quite happy to go on record to say that this is probably the only game I’ll ever play where clamping the Vita between my thighs while trying to activate six touch points at the same time will feel completely normal.
It’s hard sometimes to imagine who these AR games are developed for; the core handheld gamer is too busy flipping between indies and console-like experiences and Open Me! is far too fiendish for a youngling to have any fun with. As with all of these AR offerings it’s the Vita’s rear camera that lets the side down – the puzzle boxes and UI may well look spot on but it’s difficult to appreciate their look when the background they are set on too often looks like junk. As a pure puzzler though Open Me! delivers and if you like a good head scratch then you could do far worse than trying to poke your way through this set of boxes.