Murasaki Baby is a gobstoppingly gorgeous title – but it’s yet to prove that it’s an entertaining one. The inaugural escapade by Italian outfit Ovosonico shares similarities with creative director Massimo Guarini’s previous outing Shadows of the Damned, in that it provides an inviting aesthetic, but not enough immediate gameplay gratification to elevate it into must play status. There’s almost certain to be more to this dark fantasy epic, but we came away from an early hands-on session lamenting the PlayStation Vita’s various input interfaces, as they may yet have claimed another promising project.
The game’s biggest problem is that it feels like a launch title that’s desperate to justify the inclusion of its parent platform’s various input quirks. A lot like Fun Bits’ slapstick puzzle platformer Escape Plan, you control the entirety of Sony’s latest mostly monochrome excursion using the touch screen. Joining hands with the Tim Burton-esque voodoo doll that occupies the display allows you to lead her through her ethereal surroundings, solving puzzles along the way. It’s a mechanic that’s evidently inspired by the likes of ICO before it, and while it lacks the subtle implementation of rumble that defined Fumito Ueda’s seminal classic, it’s still effective in connecting you to the character.
The issue, then, is that it just doesn’t feel comfortable from a core playability stance. The colossal nature of the Japanese giant’s flagship portable has always made it difficult to reach to the centre of the screen, meaning that most savvy studios align any touch commands to the extremities of the display, creating makeshift virtual buttons. However, you’ll need to be constantly reaching over to grab the main mannequin’s wobbly appendage, forcing you to hold the system in an awkward position. You could, of course, clasp the console like a tablet, using your stray hand to control the action, but this is rendered impossible as you progress.
While clever in principle, the game leaves you playing digit twister with the device, and that’s just not comfortable in the slightest
While you’ll lead the creepy character with one hand, the other is constantly clutching onto a balloon. This represents your health, and should it pop, you’ll need to restart from the nearest checkpoint. Fortunately, you have direct control over this inflatable extra – again, courtesy of the touch screen. As a result, there are some sequences where you’ll need to lead the upside-down star with one finger, and direct the gasbag with the other. While clever in principle, this leaves you playing digit twister with the device, and it’s just not comfortable. Perhaps people with larger hands will feel more at home with the mechanics, but that shouldn’t be a requirement.
It’s a shame, because there are some really intriguing ideas on display. Much like Limbo, the title never really communicates anything with you, leaving you to figure out the puzzles as you progress. Moving a light between hooks will clear a harrowing hallway of bats, while swiping over holes in the ground will prompt your protagonist to jump. And then there are the varying backdrops, which are operated, once again, via touch – this time a two fingered drag across the rear panel. These alternate scenes each augment you with different abilities, which when combined can be used to solve puzzles.
The most obvious of these has been shown in trailers, but it gets the point across. You’re faced with a chasm that you simply can’t cross, but at the bottom of it is a boat. Switch to the blue screen and tap on the back and it’ll start to rain, drenching the drop with water. Climb aboard the vessel and toggle to the windmill scene, and you’ll be able to power the boat by creating a breeze, allowing you to move to the other side of the ledge. The mechanics are built up gradually, culminating in the all-important ‘aha’ moments that all puzzle titles strive for. What’s more, they’re fairly intuitive, meaning that if you think that a solution’s correct, there’s a good chance that it is.
Alas, it’s all held back by the bothersome controls. The art direction is absolutely staggering, as is the creepy audio work – but it’s just not comfortable to play. Perhaps this is a Heavy Rain-esque metaphor, where the developer’s eager to replicate the anxiety of the protagonist courtesy of the manner in which you’re forced to awkwardly grip the console, but we suspect that that may be giving the game a little too much credit. The premise and puzzles certainly speak to us enough to remain intrigued by this exclusive outing, but we hope that Ovosonico takes another look at the actual inputs before drag-and-dropping this dark affair onto the PlayStation Store.
Are you still eager to take Murasaki Baby by the hand, or have our control qualms left you concerned about the state of the release? Hold on tight in the comments section below.