Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pocket Review - Murasaki Baby

Artistry and creative design can go a long way toward creating a unique, memorable experience, but without solid execution of that design, none of the other aspects will matter. Such is the case with Murasaki Baby, a PlayStation Vita game that features some creative content, but does not offer a control scheme to match. This puzzle platformer features a lovely, colorful world in which you must lead a young child across nightmarish landscapes using the Vita's touch screens. While the game offers some clever puzzles throughout, the execution is where everything falls apart.

While leading this young girl through the world, players must use the touch screen to guide her as if holding her hand. You tap and hold the screen nearby to lead her in the direction you want to go. If you don't tap within her range she can't grab hold, and you have to be careful not to pull her along too fast or she'll fall down and have to take a moment to recover. This handholding process is supposed to help build an emotional bond between you and the little girl, but thanks to finicky touch response and the awkward way you have to hold the system, it just ends up causing hand cramps instead.

While progressing through each stage, the little girl carries a purple balloon which you must protect. Sometimes you'll have to guide her under a growth of thorns with one finger while holding her balloon out of the way with another. Other times something might scare the girl and she'll let go of the balloon, forcing you to grab it and slide it back to her before it pops. These are just a few of the ways to earn a game over.

Each stage offers a variety of additional obstacles to overcome and also introduces the background changing mechanic. Players will encounter other characters in the world who are also carrying colored balloons. Using your finger you must pop these balloons, at which time the back touch screen can be swiped to change the background color. This open a new gameplay function such as tapping the back panel while on the stormy background in order to make it rain. One example of how this is used is in one an area where making it rain will cause the water to rise, lifting a boat up for the baby to jump into. Once on the boat, you'll have to quickly swipe again to change to the windy background and tap the rear screen repeatedly to cause the wind to blow the boat across before the water recedes. More puzzling situations arise throughout.

New levels offers a new set of abilities, each allowing for more and more challenging tasks. One unique ability is the snowy background which freezes the area, and if you let it go on too long the balloon will shatter. Another skill transforms the balloon into a stone, causing it to smash the ground which can help lower platforms or act as an anchor in windy areas. There's even one power that reverses gravity and will have you flipping the Vita upside down and back again. The things you'll have to do to complete these stages are often very creative, but being forced to use the touch screen controls end up marring the experience due to imprecise touch responses.

Along with the controls being a pain to deal with, the way the game handles checkpoints also ends up being a point of contention. Sometimes checkpoints are well-placed and other times you're taken back way further than seems reasonable, but you never know which it will be until you fail. There's also no noticeable indicator of when the game's been saved or not, and there's not even a menu screen allowing you to quit and save. This oddity makes it difficult to know when you can easily take a break from the game without losing your progress.

By the end of the few hours it took to complete Murasaki Baby, I sadly had not developed the emotional attachment to the young girl that the developers had sought to bring about. The frustration of dealing with the inaccurate touch screen controls made actually playing the game too distracting for me to care what happened to her. I don't have a good suggestion for how best to fix the controls in this game, but the finger twister I had to play on some of these stages was just too much, especially when the game didn't respond to what I was trying to do or my fingers were blocking the screen and I couldn't see what was going on. There's a great deal of creativity poured into the game's artistic design and the puzzle stages are often clever, but the overall execution just doesn't work.

Recommended? This game has a unique art design and very creative stages, but the painful touch controls make it hard to recommend.
Enjoyed By? If you like puzzle platformers and don't mind fighting the awkward touch controls, give it a shot.

This game was played on Vita via a PSN code provided by the publisher.

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