I felt bad the first time I made Baby fall. I felt bad because I shouldn’t have pulled so roughly on Murasaki Baby’s cute-ugly girl-thing’s arm. I shouldn’t have done it because she’s just a child.
Except, I’d have to correct myself and remember that of course she isn’t. “Baby” is the creation of Ovosonico, a small team lead by former Grasshopper Manufacture director Massimo Guarini. Guarini and the small Italian team behind Murasaki Baby aren’t really looking to tax players with overly complex puzzles or tell any kind of grand story. In fact, the largely touch-controlled platformer doesn’t even play at being a massive showcase for the Vita’s features the way something like Media Molecule’s Tearaway does. Instead, Ovosonico has cobbled together some kind of oddball empathy sim tucked in a platforming wrapper.
If it’s taken me a while to get around to what Murasaki Baby is about, it’s because it’s not really “about” much. Baby’s mother has goes missing. Instead of offering direct control of the lollipop-headed moppet, you’ll have to pull her along by her arm while preventing her beloved balloon from popping through misadventure. And this is where the empathy factor comes in, and the interplay between the little heroine and the game world begins.
If you’ve interacted with a toddler, you’ll recognize Baby: somewhat shy around new things, sometimes you kind of have to pull her along as she digs her heels in. And if that balloon—the one precious thing she loves in the entire world—gets away from her, she goes into hysterics, immovable. The balloon is actually the object around which many of Murasaki Baby’s mechanics and designs revolve. Getting the balloon away from Baby, using it to keep hold of her during a sudden burst of wind, or using environmental effects to change the density or function of the balloon are all about playing with Baby’s cleverly simulated range of reactions. Again, she’s clearly modeled after a young child and there’s not a lot of nuance there, allowing Ovosonico to create something familiar that behaves in ways that feel consistently plausible and—again, if you’ve been around a toddler—trying.
An example: strange boy things will occasionally steal the balloon from Baby. Without direct control of either her or the boy, you’ll have to maneuver the balloon out of reach of thorns or use it to deactivate electrified fences so that it’s not destroyed. The sound of Baby crying creates this almost visceral reaction, making you want to get that damn balloon back in her little hand as quickly as possible
I feel like I’m doing a disservice to some of the other mechanics on display in Murasaki Baby, including lots of little rear swipe maneuvers to execute those environmental effects I mentioned. Two-finger swipes on the rear touchpad will change the background in most levels, allowing you to cause little jacks-in-the-box to spring out and scare the balloon out of Baby’s hand, while another background can be replaced with a bank of TVs which can distract overeager monster men that frighten the little girl.
There’s some broadly-sketched, wordless narrative involving some of the other pint-sized inhabitants of this world, caught in various crises (one little girl is plagued with towering curls that prevent her from moving, for instance), but really, these are just obstacles for you (and Baby), thin outlines of characters who just want to go home.
In spite of an art style that seems somewhere between Jhonen Velasquez and Edward Gorey, Ovosonico is nonetheless able to wring sympathy from its ugly, dark, sometimes creepy world thanks to Baby. Again, she feels familiar, and it’s that familiarity that will propel you through the game’s perhaps two hour long experience. Not to seek any kind of great revelations about the character or expand upon the world—you’ll just want to get Baby home.
Murasaki Baby masters the narrow confines of the world and experience it’s trying to create. It’ll feel like a thin experience for anyone seeking out the expected puzzle game loop of rigorous exploration, which isn’t one of the game’s goals. It’s not about that—it’s about the little girl, one of the most well-realized personalities I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in a game in a long time.
Charles Webb has provided pop culture criticism and news coverage for sites like Comics Bulletin, MTV, Twitchfilm and Paste Magazine. A video game industry vet, he is a credited writer on multiple titles, most recently working at Microsoft Game Studios. Don’t look too much into it, but he is a carbon-based hu-man.