Games like Murasaki Baby are what really excite me about the Playstation Vita. Like many, I originally bought the device intending for it to be a Persona 4 machine, but what I actually ended up falling in love with was a title called Gravity Rush. Gravity Rush felt like a game that was lovingly crafted with the Vita in mind, making extensive use of its unique hardware features while also sporting a fantastic visual style. Unfortunately, since then there has been very little on the device that fills a similar niche, which is why I’m so happy that Murasaki Baby exists.
One look at Murasaki Baby and it’s easy to tell that it’s something different. For starters, the entire game is about babysitting a little girl with an upside down face, which rides an uncomfortably strange line between horrifying and adorable. Everything in the environment similarly exudes an atmosphere that is both sinister and inviting. The bizarre world the game takes place in both drew me in and constantly pushed me forward, an impressive feat for a game with no dialogue and only a vague semblance of a story.
What really sets Murasaki Baby apart, however, is its confidence in using the Vita hardware to its fullest. You use the front touch screen to interact with whatever’s on screen at the time, usually holding the little girl’s hand to lead her forward. Things quickly get more complicated, as the back touch screen then allows you to change the background of the level, with each background affecting the game in a unique way. Most of the game revolves around using these two touch-based mechanics to traverse the environment.
Separating the two core mechanics to the different touch screens works surprisingly well. Often, puzzles will require you to quickly change backgrounds while keeping the little girl moving, and multi-tasking like this is very simple when all you have to worry about is using one hand for each touch screen. This multi-tasking continues to ramp up, as tasks gradually become more complicated and reaction-based compared to what is initially a relatively slow game.
Murasaki Baby is pretty simple to control, but the game itself never stops changing. Every major area in the game has its own set of backgrounds, which are basically your tools for traversing the environment. These backgrounds all manage to add something new, from flipping the whole game upside-down (forcing you to literally turn your Vita upside-down) to freezing the environment. The front touch screen is no slouch either, as the environment will often necessitate the dragging of platforms or manipulating the little girl’s balloon to prevent it from popping.
As you progress through the game, the little girl you’re escorting also kind of becomes her own mechanic. Sometimes she won’t always want to go in the direction you’re going, or move as fast as you’d like. She may even abandon control altogether, opting to run straight ahead into potential danger. Her reactions to the world feel genuine, and while they make sense for a child, they also add an air of unpredictability to the game.
While I loved that the game has so much variety, it also ties closely with the fact that Murasaki Baby is a rather brief experience. I managed to complete the game in approximately two sittings, and there isn’t much reason to go back afterwards. The game manages to move on from every concept before it gets old, but it comes at the cost of never feeling like it truly realized its full potential.
Finishing the game so quickly was very bittersweet, as it managed to fill the Gravity Rush-shaped hole in my heart only to immediately after leave a hole of its own. But while it lasted, Murasaki Baby managed to remind me that the Vita hardware has a lot of potential to breed some very interesting games. While games like this seem to come few and far between, I’ll still hold on to the hope that others follow Murasaki Baby’s lead.
Food for Thought:
1. There is no in-game pause option at all, I’m guessing to keep you immersed in the game. It’s a little pretentious if you ask me, but it’s not like you can’t suspend your Vita at any time, regardless.
2. As much as I enjoyed the game’s focus on touch controls, one of my favorite parts actually revolved around using the Vita’s control sticks like a normal game. Funny how that works.
3. Playing Murasaki Baby really made me think about how much I usually dislike little kids in video games. Games always seem to portray kids as either obnoxious or unrealistically cute and likeable, when reality lies closer to a middle ground. A big part about liking kids, at least the ones that actually feel written like kids, is a combination of feeling empathy and responsibility for them, and I think Murasaki Baby manages to convey both very nicely.
4. One smaller reason I’m glad Murasaki Baby exists is that it manages to build a game around an escort mission that not only handles it in a unique way, but also actually has an element of danger to it. A lot of recent games like Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us have basically given up on the concept by making the person you’re supposed to protect become an invincible non-factor that exists only to spew out dialogue in your general direction. While there have definitely been a lot of bad escort missions in games, I’m glad not everyone has thrown out the idea completely.