To understand why Murasaki Baby is so great, you have to understand that it goes beyond being an eldritch gothic adventure/puzzle game. Murasaki Baby is something I almost hate using a label for, because said label has become a buzzword synonymous with a gaming scenario many players have been burned and let down by. Still, the word fits, and I assure you that in this particular situation that word is synonymous with joy, love, fear, trepidation, pain, humor, devotion and triumph. All in a good way.
Murasaki Baby is, in a word, an experience.
Keep reading; we’re not talking experience as in you stare at artsy set pieces that do nothing for fifteen minutes trying to comprehend why you just spent $15 to $60 on this game. No, Murasaki Baby is an experience in that the time you spend with Baby transcends what can simply be called a game, and becomes so much more.
Murasaki Baby is a game about an adorable little ragamuffin with an upside down head lost and alone in a terrifying nightmare world. The story is conveyed via actions rather than words as you try to lead baby throufh four increasing more frightening environments. As you journey with baby, you’ll gain new powers unique to each world and each otherworldly denizen as you try to help Baby find her way to her derelict mother.
The Good: Gorgeous Graphics
Murasaki Baby, the game not just the protagonist, looks like she sprang forth from the imaginations of Tim Burton and Roman Dirge. In the game world you will see everything from strange people with film reel heads to gigantic sweet potato lumps with bulging misshapen teeth. The graphics are all very crisp and are lovingly hand drawn. The backgrounds range from intense, angry worlds of crimson clouds and monstrous jack in the boxes (jacks in boxes? jacks in the box?) to gentle rolling hills of amber and vermillion.
Everything looks smooth, crisp and very lovingly drawn. This is a title that definitely pops on the PS Vita’s screen whether you’re using an AMOLED model or one of the new LCD ones.
The Good: Innovative Gameplay
I kind of hate the rear track pad. I don’t hate that it’s rarely used in an intuitive manner, I hate that anytime a game uses it I have to awkwardly hold my Vita with the tips of my fingers by the rubber backs on either side trying not to accidentally trigger something I desperately don’t want to have happen (I’m looking at you Borderlands 2!). Likewise, I’m not a huge fan of touch screen for touch screen’s sake. I think they’re both effective tools when used correctly, I just rarely feel that they’re used correctly.
Murasaki Baby is controlled entirely with the front and rear touch pads, and I love it.
A game that could have only been realized with the option to use both (sure they could have used face buttons, but so much of the game’s magic, whimsy and emotional connection would have been lost if so), Murasaki Baby has you utilizing a number of different powers that you gain from various balloons in order to help Baby find her way. You’ll move Baby along by holding her (stretchy armed) hand and guiding her where you want her to go, and she’ll snatch that hand right away and tremble and whimper fearfully if you’re trying to take her someplace scary or bad.
You’ll primarily use the touch screen to hold Baby’s hand and walk with her, and occasionally you’ll use it to beat away the safety pins that flit about hoping to pop Baby’s balloon. Her balloon function not unlike Linus’ security blanket, and Baby will descend into terrified sobs if she loses it. If it pops, no tantrum, no crying, she simply sits on the ground and drops her head in absolute abject defeat.
Using the powers granted to you by the rear touch pad, you can slide your finger to change to one of four different backgrounds. Each background will net you different powers in different worlds. Some will allow you to make it rain so you can create a river to float baby safely across, and others will give you lighting that you can use to trigger different momentum mechanisms.
On rare occasions I found myself having to fight with the controls as it seems that the game has some touch detection issues when multiple objects are in the vicinity of one another, but overall I found I never felt the urge to chuck my Vita at a wall while playing.
Baby reacts differently to every background. The red jack in the box scenery frightens her and causes her to lag behind slowly, while the calming green makes her happy and safe. Sometimes you have to figure out what’s best; not having a time sensitive power at your disposal in order to make baby move a bit faster, or sacrificing speed for pre-preparation.
The Good: The Other Citizens
Over time you’ll run into the antagonist of each world. Antagonist may not be the right word, but to use any other would spoil quite a lot of your experience. I found each person chasing after baby to be not unlike the beings that stalk you in a Clock Tower title, except not all of them want to harm you.
Each antagonist, stalker, follower, whatever you want to call them, has a different hang up. As you view Baby’s interactions with them, some indirectly hindering her and others meaning well but doing great harm, you begin to understand and form a story in your head as to why these people are the way you are.
Each story that unfolds enriches the game experience, and the way that Baby reacts to each individual will really speak volumes to the ragamuffin’s character.
I found on more than one occasion I held my breath as I led Baby along, deeply concerned for her well-being and what might happen around the next bend. Every character feels very fleshed out and fully realized thanks in large part to the great detail of their actions, even without there being a single line of dialogue in this game beyond Baby calling out for her mother.
The Good: A Heartwarming Tale With a Modicum of Closure
I’m not going to be one of those dreadful people who spoils crucial plot points or ending details in the middle of the body of a review, but I will say that if you’re worried that you’re going to get an experience that leaves you wanting you can cast those fears aside. Murasaki Baby does follow the “Buh wha haaaaappened?” style of storytelling that most artsy independent titles do, but I feel like the story, the journey and the ending are clear enough that you can draw a strong and solid conclusion without being beaten over the head with a blunt script. I found that while I enjoyed the mechanics of games like Limbo, I am more than a little tired of the independent game that leads you on an exceedingly interesting buildup, and then just ends with confusing suddenness all in the name of art.
In my novels I like to get whimsical and artsy, but as my editor says “Sometimes you have to have a little closure. After all, it does you no good to weave a beautiful tale if no one understands it.”
From start to finish Murasaki Baby will take you about two hours to beat, if that. You can snag the game for around $15 depending on if you’re Playstation Plus (lower) or not (that amount). I felt it was exceedingly worth the price of entry. Everything, from watching Baby dance an excited jig each time we found a door to the way she proudly breaks off on her own when she finds something she can do all by herself. Everything, from sheltering her from jerks who are trying to break her balloon to protecting her from a well-meaning stalker. Everything, comforting her when the darkness scares her to simply reaching out and letting her know she’s not alone…
You don’t have to be a parent to understand this game, but to love and care for a child certainly enhances the experience. And, I honestly would have paid considerably more for the experience this game delivered.
Murasaki Baby by Ovosonico is exclusive to the Playstation Vita system on the Playstation Network. Do yourself a favor and pick it up; there’s an awful lot to love in this small, lovingly crafted package.