The Colourful Heart of Darkness
Sony has repositioned the Vita as a champion of indie titles and Murasaki Baby has been on our radar for what seems like forever. The wait is over though and we finally get our hands on one of the most visually-striking games to land on the handheld in ages.
The aim of this 2D puzzle platformer is to help this incredibly creepy, yet somehow adorable, little girl find her ‘mummy’ as we guide her through the nightmare-like environments via a multitude of touchscreen and rear touchpad controls. Early Vita adopters may hear a few distant alarm bells ringing if they remember the infuriatingly clunky launch title Escape Plan. Thankfully, the controls in Murasaki Baby are much better. Mostly.
To move the child, you use the touchscreen to hold her hand and drag it across the screen as her arm stretches out and she follows your movements. Pull too far and too fast and she’ll trip, so you must be mindful of moving at a consistent pace. Players also need care for balloon she carries. If it pops, you must restart the scene, so you’ll need to use another finger to drag it around the screen in order to move it past thorns or avoid flying safety pins, the latter of which you can also flick from the screen.
If it sounds like a lot for you to be doing at once, that’s because it us. Your fingers will tie themselves up in knots and you’ll often not even be able to see the screen underneath them. The Vita’s touchscreen has never been a massive fan of simultaneous inputs and you’ll often have to let go and restart a motion before it will continue -not ideal during some of the time sensitive hazards.
The rear touchpad is also used heavily. By sweeping a finger (or maybe a toe) across you’ll be able to change the entire background of a stage with multiple rich colours to scroll through. The shifting backgrounds may contain for example, a red world full of scary jack-in-the-boxes, a blue one with thunder storms or a yellow one with a giant rabbit. These backgrounds also have interactions too via the touchpad. The red one scares enemies, the blue makes it rain and the yellow makes the giant rabbit stomp to knock down loose structures.
There are many backgrounds with multiple functions to explore and by the end of the game you’ll be regularly switching between them on the fly in order to avoid crumbling platforms and other dangers. The interchangeable backgrounds provide one of the game’s most stylish elements, but they’re also the biggest cause of frustration as the Vita frequently fails to register change requests, leaving you madly groping the touchpad to no effect. Apparently using the L and R shoulder buttons wasn’t an option.
There are other rough edges, such as glitches that see the girl rooted to the spot and not responding to hand grabs or the background interactions not performing the task they should. On a few occasions I was forced to do a hard reset and found I was allowed straight through next time. Some sparse checkpointing makes these incidents all the more irritable too. A scene where you control a wheeled kart and have to hop over gaps features some terrible controls that I can only presume made it through Quality Assurance due to some sort of inner-office despot fear.
Even with some of these irritating stoppages, the game only lasts about two hours and there’s no attempt at additional replay value. At £7.99 though, I’d say the game provides good value. But why?
Let’s be honest, the game’s main draw is the incredible art style. If you can look at the game’s screenshots and trailers and fail to be drawn in, then this isn’t for you. The living illustrations and contrasting colour schemes look vividly crisp on the Vita’s screen and the characters are the sort of darklings you’d imaging Tim Burton’s notebooks are just full of.
Despite some of the technical concerns with the hand-holding mechanic, it does a great job of helping you form a bond to the child as you guide her through the hazardous worlds. If you really want to lose yourself in the game, try to play at night with a decent set of headphones and turn your phone off. The sound effects are extra creepy when piped directly into your grey matter and the music is outstanding with one particular ‘chase’ scene proving to be one of the most emotional pieces of music I’ve heard all year. Try to play the whole game in one uninterrupted session too.
- Wonderful hand-drawn visuals
- Great audio design and music
- Some clever touch controls…
- …But they can get too complicated
- Has a few annoying glitches
- Rear touchpad should have been dumped for L/R buttons
The Short Version: One of the most stylish games yet on the Vita is a must buy for anyone with a fondness for the art style. A few glitches and a few overly complicated touch controls keep this from scoring higher. But at the low price of £7.99, anyone tempted should take a look.
Platform: PS Vita