Murasaki Baby made quite an impression on me when I first saw its debut trailer at last year's Gamescon. It looked stunning thanks to an art style that many will compare to the visual majesty of Tim Burton's works, most notably Toxic Boy and Stain Boy. I got to play an extensive demo at this year's EGX Rezzed and the results proved every bit as charming and atmospheric as I expected.
Taking its cues from Tearaway, Murasaki Baby aims to provide PS Vita owners with a fresh gameplay experience that fully utilises the capabilities of the hardware. The titled baby exists alone in a nightmarish world of children's fantasies and fears. Guiding the baby is done by touch and drag. You hold the the baby's hand and guide her across the screen. The first background environment is one she feels safest in. However, to solve the simple yet deceiving puzzles, you have to swipe the rear touch pad to change the background environments. A sepia drenched wasteland canvas, visually similar to the pre-colour section of The Wizard of Oz, a rain swept storm and a crimson red hellish environment are some of the solutions to guiding the baby across gaps, darkened areas and lakes. The various background canvas changes the baby's behaviour too. Her reaction to the ever-changing world deepens your connection with her.
Get tapping to pop those pesky paperclip flies
Another puzzle to always be aware of is the purple balloon the baby holds throughout the game. This is the baby's health bar and her blanket shielding her from the nightmares around her. Without the balloon, the baby quivers in fear and when it pops it's game over. His balloon escapes her hand when she receives a sudden fright or it can pop when tentacled spikes lead a precarious path. The only issue I had when playing the demo was when I had to guide the baby and hold her balloon away from spikes at the same time. It proved tricky managing both actions on the front touchscreen as it obscured my vision when searching the whereabouts of the next set of spikes. Other dangers come in the form of flying paperclips seeking to pop the balloon but these buzzing pins of doom can be quickly vanquish when tapping on them. Puzzle-wise we're in Limbo territory. Both games share similarly devious puzzle design that prove head scratching but logical in their solutions. My brain was tested quite a few times during the demo and while you are often holding the baby's hand, the game certainly doesn't hold yours.
I suspect Murasaki Baby will be a short game, but I consider that a great thing. For me, a memorable gaming experience may be short in length but one that I can re-visit multiple times and truly appreciate. Journey and The Unfinished Swan are great examples of games that touched me for their simplicity and moving storylines. Murasaki Baby has the potential of allowing the player to build a relationship with the child that may add some emotional heft to the storyline. Developer Ovosonico's debut indie game wears many influences on its sleeve but the innovative canvas swapping mechanic and beautifully realised world made it feel fresh, unique, weird and wonderful.
Sony XDev collaborates with independent development studios across Europe and other PAL territories to publish great content to PlayStation platforms all over the world. Ovosonico is the newest studio collaborating with Sony XDev to publish Murasaki Baby. I spoke to Sony XDev about their newest baby.
1) What can you tell me about Murasaki Baby's main narrative?
I can tell you that the goal of Murasaki Baby is to help the baby find her mummy. To do that, you navigate through this nightmarish dreamscape and adapt as you play the game. She learns to adapt based on what you do when interacting with the Vita's touchscreen features. It's about, for us, building a relationship with the baby and getting her to trust you to guide her through the story and hopefully find her mum.
2) What sort of challenges do you face when guiding the baby?
You're going to face puzzles that utilise the unique aspects of the Vita. We use the front touchscreen as well as the back touchscreen. We wanted to blend a classic platformer with a brand new platform to play it on. We have a great new wealth of tools we can use with the Vita and fins a way to make them feel fresh and not tired or tacked on.
Admire Murasaki's striking art
3) Tim Burton's work has been linked to the art style of Murasaki Baby. What can you tell me about the influences the team had when creating the art style?
Yeah we've read that a lot. The great thing is that the studio is a melting pot of people all from different backgrounds so Massimo Guarini, the game director, lived in Japan where he worked with Suda 51, but now lives in Italy where Ovosonico is based. With all our illustrators and designers coming from different backgrounds and studios, we're reluctant to say 'our game is like this' because for us it's like nothing else'.
4) That's interesting about Massimo Guarini. Today we have many developers leaving big studios to work with or form smaller teams to work on indie games. Why do you think this is a current trend?
I think it's because there's different challenges between different studios. So the big tiple-A games that have big teams and big budgets may have people who stay, complete a few years and think that's great, I've got my blockbuster out, now I can work with something different. The great thing about the industry is that we at Sony can cater to those people. They can find a job where they can flourish and do very well.
5) And finally, how long is the story of Murasaki Baby? Are there any collectibles or incentives that warrant replay value?
I think for us it's about gamers having the best experience the first time they go through the story. We encourage replay value, the environments have a lot to find and are extremely detailed. We expect gamers to discover things within the environments they may not have seen the first time around and think wow, I didn't notice that before.
Murasaki Baby is out on PS Vita this Summer