When you make a console like the Vita - overflowing as it is with buttons and touchscreens and touchpads and motion controls – then you need a launch title that crowbars all of that functionality in; one game that acts as a kind of tech demo proof of concept. For Sony and the Vita, Little Deviants is that game.
While it possesses an overarching narrative – aliens have invaded the world and are causing all kinds of mischief – Little Deviants is essentially a collection of mini-games, each drawing on an aspect of the handheld's unique feature set. Based on a fair amount of time with the title, the evidence suggests that the quality of these games is pretty, but there's a charm to it all that challenges the throwaway nature of the form.
Presented in a bright, cartoony manner, the world of Little Deviants is divided into lands with whimsical names like “Surfcrest Bay,” “Grazey Meadows” and “Twisty Root Grove.” Each contains two or three mini-games to beat, with further areas unlocking as you progress.
There's a nice amount of variety on offer between these games. In Rotten Rumble, for instance, you find yourself in a wrestling ring defending yourself against waves of cutesy undead attackers. To see them off you have to pinch the screen and pull your character back against the ropes to fling him back out into the ring.
When you do this your character will boing around, knocking out enemies and bouncing off the side and front ropes until he returns to the back rope again and stops. In this way it's better to ping him against the side ropes first, ensuring maximum boingage and an increased chance of multiple hits, points and rewards.
Adding a little variety to proceedings are the bosses; little dudes with chainsaws. They spin around, their blades whizzing - meaning that if you hit them you'll get carved up. So you have to sit back and pick off the foes around them until they make themselves dizzy. Then you can go in for the kill. The whole experience takes place amongst a blizzard of stars and points and positive reaffirmation. It's fun, if a little slight.
Bot Blast, meanwhile, is mildly reminiscent of the built-in AR Face Raiders game on 3DS. It's a simple shooter where you have to defend your spaceship-flying friends from attackers. The twist is that the game makes use of the Vita's gyroscope, meaning that you aim by moving the handheld around.
You don't just politely move the console from side to side, either. Bot Blast has you swinging around all over the place in big, pronounced movements as you chase the ships in the air, their location indicated by little red arrows on the sides of the screen. Do it properly and you'll be jumping around in big, 180 degree arcs. You'll never find yourself playing it on the bus, but as a piece of inhibition-stealing entertainment it does its job nicely. Younger kids will love it.
A slightly more traditional use of the Vita's motion controls is incorporated into Depth Dive. The point of the game is to reach the bottom of the cave in order to extinguish a bomb before it goes off, thus saving the miners within.
Guiding your character by tipping the Vita in the desired direction, this one sees your character floating at speed through a series of underground tunnels. Played out against the clock, the aim is to reach the bottom before a bomb goes off, thus saving the miners within.
The challenge comes in hitting or avoiding whooshy thermals that either assist or impede your progress, depending on their flow. There's also the possibility of choosing the more circuitous route from the various tunnels presented to you, as well as coming a cropper on jagged edges and against makeshift barriers.
The quality of this game is largely dictated by the quality of the Vita's motion sensors, which thankfully feel responsive and accurate. They do the job perfectly well.
It would be remiss of me to discuss Little Deviants without mentioning the ball-rolling game that the title was announced with alongside the Vita this year. This was the mini-game that was intended to highlight the possibilities of the Vita's huge rear touchpad, a feature that had people scratching their heads when it was first revealed.
The point of the game is to roll a ball around a series of environments in order to collect a key that unlocks a portal. Move through this portal and you make it to the next level. Along the way you have to avoid sticky enemies that slow you down (it's played against the clock), as well as various environmental annoyances.
As you're no doubt aware, you push the rear touchpad to deform the landscape around the ball, effectively creating makeshift hills for it to roll down. But the trouble is, it's a little awkward. For starters, because you have to hold the Vita with one hand and push the back touchpad with the other, it's not entirely comfortable. Not terrible by any means, just a little unnatural feeling.
More of an issue is the mental leap you have to make to master the controls. If you had to roll a ball in the same fashion in real life, you would have to effectively push it along to keep the momentum up. But, obviously you can't do that here, because as large and luxurious as the rear touchpad is, you eventually run out of space.
Regardless, because the whole affair possesses something approaching real physics, your brain insists that you should do this anyway. Initially at least. There's a knack to it that you have to master to gain complete control, one that goes against your instincts. And for a game that's clearly crafted to be a welcoming, accessible romp – that may prove to be a slight problem.
It is, however, one of the few issues I've encountered in my time with the game. Beyond the title's inherent fluffiness and its tech demo nature, Little Deviants does what it has to do particularly well. All bright colours, quirky charm and novel controls, it's a game that will no doubt find its admirers. As long as you understand that it aims to be a fun and disposable piece of ephemera, enchanting for a short time but ultimately short of substance.