Within the list of more than fifty titles for PS Vita presented at E3 2014, Murasaki Baby, despite being unveiled a year ago at Gamescom, was among those that drew the most attention. Perhaps that's due to its exclusivity to Sony's handheld, or because it's Shadows of the Damned's director Massimo Guarini's new studio's first effort, or maybe it's just it has that something that makes it really different. Anyway, the fact is that many marked mid-September as the time to dust off our PS Vitas again.
Murasaki Baby's Italian director already has an interesting track record in the industry, highlighted by his work with Suda51 and Shinji Mikami. Therefore, it's not unexpected that many have kept an eye on his first creation as an independent developer, freed from the confines of working with major studios, and ready to try new things. Ovosonico, the development studio, has managed to infuse true charisma into its debut title.
This "Purple Baby" game (apparently referring to the balloon) tells the story of Baby. Our little hero wakes up alone in her room and we must literally take her by the hand and deliver her into the arms of her missing mother. However, the road is full of obstacles to overcome, and unknown strangers as well.
The game is conceived as something akin to a side-scrolling platformer, but much calmer and with cleaner stages obstacle-wise. Yes, you have to go up and down, forward and back, but mostly what really matters is how you solve the small puzzles that block your way. To do this, Baby can make use of the different 'powers' that gradually show up, some physics-based (we found some similarities to Quantum Conundrum here), and others which are way more bizarre, that allow us to overcome the challenges as they arise. Our goal is that Baby and the balloon she's carrying should reach the next area intact, taking into account that, every now and then, Baby will move on her own and we must interact with other elements of the environment.
Ovosonico's work is specifically designed to leverage the benefits of the PS Vita. So much so that it basically ignores the usual control scheme and goes all in with the two touch surfaces and motion controls. This is a wise choice as the adventure feels more inclusive for the player, who feels much more of a participant in what happens in the game as a result. Baby is constantly reacting to the way we move her around, and looking at us every now and then; a glance that breaks the fourth wall.
However, in some cases, this control scheme isn't the most ergonomically friendly. More than once you have to perform simultaneous actions or, alternatively, execute moves that demand precise timing. If, for these actions, you need to swipe the finger across the rear touchpad, then tilt the handheld, and after that work with the front touch screen, it can be easy to get confused and make mistakes. In other words, the true difficulty of the game lies in how it makes us play. If every action was resolved with traditional buttons, Murasaki Baby would almost be a walk in the park.
The artistic design and musical composition are, undoubtedly, the main strengths of the game. The world created by Ovosonico exudes personality. With a somewhat sinister touch, reminiscent of Tim Burton's style, along with the tenderness of Baby in each of her actions, the team has managed to create the most fitting world for the story that they want to tell.
The audio has been perfectly chosen for each situation and event. Not surprising when you consider that the best part of Shadows of the Damned was this very same feature, showing that Guarini has great respect and takes care when it comes to musical accompaniment. We recommend using headphones to enjoy this aspect of the game to its fullest extent, during the (roughly) single hour the adventure lasts. It's a length we don't consider as an issue; as recent titles like Gone Home or Monument Valley have proven, brevity doesn't have to lessen the impact a game can make.
The visual quality of the game would be flawless if it wasn't for those small, but annoying, jagged edges on Baby's arm every time you drag it. However, apart from this minor issue, this is one of the most interesting efforts to have made an appearance on Sony's handheld. With a virtually nonexistent interface, Murasaki Baby has been made for us to immerse ourselves in its world and interact with it in a unique way. Time to dust off your Vita.