Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of a young child? How do they see our world and understand things? How do they see and process fear? Does their imagination run as wild as ours does as adults?
Murasaki Baby places you into the depths of the naive imagination of Baby, a lost little girl who wants nothing more than to find her mummy. From the creative team at Ovosonico, an auspicious studio within the Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Europe family, Murasaki Baby is directed by industry veteran Massimo Guarini (No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned).
First impression of the game was, well, less than spectacular. Baby is… different, in her appearance, which resulted in a less than fascinated resting face during my first 5-10 minutes. In fact it took me until about ¾ of the way through Murasaki Baby until I finally began to enjoy the game to its full extent in what it offered me as a player. I am however glad I persevered until the end.
If there ever was a children’s book about nightmares and how to cope with them, penned by Tim Burton whilst illustrated by Edward Gorey – Murasaki Baby would be that book. Baby is a twisted little girl with adorable curls, huge round eyes and a toothy grin that sits above her eyes, just under her hairline. And she loves her heart shaped balloon. L.O.V.E.S. Fellow characters and enemies in the game are equally as unique. “Victorian kawaii goth” would be my three words of choice to describe the art style; dark, grungy black and white sketches of the characters and morbid world in the foreground, background detailing the different moods and ways you can help little Baby out, washed over in single colours. It’s a stunning game to look at and the detail in creating unique visuals is evident in every single screen.
Understanding and becoming articulate with the control system early on is crucial in one’s enjoyment of Murasaki Baby. Baby is controlled by you grabbing her hand via the touch screen with your finger and essentially dragging her around, as you would with a small child in real life (that’s how shopping as a parent works, right?). Be careful though – pull her along too fast and she’ll let go or trip (aww, poor Baby!), but slowly lead her along and all of a sudden you’re playing this at midnight when you started at 9am. This gets very tiresome very quickly, especially with someone like myself who is not exactly “keen” on overly innovative control use.
The back touch screen acts like a selection wheel when choosing how to assist little Baby through her nightmarish thoughts – swiping left or right with a single digit changes between the different coloured backgrounds (moods) and a gentle tap activates their assorted abilities. Each chapter has different background/moods than the previous (unlocked as you come across other characters with different coloured balloons which you so rudely burst), so you are continuously learning new things. For example – one of the earlier ways to help Baby involves being able to start rain and flood certain areas to assist her.
Other miscellaneous controls involve reuniting Baby and her beloved heart balloon when it floats off by simply dragging it back into her hands, moving her balloon around so that it does not hit sharp objects and occasionally tapping an enemy or two, or controlling a platform. While it might all sound seemingly simple, it can get incredibly frustrating very quick as you end up obscuring the screen with your own fingers. Personally I find the control system incredibly detrimental and almost pointless with such a beautiful little game like this, as I can only ever see 90% of it at most at any given time, due to my own fingers being in the way. The most frustrating moment I found was having to cycle through several different moods quickly, keeping Baby’s balloon away from nasty spikes and trying to ‘quickly’ drag her along – all while tapping the screen to scare away the enemy. That’s a lot of fingers covering up a tiny screen.
It’s a bit difficult to juggle the Vita with a unique control system like this and it certainly is not a graceful or comfortable one at that. Holding the Vita with your left arm, using left digits for the back screen whilst using your right finger to control the front touch screen for it’s various controls seems to be the easiest way to play Murasaki Baby, but it becomes difficult later on. I found sitting in bed with my knees bent up as a rest for the Vita was the most comfortable and easiest way for me. Do not play with it above your head like you would normally for a button friendly title. It will hurt.
Using headphones for Murasaki Baby was highly suggested and I refused to do so after the first few minutes. Well, it’s not that I refused to do so but rather that I couldn’t. Each foot step, each drop of water, each door opening and closing, and every single cynical laugh – they all come together to beautifully create this morbid nightmare of Baby’s. But because of that desire and dedication to creating that perfect child nightmare atmosphere, most of the sound effects reminded me of nails scraping down a chalkboard. I even played this during a break at work and people were asking me about the horrid sounds they could hear. Sure, Baby is cute, making her giggle is rewarding and hearing her cry “mummy” is heart breaking – but everything else is just irritating. I understand that the sound effects match the art style perfectly, because they really do, but I honestly could not think of a more aggravating collection of audio files to accompany a game.
What should only be a 3-4 hour game turned into a 6 hour game, due to sheer frustration with controls. Whether it was my screen, the code itself, or hell – my own gumby fingers, but most of the time I found I couldn’t even pick up Baby’s little hand to drag her away from danger. It became increasingly difficult coordinating your back touch screen actions with your front touch screen movements, furiously tapping and swiping on both, because grabbing Baby’s hand was nigh impossible due to limited visibility. I’m glad I broke it down into tiny game play sessions over two days as I just could not and did not want to dedicate a solid chunk of time to a game that was literally physically difficult to play. And I shouldn’t have to do that for a tiny game such as this one.
Murasaki Baby was designed as an avant-garde video game showcasing the nightmarish world of a small child as she tries to find her mummy, with an eccentric, dark art direction with complimentary sounds and intuitive game play fully utilising the Vita console. As a studio who focuses on IP creation and unconventional design, Ovosonico has successfully done that with Murasaki Baby. Had I been a more patient person – I would have wholeheartedly loved it. However, I am on the fence about it as the controls were just so detrimental to my overall experience which is a shame as I did genuinely enjoy my play, but nothing further.
Warm fuzzies to be had when you make Baby happy. Unique and creative chapter design.
Control system almost detrimental to entire game.