The Vita's not short of unique experiences you can still find elsewhere; the highlights of its back catalogue, games like Spelunky and OlliOlli, can be found on PC and console, even if they feel more at home on Sony's handheld. Games designed around the many quirks of the Vita, though, are in much shorter supply, and Massimo Guarini's forthcoming Murasaki Baby joins a very select group that have actually figured out a use for the handheld's rear touchpad.
It's a very quirky game in and of itself, before you even factor in its odd inputs. The art-style's both curious and gorgeous, with big slabs of rich colour pasted across hand-painted backdrops and dancing, sketchy lines making up hand-drawn characters. There's a light gothic touch, and it's easy to think of Edward Gorey and Tim Burton - the Tim Burton of Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, at least - casting an influence in some significant way.
But what has cast the biggest influence, it seems, is the challenge of parenthood, and Murasaki Baby joins a burgeoning genre that's about taking care of a sometimes wayward and often scared child. Like Pikmin before it, you're both custodian and steward, helping the titular baby through a series of scorched, often nightmarish landscapes and helping guide her through obstacles.
The genius of Murasaki Baby is in its refusal to ever give you complete control, and in its use of the Vita's touch screens to mimic the clumsy shepherding of a child who has her own fears and desires. As the game opens, the baby is a nervous, sometimes disobedient presence - you'll guide her by tugging on her hand and pulling her along, though she'll often be reluctant to follow, offering a sulky resistance.
Throughout the course of the game - which will take around four leisurely hours to see through - the baby will learn, slowly becoming more autonomous and navigating leaps and obstacles by herself. It's a slow process, though, and you can imagine there'll be a small swell of pride once you've taught her to traverse the world on her own. Before that, though, there's an inherent awkwardness to Murasaki Baby.
More often than not it works in the game's favour - sometimes you have to contort your hands in order to interact with the rear touchpad, an action that influences the back-drops of each level, swapping them out and prodding them like they're theatre props, while guiding baby along, and popping enemies out of the heavens. The clumsiness feels thematically apt, the slight unease of a new parent embodied in the way that you play.
Sometimes, though, that awkwardness works against Murasaki Baby. There's something slightly obtuse about the game, in both its controls and its puzzles, that make it mildly frustrating in parts, and it runs the risk of falling foul of its desire to explore the parts of the Vita other developers perhaps wisely ignore. Sony's XDEV is working with Guarini's Ovisonico studio to help smooth out the rough parts, though, so there's every hope they'll be ironed out by the time of release.
Murasaki's Baby is a curio, then, but one with a charm it can claim as its own. It's another game that looks to prove the strength in Sony's handheld lies in its ability to cast its net far and wide, and Ovisonico's game stands out as the kind of experience you'd only ever get on the Vita.