• Vib Ripple Review - Sony PS2

    Here is a game that screams 'cult classic!' at you before you've even dispensed with the shrink-wrap. Created by developer Nana On-Sha, Vib Ripple's heritage is that of experimental music games, including its prequels Vib Ribbon and Mojib Ribon. A big surprise, then, that Vib Ripple is not in fact a music game, but a trampoline sim of all things. Not that this should put you off; Nana On-Sha have taken a seemingly simple concept and crafted an addictive video game from it. The biggest attraction for many, though, will be the welcome return of Vibri. In Vib Ribbon this irresistible, wire-frame "Singing Crack Rabbit" exuded the kind of charm video game characters ordinarily just don't have.
    Plucked out of her familiar line-drawn surroundings, Vibri now finds herself in a colourful 3D environ, bouncing around on a stylised trampoline. It must have come as quite a shock. Each level paints a digital picture onto this elastic canvas, within which hidden items can be freed by jumping on the right area. These hidden Peta characters are invisible until disturbed, so you have to explore each part of a picture to find them. Vib Ripple does seem basic and random at first, until the subtleties of the game become apparent.
    Each picture is broken down into bounded areas, based on rules of colour and size, only some of which will contain Peta Characters. These characters are endearing low-res 2D drawings of animals and inanimate objects that smile at you, curiously reminiscent of motivational stickers from years gone by; a grinning apple says 'Well Done!'. Each Peta character is found within part of the trampoline that roughly matches its colour and shape, and becomes visible after a couple of direct hits. Once freed with continued bouncing, the Peta Characters flounce around above Vibri's head, jovially cycling through a couple of frames of animation.
    Vibri's bouncing depends upon precise button timing to gain momentum and height; the closest Vib Ripple gets to rhythm action. Perfectly timing a jump produces a shower of gold stars, granting Vibri immunity for the duration of that jump from turd-like enemies, the Boonchies. Each type of Boonchie needs to be dealt with in a different way, requiring the player to keep track of which enemies present the biggest threat at any one time. Vibri's evolution meter fills with each well-timed jump, and getting hit lowers her one level of evolution. The final form, Super Vibri, gives the player prolonged invulnerability and highlights hidden Peta, whilst also making them easier to bounce out of the mat.
    All of which combines to create a very addictive puzzle-action game, with surprising strategic depth. A skilled player will need to mentally plan a route around each picture, so that they can evolve into Super Vibri at just the right time to quickly release many small Peta, and concentrate on comboing several Peta characters at once. Sometimes a unique hidden item needs to be left until last, otherwise bonus Peta characters could be missed by finishing a level early. In addition, the player will need to plan when to attack enemies using either Super Vibri or a perfectly timed jump, as stomped enemies reawaken after a set time.
    A perfect finish (finding all items) grants you a large bonus and gold ranking, which is key to unlocking all of the pictures within the game, and is an incredibly satisfying achievement. It is this brilliantly judged balance of simple gameplay with complex strategic nuances that makes Vib Ripple such an addictive experience, giving the game a feel akin to some of the best puzzle games. Sadly, unlike the best puzzle games, once game strategy has been mastered, there isn't much reason to return to the sixty levels of Vib Ripple. Except for the fact that the game is limitlessly expandable.
    Where Vib Ribbon's length was limited only by the size of your CD collection, and Mojib Ribon by the number of emails you receive or missives you could write, Vib Ripple allows you to expand the game with as many digital pictures as you can muster. Images can be imported by hooking up one of the few supported digital cameras or camera phones over USB, or by decoding email attachments. Vib Ripple pulls off a couple of extra tricks too: pictures can be customised using Peta Characters, and a third of the Peta Characters can be found only by playing your own pictures. This seemingly great idea does suffer from the same problem seen in Vib Ripple's prequels though; the included pictures are carefully crafted to get the most out of the game system, whereas the pictures you import are not.
    While the style of the game is bright and attractive, it is a little basic and bland. The main attractions visually are the pictures themselves, and Vibri. A question for fans of Vib Ribbon will be, does she make sense here? Sadly, the answer is 'not quite'. The fabric of Vibri's character is so dependant on the musical journey experienced in her first game, taking her out of context to front a game whose focus is a visual one seems nothing more than cynical exploitation. Not to say she has lost any of her charm, as she sings out the names of the Peta collected at the end of each level, but a less stable person might suggest she shares the player's yearning for a return to her musical roots. Adding insult, the music on offer consists of purely functional little ditties, forgotten as soon as the disk stops spinning.
    Vib Ripple is an enjoyable puzzle game, with interesting connectivity features, but ultimately a short-lived experience. On balance, despite the fact her presence makes little sense, it