Equal Parts Silliness And Sales Pitch
When BigBig studios hauled Little Deviants out of the laboratory, the game genuinely felt like an overt sales pitch for the upcoming PlayStation Vita. This feeling was underlined when Sony used the title as an actual sales pitch at last summer’s E3, when game journalists finally got their hands on the little console. Now, we obviously haven’t been able to spend a ton of time behind the wheel of Little Deviants yet, but when game developers release a title that’s specifically created to show off a set of hardware, the game itself is usually subpar. And while Little Deviants isn’t going to test the boundaries of the Vita’s graphical capabilities, BigBig has managed to utilize nearly every single control option that the Vita has to offer, and that’s no easy feat. So the biggest question is whether BigBig was more concerned with making a high-quality game, or if they were merely showing off.
Essentially, Little Deviants is a collection of minigames that have been specifically tailored to compliment the Vita’s unique input options. And, as you discover each new game mode, it can start to feel like a checklist for Vita’s hardware. Augmented reality? Check. Touch screen control? Check. Gyroscopic motion control? Check. Stylus-heavy, 3D gameplay? Sorry, no, but if that’s what you’re looking for, I’ve got a Raving Rabbids title that should fit the bill.
Actually, Raving Rabbids is an annoyingly appropriate comparison to Little Deviants. Both games feature an excitable/adorable crew of little creatures that players must control in a series of minigames. In both games, players are given a variety of control modes. Also, as one of the Wii’s launch titles, Raving Rabbids showed off the Wiimote’s capabilities before people had a handle on motion gaming, which is what the Deviants aim to do for the Vita.
However, in a lot of ways, Little Deviants is a better Raving Rabbids game than Raving Rabbids ever was. If the game’s quirky interface options give it the same kind of replay value that the Rabbid titles have, the Deviants are headed for the top of the genre. Watch out WarioWare, you’re probably next on the Deviants’ hit list.
In its capacity as a sales pitch, Little Deviants really does shine. In fact, it’s one of the only titles we’ve seen that has seriously attempted to utilize the Vita’s rear touchpad. In a mode called Rolling Paradise, players control a deviant who must have recently had all of his limbs amputated and now can only roll around the map. Using the rear touchpad, players elevate part of the terrain which forces the deviant to roll down the newly created hill. Have you ever kicked your dog off the bed by shoving your feet at him through the blankets? Yeah, it’s like that.
Gamers who have recently been brainwashed by iPhones and Android devices should feel pretty at home in the “House of Whacks” and “Rotten Rumble” game modes, because both modes utilize the system’s touchscreen. House of Whacks is essentially a pocket-sized Whac-A-Mole, with one exception: some of the deviants must be whacked using the rear touch panel. Rotten Rumble, on the other hand, involves whipping deviants at a wrestling ring full of zombies. Players pull the deviants back, à la Angry Birds, and carefully take aim at the undead wrestlers. Once the deviant is released into the ring, he ricochets around for a while and flattens any undead in his path.
Botz Blast is an augmented reality FPS that uses the Vita’s camera and gyroscope. Players control their character by rotating 360 degrees in search of evil robots and tapping the right trigger to fire. You’re probably going to have to physically stand up while playing this mode, so if standing isn’t your thing, have another slice of cheesecake and log onto World of Warcraft for another 14-hour bender.
Once you’re done murdering zombies and robots, it’s probably time to pilot a spaceship in Depth Charge. This mode also uses the Vita’s Sixaxis rotational controls, except it incorporates them into what seems like a standard platformer. You’ll pilot your vessel through a series of difficult stages on your way to a bomb before the clock runs out.
According to BigBig Studios, the game includes over 30 minigames, so we’ve barely scratched the surface here. Some of these game modes, like Rolling Paradise, are extremely difficult to master and well constructed. Others, like House of Whacks, feel like an excuse to utilize a specific piece of hardware. But, in the end, Little Deviants is an impressive combination of gameplay and technology.
With heavy hitters like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, FIFA Soccer, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss among the Vita’s launch titles, it’s already a pretty appetizing little console. But if Sony can keep populating the system with quirky little titles like Little Deviants, users may be forced to turn in their Nintendo membership card.
In fact, it really doesn’t bother me that Little Deviants is equal parts silliness and sales pitch. Because, even if it is actually an overt attempt to sell the Vita’s hardware, it’s a great sales pitch.
