Platform: PS Vita (PSN)
Murasaki Baby is terrifying.
In fact, "deeply unsettling" might be more appropriate. This odd Vita exclusive sees you guiding an adorable teetering tot through puzzly levels as she clings onto her favourite balloon, but everything is... wrong. Horribly distorted tentacle-nosed freaks lurk within the nightmarish backgrounds, hiding nearly out of shot. Atonal scraping sends shivers up your spine as our baby staggers across atrocious hellscapes or twisted uncanny interiors past things you'd rather not look at directly. Then reveals that she has an enormous toothy maw in the top of her head.
Underneath the weirdness, however, lurks a fascinating little game that's designed to hold your hand in a very literal way, while showing off the Vita's wild array of input methods.
If you can imagine a touchscreen blend of Ico, Limbo and Frobisher Says... perhaps directed by David Firth (yes, the Salad Fingers guy)... you might be somewhere near the mark.
Hand-holding is the core mechanic here, as you use the touchscreen to drag the baby along the 2D stages by the arm. Like any youngster, she's temperamental and truculent, often refusing to move if scared, tripping over should you yank too hard or letting go of her balloon - which is linked directly to her life. If it disappears or pops, so does she. Despite the aforementioned disgusting head mouth, you'll quickly develop a bond with your fragile charge, and take pride in getting her past a selection of increasingly challenging obstacles and slowly teaching her rudimentary platforming.
It's a harsh world for a tiny baby, though, and you'll need to defend your ward from some nasty and frequently disturbing threats. A recurring nemesis who resembles a twisted plague doctor tries to steal your balloon, forcing you to pop his with a quick tap. Wicked flying pin monsters dive in for the kill, requiring a swift touchscreen put-down. You'll become fiercely protective of your odd yet endearing little companion.
More often than not, though, Murasaki Baby is more about puzzling - either working out how to physically get the baby across an obstacle or convincing the frightened child-that-isn't that it's safe to continue onward. The touchscreen once again comes to the fore, allowing you to directly interact with various scenery elements. Though basic to begin with, the thrill of physically touching the world connects you to the experience in a tactile, intimate way.
And then we come to the rear touchpad. More terrifying than any cyclopean Lovecraftian dreamscape, this plastic rectangle tends to spoil more games than it improves, adding finger-cramping extra busywork or unecessary gimmicks to games that don't need them. Put simply: it usually sucks. However, Murasaki Baby at least gives us something relatively interesting to do with it, in that we can directly change the baby's mood by swiping different backgrops across the screen, totally changing the tone of the game as we do so.
These coloured filters and backgrounds are more than just a cosmetic feature, since each contains unique interactive elements that can be used to solve puzzles. A sepia windmill can be rotated by tapping the touchpad, causing a strong wind to blow through the stage. A curious choir of awful tentacular shrieking fiends can scare off foes or shake up foreground elements. Rain, erm, gets stuff wet - without wanting to spoil one of the more interesting early puzzles. Experimentation pays dividends.
Questions remain, notably about length, value and whether the spirit of curiosity -- not to mention the macabre atmosphere -- can be sustained over its runtime. But considering the unique visuals and gameplay on offer here, not to mention the fact that it fosters a protective, nurturing relationship with its helpless protagonist, Murasaki Baby is set to be infinitely more than a gimmick. We look forward to experiencing the finished product later this year.
As does my psychiatrist, who's set to make an absolute packet off of my ensuing therapy.