UPDATE: Originally, our review claimed in error that Silent Hill composer, Akira Yamaoka did the entire soundtrack of Murasaki Baby. We’ve received clarification that he only contributed the main theme song, “Murasaki Baby” however. Thus, we have altered the text in question to reflect this new information. Thanks to developer, Ovosonico for clarifying this for us!
Murasaki Baby is one of the most high-profile PlayStation Store releases of this year that is exclusive to PlayStation Vita, and like several other high-quality indies released for Sony’s handheld, it’s as strangely charming as it is undeniably creepy. If nothing else though, the game is certainly memorable, particularly given its rather ambitious use of the unique PlayStation Vita capabilities.
Published directly by Sony themselves, Murasaki Baby also happens to be the first development effort of indie studio, Ovosonico, an outfit based just outside of Milan, Italy. It was founded by former Grasshopper Manufacture director, Massimo Guarini, who worked on Killer7, No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned. Guarini even managed a collaboration with Silent Hill series composer, Akira Yamaoka, whom he also worked on Shadows of the Damned with, for Murasaki Baby.
Like many first-time indies, Murasaki Baby is a modest effort that’s over quickly, and doesn’t have much in the way of replay value. Despite this however, the imagination behind the game is unquestionable, and it still stands as a fantastic showcase of the kind of incredible gameplay experiences that are only possible on PS Vita, when some bold developers tailor a game for Sony’s handheld. Even if the ambitious control scheme can be a tad finicky at times, there’s no denying that Murasaki Baby is one of the best uses of the PS Vita technology in quite some time.
Murasaki Baby boasts a hand-drawn sketch style with colour-tinted surrealist paint backgrounds. It unfolds like a twisted version of a childrens’ colouring book, combined with a dreamscape-like design that makes everything feel oddly inviting, in spite of its unhinged appearance.
In a compelling way, Murasaki Baby helps the player see a twisted world through the eyes of a young child, perhaps unaware of most of the danger that this mysterious landscape actually holds. Even player character, Baby herself, who has a big pair of eyes underneath eyebrows that open like a mouth on her forehead, seems much more charming than she has any right to.
The game is definitely more enjoyable when you don’t know what to expect, so I won’t go into too much detail about some of the art design here, but rest assured that it’s very imaginative and unique. Everything looks very sharp and colourful on the PS Vita’s screen as well, with heavy inking and shading to add a sense of dread to a world that could just as easily be interpreted as benign and misunderstood.
It’s better when you don’t have all of the answers regarding the game’s setting though. Your imagination can interpret Baby’s bizarre quest however you want to. To some, it will be an innocent playground of interesting things, while to others, it will be an unsettling labyrinth of lost innocence.
Either way though, it’s an impressive showcase of great art direction for a PS Vita game!
There isn’t much in the way of music in the ambience-heavy Murasaki Baby, which adds to the unsettling mystery of the experience quite nicely. There is a theme song contributed by Silent Hill composer, Akira Yamaoka, which plays over the credits most notably, and is very nicely reminiscent of the punk rock-style music from Shadows of the Damned.
Sound effects in the game feel punchy and overwhelming, echoing them sounding through the ears of a confused child. The sensory overload is especially prevalent if you plug in a pair of headphones, which brings you into Baby’s world with powerful effectiveness. Even considering that it’s a handheld game, Murasaki Baby achieves an incredible amount of atmosphere with its sound cues, and playing with a pair of headphones plugged in is definitely the best way to experience the game to its full effect!
While there’s no actual voice acting in the game, Baby herself has a few voice clips, along with a handful of other characters. Like the rest of the game, they’re an interesting mix of cute innocence and monstrous fright, mostly being gibberish, beyond the odd instance of Baby saying, “Mommy?” It’s nightmare fuel to an extent, but nonetheless, it makes your protagonist seem oblivious to her own potential scariness, being as much a part of a world of horrors as anything else she seems to stumble on to.
Murasaki Baby may be endlessly interpretive, but its overarching objective is extremely simple; Baby wants her Mommy.
Thus, the whole game is simply a side-scrolling puzzle game whereupon players must lead Baby around a mysterious and rather terrifying landscape, in an effort to reunite her with her lost mother. To do this, you’ll need to not only steer her around hazardous environments and monstrous threats, but also protect her security object, a purple heart-shaped balloon. If the balloon ever pops, Baby will cry and be overwhelmed by her environment, kicking you back to the previous checkpoint.
With the exception of one unique area of the game that incorporates the analog sticks, the entirety of Murasaki Baby is controlled with the touch screen and rear touch pad as well, never once incorporating any buttons. Using their fingers, players must not only lead Baby gently by the arm (you can pull her arm to make her move faster, but you risk her slipping and falling if you do), but also occasionally move her balloon around prickly thorns and other things that may pop it.
Things start out simply this way, but it’s not long before you must also learn to alter the surrealist backgrounds to keep proceeding ahead. As you encounter other balloons, and pop them with your finger, you’ll unlock new coloured backgrounds that you can flip between by swiping your finger along the rear touch pad. You then tap the rear touch pad to trigger an event that may help you proceed when you can’t pass any further. A background of televisions may distract a character that Baby finds too scary to move past for example, while another may freeze a body of water that stands in Baby’s way. One background later in the game even incorporates the Vita’s motion sensors, having you tip your Vita upside-down to reverse gravity and place Baby on the ceiling to navigate obstacles.
Most of the time, the touch and motion controls work pretty consistently too. There are times where trying to move Baby or her balloon don’t work as responsively as they should, particularly during the game’s more challenging and time-sensitive sequences, but that’s hardly a dealbreaker. Given that you have infinite lives and generous checkpoints anyway, any frustrating and unfair defeats shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Again, every use of the PS Vita technology is very clever and imaginative, even if the game never becomes that complicated. Even earning every last trophy (all of which are hidden trophies) is simply done by playing through the story normally, and then being sure to sit through the credits all the way.
This is perhaps the main drawback to what is otherwise a fantastic PS Vita indie; It’s not that deep or lengthy. Just about anyone can finish the game in a mere 3-4 hours, including the credits, which will net you the complete trophy roster, and leave you with nothing else to do. For $14.99, that may seem a bit lacking as a package, especially when the PS Vita’s PlayStation Store has no shortage of deeper, lengthier and more replayable games for around that same price.
As a charming oddity and an interesting use of the handheld’s technology however, Murasaki Baby is definitely among the most satisfying PS Vita-exclusive indie games to come along in quite some time, even if you may want to grab it at a discount during a PlayStation Store sale.
Murasaki Baby is a bite-sized indie project that could have used more depth and replayability, but what is here is still among the best indie game design that the PS Vita has seen yet. That’s why it’s so disappointing that there just isn’t more of it. When all is said and done, you’ll long for more of the grotesque, memorable visuals and creative, clever gameplay.
It’s no doubt indicative of a small indie studio delivering their first effort, but even if it’s short-lived, Murasaki Baby presents plenty of promise for new indie developer, Ovosonico. It’s more of an eccentric curiosity than a full-blown game experience, but if you don’t mind the $14.99 price and considerable brevity, Murasaki Baby is absolutely worth adding to your PS Vita downloads.
Here’s hoping that Ovosonico thinks a little bigger with their next PS Vita project though.
Murasaki Baby is disappointingly short-lived, but its striking animation and clever touch-driven gameplay represent some of the best PS Vita indie design to come along in a while!