I’ve not actually played that many games on my PSVita, to be perfectly honest. Perhaps it’s because I don’t use public transport enough, or simply because I’m not interested in the idea of playing console-styled games on a handheld device. Whatever the reason though, I still actively look for those unique games that really highlight the benefits of the platform. Murasaki Baby was one such game as it immediately demanded my attention with its bizarre visual style; not to mention the fact that famed composer, Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill) was going to be involved in the project somehow.
Murasaki Baby tells the story of a little girl, simply referred to as Baby, who wakes up in a strange world that’s populated with the fears and fantasies of children. There is no explanation as to how she got to this place, so all we really know is that she appears to be searching for her “mummy.” There is no spoken dialogue or written context beyond this single word, but that does not mean there isn’t a compelling narrative to uncover, either. Immediately, players will notice that Baby carries around a purple heart-shaped balloon wherever she goes, which, if popped, will send the player back to the last checkpoint. It’s also important to clarify that there are a lot of different metaphors used in Murasaki Baby, so you will need to look a little more closely than most games if you want to uncover its message.
With each stage, players will discover a different child whose fears and fantasies have been manifested into the world around them. There are four children in total, with each world being filled with visual designs and puzzle mechanics to suit each one. The issues themselves are up for interpretation, but there is also a clear sense of innocence to each problem which I think most people should be able to relate with in some way. Often, you’ll see pictures on the walls during the “in-between” stages depicting what lead to each problem, with the fantasy world being more of a physical manifestation. Overall, I thought the exposition was just clever enough to deliver the message without alienating a wider audience not used to in-direct narrative. It’s not overwhelmingly “deep,” but it is genuine and I enjoyed it for that.
At its core, Murasaki Baby is primarily a game about solving puzzles; which is definitely one of its creative strengths in my opinion. The biggest draw of the game is that the player must use their finger to guide Baby by the hand in order to move her anywhere, which adds a physical level of emotional attachment between the player and the child. It’s also a positive example of when touch mechanics don’t simply serve a novel purpose, but help to reinforce the narrative. In addition, you also have the ability to move her balloon around to keep it safe, while also interacting with the world through different touch mechanics. The puzzle design is actually quite clever as players are given the ability to slide between different backgrounds which are collected throughout each stage, and provide varying world-altering effects.
What’s special about this backdrop mechanic is that there are so many of them, despite the game being only four hours long. Basically, this means that there is always something new to discover, as well as new ways for the player to interact with the world. For example, one backdrop might cause it to rain, putting out fire or filling up a lake for a boat. Whereas another might summon a gust of wind to help blow smoke away or get rid of some pesky beasties that might pop Baby’s balloon. It’s great explorative design, and some of the most enjoyable puzzles I’ve played in a long while; even if they’re not really difficult. What lets the game down, however, is that it tries too hard to utilise the Vita touch functionality – to the point where you’ll often feel physically uncomfortable playing it. Using both the front and rear-touchpad regularly for gameplay, which often requires two hands on the front screen, will grow frustrating quickly. It would have been perfectly fine to use a button to control the backdrops instead of swiping/tapping the rear-pad.
Where Murasaki Baby stands out as truly ingenious is in its visual design, which is quite simply unforgettable. At first you might be asking why Baby has an upside down face and razor sharp teeth? My assumption is that it could be a metaphor representing her entire world being turned upside down, but I’m not entirely sure. It’s actually a recurring theme in the design of all the characters, and it just fits perfectly with the rest of the bizarre universe she’s trapped in. What makes it pop, though, is how the core artistic design resembles a sketchbook drawing with lots of rough monochrome lines. This cold foundation is also what makes the bold use of additional colours so vibrant. From her balloon, to the different backgrounds, it’s an art style that is both strange and unbelievably attractive at the same time.
In truth, I was actually most excited for the music and sound design; based on my initial impressions. It’s very good too, so I recommend playing with your headphones plugged in. The soundtrack certainly fits well with the game at almost every turn, but it was the weird and subtle sound design choices I liked the most. In fact, the entire playthrough I was convinced it was just more genius from Akira Yamaoka, but by the credits I learned that his involvement was actually very minor. Needless to say, I was impressed, so I intend to keep a closer eye on the team at Ovosonico.
Murasaki Baby is a game that forcibly grabs your attention with its bizarre visual style, and then steals your heart with it’s endearing cast of characters. It’s great that so much can be said with so little, providing a surreal look into the fears and fantasies of children. At its heart, it’s a puzzle game that’s driven by a variety of interesting mechanics to ensure it never suffers from too much repetition. In many ways, the use of touch does add an interesting emotional layer to the experience, but it also goes too far; making it physically uncomfortable to play at times. It’s not overly difficult, but it is a lot of fun and is bound to leave a wonderfully twisted upside-down impression on you that you won’t quickly forget.
Please Note: This review was based on the PS Vita version of the game, and was provided to us by the publisher for the purpose of review.