She is lost; she wants her mommy; she holds in her hand a purple, heart-shaped balloon. That’s the way developers Ovosonico aptly portray this quirky new Vita title. With Massimo Guarini (No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned) directing and an Edward Gorey-inspired take on visuals, Murasaki Baby is not short of creative flair, but does it succeed in other departments? We dived in to see if this is one balloon that just keeps on rising, or one that just… blows.
Game: Murasaki Baby
Reviewed on: PS Vita
It’s clear from the outset that Murasaki Baby is all about visual substance and for the most part it works in the game’s favour. The Edward Gorey influenced sketched art direction looks genuinely haunting amidst the nightmarish landscapes that you must guide the bizarre looking ‘Baby’ through to complete the game. She’s endearing, though. It’s difficult not to like someone holding a heart-shaped balloon, even if her mouth resides oddly on her forehead and she grows particularly antsy when her comfort balloon gets away from her.
You’ll find for the majority of the game that she’ll refuse to move, too. So using the Vita touch screen you’ll take her hand and drag her in the direction you need to go, making sure to protect her beloved balloon that acts as her life, or perhaps even her resolve to power through the unnerving landscape that lie ahead. The animation is all-round gorgeous. Nothing ever feels static and you’ll always know how Baby feels about her situation as she smiles gleefully when feeling safe, reluctantly struggles against your guidance, or even falls over if you tug a bit too hard on her hand.
It’s not an overly complicated foreground and the visuals remain uncluttered in an obvious effort to aid the gameplay mechanics that rely heavily on clever use of the Vita’s back plate and the in-game backgrounds. You’ll meet some weird and wonderful characters in game that hinder and sometimes help your progress, some of which will also be holding a balloon. Bearing in mind Baby’s affection towards her own balloon, it seems intensely mean that you’re required to pop the balloons of these other characters in order to unlock a new background, but ultimately it is your only way forward.
Swiping the back plate left or right on the Vita will switch between landscapes you’ve acquired in that world, and each one offers a new way to deal with enemies or platforming puzzles. For example, one background allows you to tap gusts of wind through the level to nullify a bunch of flying safety-pins (a balloon’s worst enemy). Others might provide a room full of TV’s to distract enemies, fill a lake with rain to raise a boat, or even reveal hidden paths not visible in other backgrounds. It’s actually quite ingenious and it does well to create variety and interest in a game which is essentially about guiding an infant from one end of a level to the other. Imagine a world where Lemmings are too stubborn to move at all and are scared of, well… everything, then you’ll have a vague idea of what Murasaki Baby is at its roots.
The puzzles are simple but do feel rewarding. You’ll never be stuck for more than a brief moment, but dragging light bulbs into a cave and tapping the Vita to wake a swarm of bats, or scaring off an antagonist by setting of jack-in-the-boxes in a background is insanely charming. Because of Murasaki Baby’s eccentricity, there’s always a certain level of intrigue as to what’s on the next screen or through that next door. That, along with some wonderful presentation, make up the game’s biggest strengths.
Everything you do from puzzles to movement utilises the PlayStation Vita’s touch capabilities. For the most part this aids the experience and makes it more interesting to play, such as the hand holding for instance. It does have some problems, though. Moving Baby isn’t always as intuitive as it could be, as you fumble at the touch screen trying to grab her tiny hand whilst incoming objects threaten to pop her balloon. Other times you’re asked to do a certain amount of touch-screen multitasking such as guiding her balloon away from danger whilst pulling her along at the same time; or holding an umbrella over her head whilst scampering away from incoming projectiles from above.
Because of those tasks I found myself placing the Vita down on a flat surface to make life easier, which created its own problems when I needed to access the back plate to change a background. Pick up, put down, swipe, tap front, tap back, pick up, swipe – you can probably see where I’m going with this. Then of course, by multi-tasking the front touch screen of the Vita you’ll inadvertently end up covering half the screen with your hands, and my hands aren’t as pretty as the game is, even with moisturiser.
Despite any touch-related foibles however, Murasaki Baby remains a uniquely enjoyable experience that’ll keep you entertained for its four to five hours of gameplay. As the game grows more complex with its puzzling, so will your affection for the protagonist as you witness her grow braver and try new things through the adversity of her journey – for that reason, it’s more than worth taking a look at. Even more so if you can be a little patient with the touch controls and Murasaki Baby’s measured pacing, because then the interesting gameplay touches and quirky visuals will undoubtedly do the rest.