Murasaki Baby made this typically composed critic want to toss his figurative toys out of the pram, and that’s never a good sign. Ovosonico’s long in production PlayStation Vita exclusive whisks you away from the hustle and bustle of the real world to a nightmarish fantasy land, where you must guide a wailing infant and her purple balloon through all manner of strange scenes. Sadly, the only thing disturbing about this unusual outing is the game itself, as it can be hell to play at points.
While the package may boast that it takes full advantage of its parent platform’s various input interfaces, this is actually its biggest flaw, as you’ll need to be a contortionist with additional appendages in order to truly appreciate its puzzles. Swiping the rear touchpad with two fingers allows you to change backdrops, with each of these unlocking unique abilities. For example, one screen lets you wield electricity, while another plays a funky chiptune track.
It’s toggling between these powers that makes up much of the game, as you, for example, summon a strong breeze in order to sail across a murky estuary, or distract a lumbering Raving Rabbid with disco tunes and television screens. These challenges grow in complexity as you progress, eventually enabling you to turn the handheld upside down in order to drain toxic lakes and navigate beyond deathly chasms.
And it would be clever, if it wasn’t such a chore to play. In order to shepherd your abnormal avatar through the world, you’ll need to drag her by one of her spindly arms. Frustratingly, her reluctance to move when you tell her to leads to unintentional errors, as she feels the weight of a tossed out tooth on her wiry noggin or the back hand of a strange otherworldly being that best resembles a Dwarf Gekko from the Metal Gear Solid series.
The idea is to convey the character’s fear, but unlike in ICO where Yorda’s subtle heartbeat actually complements the experience, the hand holding mechanic just feels frustrating here. It doesn’t help that you have to keep your finger on the display at all times, too, as it obscures a lot of screen estate – and means that you’ll often find yourself using an additional finger to off safety pin opponents, while simultaneously playing with the rear touchpad with your free hand.
Factor in the areas where you have to rotate the entire console as well, and you’ll eventually find yourself losing grip of the system itself. It’s a shame because, while the puzzles aren’t ever especially difficult, there are a handful of ‘a-ha’ moments scattered throughout the woefully short campaign, which proves that the developer had some good ideas. Unfortunately, completing them becomes a test in dexterity rather than your mental strength.
At least the art design fares better; a fusion of Tim Burton, the appropriately named Edward Gorey, and the alternative section of a teenage girls’ high street clothing store, it really pops on the Vita’s signature screen. Pencil lines add a little shading to many of the monochrome objects, while vivid colours are used in the background to complete the eerie atmosphere. This creepy vibe is furthered by the audio, which in one area plays samples from old movies to set the scene.
It’s a tonally inconsistent game, but that’s part of the appeal from a presentation perspective. It’s just a shame that there isn’t a little more regularity to the gameplay, as it feels like a compilation of proof of concept demos at times, rather than a real finished product. For example, about halfway through you’ll be tasked with riding a pram across a Trials Fusion-esque race course, but the sequence is never expanded upon or ever revisited again.
And when you prematurely reach the Akira Yamaoka scored credits at the end, you’ll find yourself pondering what you’ve actually just played. There’s probably a message hidden somewhere deep beneath the title’s surface, but it’s all just a little too odd and infuriating to say anything meaningful at all. We daresay that people will argue that we just don’t ‘get’ it, but the game’s real problem is that it doesn’t ever really make you want to understand it.
Murasaki Baby is a textbook example of style over substance. The game’s twisted fantasy world certainly looks the part, but its touch-based puzzles are the real nightmare at times. There are some clever moments here, but they’re undone by atrocious controls. Nobody puts Baby in a corner – but on this evidence, perhaps they should.