Aside from the need to replace a bum charger, Sony's nascent handheld has been a little slice of video game heaven for me over the last month, earning itself a permanent, dedicated pocket in my bag (no small feat, given all the gadgets I lug around).
And while pricey boxed games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Lumines: Electronic Symphony have accounted for a large share of my Vita time, I'm getting nearly as much entertainment from cheaper downloadable fare.
I expressed a positive opinion of Housemarque's twin-stick shooter Super Stardust Delta a couple of weeks ago, and I can now also give enthusiastic thumbs up to Escape Plan – a stylish puzzle adventure game that makes fine use of the Vita's many gestural inputs – as well as the Vita version of PopCap's always entertaining Plants Vs. Zombies.
However, my favourite downloadable Vita game so far is Toronto-based DrinkBox Studios' Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, a two-dimensional melding of Katamari Damacy and campy '50s-era sci-fi cinema. (Its predecessor, Tales from Space: About a Blob, was among my favourite PlayStation Network games of last year.)
We take control of a tiny sentient blob that's suffered terrible experiments at the hands of heartless human scientists. Our job is simply to escape and grow. The former is accomplished by rolling over the ground, jumping between platforms, and slipping through tubes; the latter by coming in contact with objects of equal or smaller size and absorbing them.
The adventure is broken up into a few dozen short levels lasting less than 10 minutes each. Early objectives require little more than one thumb on the left stick and another on the jump button as the game sucks us in with the strange but distinct pleasure of watching an angry, mono-eyed blob roll over and sop up nuts and pills and soda pop cans.
New elements are added gradually. First come labyrinth levels that make use of the Vita's motion sensors. Simple stuff, though the black holes dotting the board are eager to gobble up your blob if you stray too close.
Then we begin playing with magnetism. Our blob can attract to and repel from metal at the touch of a button, which leads to some challenging scenarios in which players must demonstrate a deft touch as they glide between and slingshot around spiky metallic platforms.
Things get even more challenging when DrinkBox brings the Vita's multitouch screen into play. Some sequences demand that we manipulate movable platforms with our fingers while simultaneously keeping a thumb on the joystick to control movement. It can be a little taxing – partly because of the sometimes sadistic design, but also because the platforms don't always move as quickly as you'd expect (one of the game's few demerits). Regardless, it's rewarding once you get the hang of it.
However, the secret ingredient that transforms this terrific little romp into a true delight is its offbeat wit (love the background billboards for products like Double Rainbow Crayons) and vintage sci-fi visual style. Add in a memorable score – parts of which could have been plucked straight from a schlocky aliens-have-arrived-to-eat-our-brains flick (think lots of theremin) – and the comical screams of scientists and farmers about to become one with our amorphous entity, and you have a game that will tickle the neurons of anyone with even a slight appreciation of half-century-old sci-fi celluloid.
Expect perhaps five hours of play time your first time through. Priced at $7.99 – about half that of most other Vita downloadables – you're unlikely to find better value within the portable platform's launch window lineup. A few more fun and affordable downloadable games like this and the Vita may no longer seem so expensive – except that we'll be forced to buy more of Sony's prohibitively pricey proprietary memory cards.
Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Release: February 21, 2012
ESRB: Everyone 10+