Murasaki Baby is in many ways my worst nightmare. On more than one occasion, I've been left alone with small children, expected to be able to ably care for them because, after all, that's what girls do, right? At a loss, I've been forced to dredge up what maternal instincts I have, all while secretly praying that their parents come to their senses and rescue me.
It was with that same sense of trepidation that I approached the Vita's new puzzle platformer, which casts players as a sort of babysitter charged with helping a toddler find her mother in a Tim Burton-esque nightmare world. What I found was a surreal, but nevertheless charming, journey through the insecurities of both parenthood and childhood as I guided the eponymous baby through the dark places of the world. It's sweet in its own way, and though perhaps a little too basic for its own good, successful in conveying its point about how fraught childhood can feel at times.
The Baby—whom I'll just refer to as Margaret for the sake of simplicity—is crudely-drawn but extremely expressive, with everything from her elastic arms to her slightly dopey smile being used to convey a sense of innocence. She's admittedly disturbing to look at, what with her mouth being in her forehead, but it's easy to forgive such oddities when she trembles at the dark or stumbles ahead with her heart-shaped balloon in tow. Her big eyes and oversized head foster a sense of protectiveness that comprise's the heart of the game's emotional appeal. As the invisible parent guiding her through myriad dangers, you can't help wanting to protect her.
The dangers she faces are those that prey at the mind of a child. The dark is a consistent threat, as are creatures that lurk in windows and toss teeth like deranged anti-tooth fairies. An older man in what looks like a Rabbid costume appears to frighten Margaret, but is nevertheless instrumental in scaring away stray cats and helping her to traverse obstacles. Once his job is done, it's necessary to distract him with television so that Margaret can slip by and continue on her way.
Margaret is guided using the Vita's touchscreen, which is by turns awkward and endearing. Leading her by the hand (or whatever passes for a hand) makes the experience more tacticle, bring to mind Ico—another puzzle-platformer in which a sense of protectiveness plays a key role. Most of the time it works well, requiring you to tug your charge across platforms and past various obstacles, occasionally swiping to get her to jump across a pit. It's only questionable when you have to guide Margaret and protect her balloon, which forces you back to the most recent checkpoint if popped. There were times when I was literally forced to grip my Vita with my pinkie as I directed Margaret with one hand while using the other to direct her balloon around a handful of low-hanging spikes. It's an approach that can be cumbersome to say the least.
Such moments are comparatively few and far between though, and absent a handful of instances in which Margaret simply doesn't want to move, the controls are adequate. The puzzles only occasionally require fast reflexes, usually when guiding Margaret through the aforementioned rain of teeth or sneaking past someone when their back is turned. More common are simple traversal puzzles in which you must figure out how to remove an obstacle that scares Margaret and impedes her progress Most of the time, such obstacles can be removed by swiping the Vita's rear touchpad and changing the background. They come in varying colors, and tapping the rear touchpad will usually result in some sort of environment-altering event, such as rain or a sudden explosion of jack-in-the-boxes.
At times, it can come across as overly simple, rendering many of the puzzles a one-step process of choosing the correct background and activating the corresponding effect. Only later do they start to become more complicated as, for example, you swipe one background to destroy a cliff edge and swipe another to make the ground appear before Margaret presumably plunges to her death. I like the idea, however, because it plays into the child's notion of a parent being all-powerful, even if they really aren't. It's true that the ideas in Murasaki Baby could have been taken a bit further, but fundamentally speaking, it's a sound concept with decent execution.
If I remember Murasaki Baby going forward, it's apt to be for its art, which is as disturbing as it is excellent. It's a credit to its creators that Margaret can be so surreal and yet so endearing. It was enough to get me to buy into the underlying notion of protecting Margaret, which is an accomplishment in itself given that I'm hardly what you would call 'mothering.'
Unfortunately, at just two-and-a-half hours, it's a bit too lightweight for its own good, coming across almost more as a proof of concept than a fully-fleshed out game. Nevertheless, I'm happy to recommend it as a quirky puzzle game that does some interesting things with the Vita's controls. I may never have children of my own, but I'm happy to have spent some time with Margaret and her odd little world.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Murasaki Baby's style is vaguely reminiscent of A Nightmare Before Christmas, with a bit of Eraserhead thrown in for good measure. It's both creepy and effective.
- Sound: The Baby's voice echoes in a way that's almost demonic, but she still manages to sound sympathetic. Murasaki Baby somehow pulls off this tricky balance across the board.
- Interface: Competent, but occasionally frustrating. Some puzzles basically require you to grip the Vita with a pinky while using both hands to manipulate the screen. Thankfully, such moments are comparatively uncommon.
- Lasting appeal: At just over two hours, Murasaki Baby is exceedingly brief. On the other hand, you'll be apt to spend a lot of time thinking about it.
Though it's extremely brief and perhaps a bit undercooked, Murasaki Baby is a thoughtful adventure with some clever mechanics. It's primarily buoyed by its superb art and sound direction, which expertly toe the line between creepy and cute. While some deeper puzzles would have been nice, Murasaki Baby is ultimately a nice addition to the Vita's library.
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