Format – Playstation Vita
A shade of purple or lilac, or a heroine of Japanese fables? Perhaps both. Murasaki Baby was one of a few stand-out games first seen at E3 in 2013, for Playstation Vita, and got plenty of people excited. I should know, I was one of them, soothed knowing that such interestingly beautiful things were on their way for the struggling platform.
Over a year later and it’s finally here, but mere months after Sony effectively shunned the Vita platform with their understandable preference for the PS4 instead.
Managing to get my hands on a demo version of Murasaki Baby at Rezzed earlier this year, I was thrilled, but ever so slightly concerned about the finished product, mainly for its longevity and if there was a reason to play again once you’ve beaten it once through.
So what is the game about? Murasaki Baby awakes, alone in a room, then begins a journey looking for her mother. So ends the plot, thinner than Destiny’s.
Now wait up there, Neil, that’s not fair! You’re right, and there is much more to Murasaki Baby’s story than that, but I’m not going to spoil it for you. What I will say is that it is more about the journey and how your actions help Murasaki Baby through the different situations she finds herself in.
The art and animation in Murasaki Baby is both delightfully surreal, cute and oddly creepy at the same time. Designed to feel like that reoccurring bad dream you have where dogs dance in tutu’s while they sing, “I did it my way.” Just me, then?
Where everything on the screen appears as an oddity, likely to make you feel a little uneasy ,the sound is fed to you in relation to how Murasaki Baby feels. Many tricks in the sound department appear to emphasize the situation. Wind, rain and babbling distant voices are just a few examples. While approaching darkened doorways, Baby will call out “Mummy?” and she cries and moans if something scary happens. So, without a doubt, you have to play with headphones on. This game relies on sound as much as any other mechanic.
Although, I sometimes felt that the background sounds and music were unrelated to the scene and didn’t impose any specific feeling on me. Sure, Murasaki Baby is atmospheric, but on occasion I’m not sure what atmosphere I was supposed to be in.
Controlling Murasaki Baby is simple enough in concept, you hold her hand and walk her left or right across the screen, interacting with objects in the foreground and manipulating the background to change the environment, allowing you to operate things differently. You’ll also need to do this while keeping her balloon – she carries with her at all times – from popping. If it does pop, you’ll have to start the section again.
If you’ve played the brilliant Escape Plan, you will have experienced a level of Playstation Vita control and handling that made you uncomfortable and amazed at the same time. In some ways, Murasaki Baby is very similar, but never as hard to handle. You might need to hold something on the screen on the front or rear touch pad while moving Baby around, and there are a few other things that require unique handling, but I really don’t want to ruin the surprise as these small details make the game what it is.
There is very little text anywhere and the screen isn’t cluttered with health bars, scores, maps or inventories. This is a good thing, of course, as I found the screen could become a little cluttered with my fat fingers whenever I needed to interact with the game, especially when I had to use more than one finger. But this isn’t a failing of Murasaki Baby, it’s just the problem with touch-screen gaming full-stop.
Murasaki Baby is short, but the experience lasts long enough and the characters you meet along the way are varied and odd enough to be memorable. But when Murasaki Baby ends, I don’t see any reason to play it again. Replayability is non-existent unless you like experiencing the same story and redoing the same things over and over. Each section has one route, puzzles have one solution, the story is the same and you cannot influence its outcome.
Having no timers, or collectables or scores removes the “game” element and makes it about you helping the character or characters on the screen. This is clearly the intention, but as a result Ovasonico have perhaps missed a trick where they could keep people playing their Murasaki Baby for longer.
I reluctantly refer back to Escape Plan being clutter-free and emotional while still retaining skill-based gaming and replayability, allowing you to show-off your times and scores with your friends. Instead of this, Ovasonico have placed all their emphasis and hope on the weight of the thin story and crazy unexplained character interactions, while attempting to influence how you feel with “boohoo” animations and ambient sound effects.
The Good Stuff
- Genuinely unique experience
- Cute but disturbing imagery
- Good pace and section restarts feel fair
The Bad Stuff
- Occasional touch-control bugs hamper gameplay
- Sound effects and background noise can sometimes feel unrelated to whats happening on-screen
- Overly simplistic puzzles for the most part
- Next to no replayability
Tucking into Murasaki Baby was really quite a delicious prospect and one I certainly relished while it lasted. The odd occasional touch control problem occurred, leaving me unsure as to whether the game wasn’t functioning properly or if it was me not resolving the puzzle correctly. When the balloon popped – which it does fairly often if you’re not careful – I didn’t feel overly frustrated by restart points as they were fairly close to where the pop occurred, which keeps everything moving forward.
I also had an auto-save issue after leaving Murasaki baby in stand-by. I ignored and carried on playing, but a subsequent crash resulted in having to start again from an earlier save. I wasn’t doing anything odd with my PS Vita, just utilising the functionality of the device as I ahve with so many other games. I also had a balloon pop section restart that resulted in a glitch where I had to try to get around something that had already been triggered, I believe this was an unintentional side effect. So the odd bug exists in the current code, but this may not affect you when you play it, just play it in one sitting and don’t let the balloon pop…
While you hold Murasaki Baby’s hand, the game doesn’t really hold yours. There are a few occasions where something is explained with small in-play animations, showing you the action that needs to be performed, but that is about it. You are, for the most part, left to work things out for yourself. This is no bad thing, of course, but it can feel like a cheap way to make out the game is intelligent and thought-provoking, when really it’s just they haven’t told you how to play. Though perhaps that’s all part of Murasaki Baby’s charm.
To summarise, I enjoyed Murasaki Baby and while there are a few negatives, I recommend you play it. The experience feels unique for the most part and Ovosonico have managed to use the touch features of the Vita to good effect. Just don’t expect any longevity, Murasaki Baby is a play-once-let-your-friends-try game.
Technical Competency – 7/10
Graphic Quality – 8/10
Entertainment Value – 7/10
Sound Quality – 6/10
Network Stability – N/A