A Devious Deviating Dalliance
Where does one begin with Little Deviants? The bulk of the game is, at this stage, still an enigma, with only a few gameplay trailers and interviews to explain the theory behind it and Bigbig Studios’ execution thereof. To start at the most basic level, however, Little Deviants is a minigame collection, drawing comparisons to Ubisoft’s Raving Rabbids series.
Much like the Rabbids, Deviants are often the foci and the objectives in the title’s varied challenges. They come in multiple varieties with distinct aesthetics, but all of them appear to share the oversized, human-like eyes and gaping maws that straddle the line between adorable and unsettling. The games these Deviants play are designed to take full advantage of the PlayStation Vita’s suite of unique features, generally eschewing the buttons for gameplay that focuses on the touchscreen and back touchpad, the microphone, the motion sensor, or the camera. In this way, again, the game draws comparisons to Raving Rabbids, which demonstrated the Wii Remote’s functionality during the dawn of the motion controller. Its status as a technological experiment, however, also puts it in the company of another title: Kirby’s Canvas Curse, for the Nintendo DS.
In fact, one of the four stages demoed at E3 appears to owe much to Kirby’s early DS adventure. Originally known as “Hole Roll Control,” players are presented with a field filled with orange, limbless Deviants and obstacles around which they must be navigated, all in the name of plunging them into a waiting vortex. One has only limited control of the Deviants themselves, relying on manipulating the environment around and beneath them to roll them to their destination. Like Super Monkey Ball, perhaps? Not quite. Rather than simply tilting the level so that gravity does its work, players must use the back touch panel to elevate the terrain beneath the Deviants, rolling them down temporary hills to give them momentum and get them to their goal. As with Canvas Curse, players are using the touch screen to create a path that rolls characters to their destinations, taking advantage of what little direct control they have over the creatures to momentarily boost them out of danger or pop them over obstacles.
Similarly, “Depth Charge” requires one to guide a Deviant through an obstacle course, though this one is generally more vertical. In it, the Deviant careens down a twisting, turning chasm on its way to defuse a ticking time bomb. Adamantly avoiding the thumb-sticks and buttons, “Depth Charge” instead uses the tilt sensor for control, allowing one to guide the tumbling Deviant left or right—even up—as the situation demands. Alas, one’s relationship with the Deviants appears to be ambivalent at best, as this is the last of the demoed games in which players fully cooperate with the creatures.
In contrast, “House of Whacks” tasks one with knocking the creatures from their perches in a house’s windows. Throwing a wrench into one’s typical whac-a-mole experience, however, is the caveat that Deviants must be struck in the face to be knocked down and, seeing as the house has two sides, they won’t always face out at the player. In such situations, one must rely on the back touch panel, tapping it on the corresponding location of the back-facing Deviant. It’s a unique take on a very familiar game type, and one that seems to adequately demonstrate Bigbig’s devotion to fully utilizing the capabilities of the PlayStation Vita.
As such, it’s almost disappointing that the last game demoed at E3, “Botz Blast,” is so comparatively mundane. By far the most traditionally “game-like” of the challenges, “Botz Blast” puts one at the trigger of a bright yellow gun, projecting the action against a feed from the Vita’s camera as players use the shoulder buttons to shoot down robots that are chasing the Deviants and kidnapping children. Or are the Deviants using robot suits to kidnap children? The intent isn’t wholly clear, as there is, apparently, some sort of internal disagreement within the Deviant ranks.
And that might be the strangest part of Little Deviants. It’s a minigame collection with a story thread strung through it, linking the games to each other. There will be a “reason” that the Deviants must be rolled up into vortexes or guided down cavernous tunnels to defuse bombs. There’s a “why” to the seemingly random assortment of tech-infused minigames. And, truly, the games are all about the Vita’s tech, both with regard to gameplay and presentation, treating players to vibrant graphics with rich, primary colors.
Little Deviants is still something of an enigma. Videos have shown at least two other games, including a cross between wrestling and bowling and a Pac-Man-inspired maze game. Bigbig Studios promises thirty games in all that might, they intimate, include a Deviant singing game using the microphone. The question remains, however: Will the title’s apparent whimsy and madcap action be appealing enough to sell what is, at its core, an expanded collection of tech demoes?
As the Vita’s release date is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, so too is Little Deviants’, though it seems likely that North American gamers will get access to the title in early 2012.