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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Murasaki Baby (PS Vita)

I will say that the Playstation Vita and its library of unique games has continued to be a delight in the year and a half since I bought it. In combination with a Playstation Plus subscription, you end up with a collection of games that are delightful, exciting, fun, and some of them exclusive to the platform with experiences you can't get anywhere else.

Murasaki Baby was on this month's PS Plus subscription, and I picked it up not expecting to have it just sit on my Vita for an almost continual playthrough. It's billed as a puzzle/platformer, and I do extremely poorly on puzzle games, but this one is so good and exceptional in design, atmosphere, and playability.

You play a child's going through her nightmare searching for her mommy. She's holding on to a purple balloon, which if lost or burst, ends the sequence and restarts you at a checkpoint. The game eschews conventional game controls, relying only on the front and rear touchscreen. It also ignores the game conventions of having a tutorial, dumping you into the game and expecting you to figure out the very simple controls. Tugging on the child or the balloon on the touchscreen moves them. Swiping on the rear touchscreen swipes between backgrounds on the playfield, and tapping on the rear touchscreen activates the play mode. On occasion you might have to turn the Vita physically, and in one stage you use the joystick controls.

Each puzzle inside the game is extremely logical: you usually pick a background, and then tap on it to activate, and then swipe to a different background to proceed. Each mode does something interesting, and the puzzles aren't repetitious, though they do build up, so by the end of each "level", you're swiping between 3-4 different backgrounds, activating them in a particular sequence, while also moving the character and/or the balloon to overcome the challenge. Some puzzles are time/action oriented, but the time pressure is never so prevalent as to be frantic. This is a good thing, as touch controls aren't either precise or super-responsive, so frantic time pressure is likely to lead to frustration.

The art and music are also quirkly, befitting the game. The music, in particular, is so atmospheric that the game begs to be played with headphones on.

The negatives of the game include the rather floaty and occasionally unresponsive controls (which sometimes lead to a cheap death). I also encountered a bug halfway through the game where it suddenly failed to save. It turned out that I hadn't installed the latest version of the game. Doing that fixed the problem. Some might consider the game a bit short (how long to beat estimates game play time at 2.5 hours, which sounds about right), but I'd much rather have an excellent short game than a long game padded with repetition and frustration.

All in all, an excellent game that fully justifies its play time. Recommended!

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