Platform: PlayStation Vita
How much influence should art and music have in the critique of a game where the gameplay fails to shine? Trying to find an answer to this question is the dilemma I found myself in when I sat down to review Murasaki Baby.
In Murasaki Baby, you’re tasked with leading a little girl, known simply as Baby, through a variety of levels where your main goal is to protect her and the purple balloon she carries. To do this you’ll have to use the Vita’s touchscreen to “hold” her hand and pull her in the direction you want her to go. As you progress, you’ll unlock new backgrounds that will have a significant impact on the gameplay. You’re able to cycle through these backgrounds by swiping the back touchpad and each one is a specific color, so finding the one you’re looking for is always easy. Every background will have a different effect on the environment, other creatures, or Baby. For instance, a light blue background will create a snow storm that freezes certain areas in the environment, whereas a dark blue background will allow you to manipulate lightning. Each time a new background is introduced, learning how to implement it is always very intuitive. But knowing is only half the battle, actually using them effectively is another story entirely.
Murasaki Baby is almost completely controlled through the Vita’s front and rear touchscreens and this is where a majority of its problems lie. As with almost every “touch” game I’ve ever played, I found the controls to be very finicky and hit-and-miss. Sometimes it took me multiple attempts just get Baby to follow my orders and in some cases that was the difference between life and death. The finicky controls were bad enough, but the awkward position I found my hands in trying to solve some of the puzzles in Murasaki Baby were even worse. When you’re leading baby, if you use your right hand (comfortably), at times your hand will almost entirely cover the path ahead, so you have to keep stopping just to see what’s coming. On top of that sometimes you need to control both Baby and her balloon. Trying to hold the Vita and manipulate two areas of the touchscreen (and sometimes even a third area on the rear touchpad) can be an uncomfortable endeavor.
While the controls left much to be desired in most cases, I found the overall aesthetic of Murasaki Baby to be both charming and a bit disturbing. Following the art style of Edward Gorey, Murasaki Baby features some twisted and bizarre creatures throughout and always had me curious what I’d run into next. For those unfamiliar with Gorey, you might be able to draw slight comparisons to some of Tim Burton’s work. Each character I came across mostly spoke in gibberish, but they were still able to convey many emotions and it really helped to flesh out the experience. You’ll actually feel something for some of these little creatures, whether it be compassion, anger, or sorrow. The music in Murasaki Baby is also one of its highlights. Throughout it sets the mood perfectly, while never being overbearing. It definitely adds to the creepy nature that the art lends itself to. The final song played during the credits is almost worth the price of admission alone.
One last thing that should be mentioned is Murasaki Baby’s length. If you’re looking for a long, in-depth experience, you should probably look elsewhere. You’ll be lucky to get two hours of gameplay out of Murasaki Baby and you know, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. It’s short, linear, and to the point. While it may have been nice to see some areas more fleshed out, the nature of touch controls doesn’t lend itself well to long gaming experiences, especially the way Murasaki Baby handles them.
Murasaki Baby isn’t a broken game by any means, but I did find the controls to be a little too finicky for my tastes. It does offer up some unique gameplay, but some of it is so awkward that I found myself wishing I could just control Baby with actual buttons. If you can look past the touch controls or don’t have a problem with them to begin with, you’ll find a beautifully creepy experience with a bit of a twist ending and some fantastic art and music. If you’re one of the many who probably has Murasaki Baby laying around thanks to your PlayStation Plus subscription, it’s definitely worth a look. If you don’t already own it, I can’t fully recommend actually purchasing it, especially at its current $14.99 price tag.