Murasaki Baby Review
Reviewed on Sony PS Vita
Escape Plan, Dokuro, Limbo. Three names that prove beyond any reasonable doubt that artistic styles concentrating on black and white interactions look wonderful on the Vita. You can add another looker to that list – and the recent release of Murasaki Baby comes not only in black and white, but with gloriously subdued colour in its interactive backgrounds. From the off it’s obvious that the aesthetic elements of the game have been nailed, the colour schemes working with the Vita’s display abilities and allowing a budget game to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the bigger boys. The real question is, of course, whether there is enough gaming substance behind these looks…
There’s a story, of sorts, here – there’s a wee toddler who wants her absent mummy and you’ve got to take her by the hand and guide her through the fiendishly dangerous world she calls home. Along the way you’ll meet other inhabitants of this distorted world that need your help, with each of the chapters of the game concentrating on one such sad figure. The more observant will enjoy piecing together the background art present in some scenes, although the mini-stories are simplistic enough that even the most unobservant troll is going to have a rough idea of what’s going on.
From the start you’ll be aware that Murasaki Baby is different. When I said that you’ll have to take your toddler by the hand and guide her I meant it – using the Vita’s front touchscreen you have to touch her hand and gently pull her through the level. It’s a nice idea, and apart from a few wobbles worked well throughout our playthrough. Oh, and the game deals with your health in a clever way, giving you a heart-shaped balloon that acts as an in-game representation of the state of your health – let it get popped and it’s a short return to the last checkpoint for you. But that’s not even the best thing – using the rear touch pad you can swipe the background away, replacing it with a different piece of scenery. Tapping the rear touchscreen with these backdrops gives access to different powers that are all required to progress – some may protect your heart balloon by turning it to stone, others may cause a gust of wind to blow. Key to progression is finding ways to join these powers together, although the puzzling never really takes off in terms of brain-racking difficulty.
You’ll often find places in the later sections where you’ll have to cramp your hands to deal with all the inputs – a finger on your baby’s hand, a finger ready to pop or poke something, a finger ready to swipe the backgrounds over and back, and something left to hold onto the Vita itself. Thankfully these sections don’t appear too often, and none of them even begin to approach the touch input difficulty that veterans of DJMax Technika Tune still have sleepless nights over, but you do wonder whether the devs planned for the game to include this kind of meta-difficulty, or whether feature-creep simply layered requirement upon requirement as the later game evolved.
Murasaki Baby is, however, a short experience - we whizzed through in around two hours, and there’s little to no reason to return either. But the main problem isn’t really the length – after all, even a couple of hours of top notch entertainment is worth its weight in gold in this flabby, overfull world of gaming. No, instead Ovosonico's biggest crime is that the game stops just as it gets going. Throughout the game the puzzles aren’t sufficiently puzzling and the player isn’t pushed enough to improve, pushed to retake some prior section and nail that jump, or scenery change. It’s not until the very end that it feels as though the gameplay has finally started demonstrating some of its clear potential – by now you’re juggling scenery and affects at the same time as you’re flipping the Vita around physically. This holistic control-gameplay challenge is extremely satisfying, and more than covers up the slightly painful trepidation felt back at the start when you realised that you could only drag this baby around with your finger on their hand. But, it’s gone in a flash. All that promise, all the player investment, all the clever little ideas – none of them allowed to flourish further. It feels as though you’ve played an overlong tutorial, you’ve proved your grasp of the basics and you’re ready for the main event, and then you realise that you’ve just had the main event.
Ultimately Murasaki Baby isn’t the breath taking experience that the spider section of Limbo was, and it won’t last you anywhere near as long as Dokuro or Escape Plan. What it does do is provide a nicely fleshed out concept that makes the best use of the Vita’s unique set of potential functionality since Tearaway folded its way into our hearts. It’s yet another example of the kind of game that could only come from a small studio willing to take risks, and it’s to the game’s credit that it leaves you wanting for more rather than overstaying its welcome – but the missed potential of what could have been will dominate your thoughts once you’re done.