Over the course of the last year or so, I’ve played my share of Augmented Reality (AR) games, and while I’ve always maintained that the technology behind the AR technology is impressive, the games just haven’t tickled my fancy. I’ve come to accept that AR games exist merely to dazzle your non-gaming friends and family, or simply to act as glorified tech demos – a promissory note of sorts. That WAS until I played Sony Japan Studio’s Open Me!
I’m not exactly sure when I started to enjoy this strange little game. I have a sneaking suspicion it might have been while I was kneeling on the floor, balancing the PlayStation Vita between two fingers and trying to open a complicated set of locks, while a circular blade trap threatened to halt my progress. The fact that the game taxed my brain and left me questioning the dexterity of my fingers instantly elevated it from “Stupid AR game” to “Holy Smoke Balls, this is good!”
So what is Open Me! And why should you care as a PS Vita gamer?
Quite frankly, Open Me! is the AR game that we should have had from the beginning. Where augmented reality has been reduced to nothing more than a silly gimmick, the AR in Open Me! becomes an integral part of the game. You’re required to move around with your Vita. It’s not just pointless wandering either, but rather part of the crucial puzzle-solving process.
The concept is fairly straightforward. You throw an AR play card on a table or even on the floor – any flat surface will do. The Vita (and its camera) will work its magic, while the software creates a virtual 3D puzzle box upon the marker. The objective is simple. You need to find a way to open the puzzle box. Since it’s an AR game, you can zoom in and out (by physically manhandling your Vita). You can even live out your Molyneuxian fantasies, by tapping the box for hidden latches, buttons and locks. You can even circle around the virtual puzzle box, and investigate every corner. It’s best to remember that this is not a game for couch potatoes. And while it might all sound very exhausting, I assure you it is fun.
know that I’ve complained about being forced to move around while playing an AR game in the past, and while my objections “to remain a coach potato” are still valid. What amazed me was how simple the concept of Open Me! was. In fact, the game is based on a simple premise of “what’s in the box?” It also helps that this simple idea has been expertly implemented.
The puzzles vary in difficulty. Some trick you into thinking that they’re overly-complicated, while others will test your brain and your hand-eye coordination. There are even traps to keep you on your toes. One puzzle in particular requires you to hold down the latch, or else the lid will snap shut. There are other puzzles that require you to tap a button quickly whereas others have sliding locks.
It pulls you in with its deceptively easy tutorial and then when it has captured your attention, it tortures you with increasingly difficult puzzles to solve (the basic game has 48 puzzles). I’ll even go as far as to say that Open Me! is the single most reason for any Vita owner to dust off their AR Play Cards. If you lost your cards, don’t worry, the game can scan a surface without an AR Play card. The result is not always perfect, but at least the option exists.
Open Me! also features multiplayer. I managed to rope in another Vita owner to help me solve a puzzle. It was a friend of mine, and the result was a hilarious comedy show of two bumbling idiots in a living room. Come to think of it, Open Me! might just make an unintentionally perfect party game.
In addition, you can also create your own puzzles and share them with your friends. You’ll even earn additional points if they fail to complete your puzzles. There’s even an incentive to keep on creating more puzzle boxes, because the more points you get, the more parts you can buy for your user-created puzzles.
Sadly, Open Me! does have a few flaws. I wasn’t too impressed with the touch controls. They’re not as responsive as I would like them to be, and in fact one puzzle in particular tested my nerves. For this particular puzzle you’re tasked with flicking 6 latches simultaneously. Two issues immediately cropped up. The first was the touch controls and the other the size of the Vita’s screen. The Vita’s screen was just too small for my fingers (and that’s after zooming in and having to balance the tiny console between my feet. In the end, I had to give the puzzle a miss, because my awkward gargantuan hands made it impossible to complete it… Another, but completely separate issue that I wish the developers would address is the rescanning. Whenever you finish a puzzle, the game has to rescan your AR card. I’ll admit, compared to the previous two, this is a minor issue.
Overall, I enjoyed Open Me! The diverse puzzles are challenging, while the gameplay is addictive. While there might be an element of luck to stumbling on the solutions of some of the puzzles, the maddening test of brain power and digit dexterity gets my approval.