Little Deviants review: Little interest

Most new consoles tend to launch with something designed to showcase the hardware's abilities. Such games are generally designed to wow new adopters with all the snazzy tricks their new toy can do. The best of these combine plenty of graphical bells and whistles with innovative gameplay mechanics that aren't possible elsewhere -- something like, oh, let's say Super Mario 64.

Others in the "launch showcase" genre might leverage the abilities of new hardware, but they do it in a more disconnected way. I'm talking, of course, about the mini-game collection. If you're lucky, you might get a batch of diversions that not only show off a console's capabilities but are also genuinely entertaining. Other times, you get a conglomeration of disparate, perfunctory experiences that never coalesce into a cohesive product.

In other words, sometimes you get Little Deviants.
%Gallery-147128% Little Deviants sets a cast of amorphous balls of stuff, the Deviants, on a quest to rebuild their spaceship. And what better way to recover lost spaceship parts than by participating in a series of mini-games! That is, literally, all there is to Little Deviants.

Players dive into a chosen mini-game and, if they are successful, more mini-games are unlocked, as are bonuses like art galleries and "moggers" which, despite their strange moniker, are quite clearly cats. More on those later.

The world of Little Deviants is broken up into several regions, each with a different set of unlockable mini-games. In order to unlock a new game, players must achieve a bronze rating, with silver and gold ratings unlocking more bonus content. It's a familiar structure, one that's seen in many casual mobile titles these days and designed to promote repeated plays or encourage players to build their skills.

Some of the games have genuinely interesting ideas, though they often fail in execution. Each game tends to favor a different feature of the Vita hardware, including the touch screen, tilt sensor, rear camera and rear touch pad. One has players rolling a Deviant in order to collect keys and open the exit. The twist is that you actually deform the landscape with the rear touch pad in order to roll the Deviant around.

Hills literally pop out of the ground wherever you place your finger, creating a vertical slope for the Deviant to roll across. It's a neat effect to be sure, but it's also not a very accurate form of control. It gets somewhat easier with practice, but it never quite feels second nature and lacks the inherent feeling of skill apparent in similar games like Super Monkey Ball.

Part of that feeling can be attributed to the rear touch pad itself. Since you can't see your fingers, it can be very difficult to judge where they are on the "screen." The deformed terrain in the game mentioned above gives you a nice point of reference, but other games are more difficult. For example, a Whac-a-Mole variant has you tapping robots as they appear from doors that open and close. Based on which way a robot is facing, you have to tap it either on the touch screen or the touch pad. Since there's no way to know exactly where your fingers are, it's easy to miss taps on the rear touch pad as the difficulty increases. I should also mention that it's quite a feat to reach the full area of the screen and touch pad, and I have pretty long fingers. I can't imagine how a child -- presumably part of Little Deviants' demographic -- would manage some of these challenges.

Mechanical concerns are not, however, Little Deviants' greatest problem. No, the largest issue is that the games simply aren't much fun. It's clear that players are expected to repeatedly play each game, hoping for a high score and the elusive gold rating, but I found myself intentionally failing after achieving a bronze, the minimum requirement for unlocking new games. "New games," might be a little generous, actually, considering many of them are simply new levels for game types you've already played.

There are a few interesting activities. I rather enjoyed one of the augmented reality games, which had me blasting robots as they invaded my home office (protip: office chairs make great stationary turrets). There's also a game that takes a page from Marble Madness, tasking players with using the tilt sensor to roll along a tricky landscape, collecting goodies and finding the exit. Many of the games, however, manage to overstay their welcome within sixty seconds, and the few mildly entertaining distractions aren't enough to outweigh the stinkers. Don't even get me started on the singing game.

Most of the unlockable content is standard fare (gallery items, etc.), though some is downright weird. Remember the "moggers" I mentioned? Dedicated players can find these square-headed cats in each of the thirty mini-games. Players can then visit an in-game house filled with portraits of each unlocked mogger. Tap the portrait and the mogger leaps from the frame and into the house. So ... you get a virtual house filled with square-headed cats. You can't do anything with them. They just sit there. Maybe finding them all unlocks something incredible, but I'm not playing another round of Whack-a-Bot or tilt-controlled racing to find out.

In trying to create something that endears the Vita to its audience, Little Deviants almost does the opposite, providing a gimmicky, throwaway experience -- one that might make First Edition Bundle owners question their $350 purchase. For other Vita owners, your $30 would be better spent on something else.

This review is based on a retail copy of Little Deviants, provided by Sony.

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