Augmented reality (AR) games tend to spark a reaction in people, and more often than not it’s a chilling shudder down the spine. In some ways similar to the 3D push, augmented reality titles have been around for longer than you think and have yet never really become a fully realised or supported type of game. Nintendo bundled in 6 AR cards with the 3DS and yet, beyond special features, it hasn’t really taken hold.
Sony have tried the same with the Vita; from terrible broken messes like Table Football, to the slightly more enjoyable but ultimately flawed PulzAR and the five-minutes-of-fun freebie that was Table Cliff Diving. Sony has recently released Open Me! in an attempt to finally prove that there really is something in AR games. Have they accomplished it? Not quite….but with each and every AR game comes progress. It’s definitely a slow progress, but maybe one day we will all be holding devices up at symbols and walls and living through another world. Maybe.
Open Me! is at heart a simple puzzle game where you are faced with a series of boxes that you have to figure out how to open. You can use any single AR card to play (or if you lost them due to a year of non-use you can use a magazine or newspaper or even print of the official Open Me! AR card here,(Pro tip: it makes no difference whatsoever) and the game will use the marker to display the initial menu and then the boxes as and when you play them. Game play is fairly simple and involves you moving around the box to uncover buttons and contraptions in a bid to open them. While things start really simply with boxes that can be opened with a couple of button taps, things soon get more complicated as sliding mechanisms are introduced along with boxes that need to be pressed with two, three or four fingers at a time. Some boxes contain spinning blades that hurt you (each time you get hit you lose a finger, and losing them all means level failed). Some boxes have displays with unique requirements and some boxes play Simon Says with you. The inventiveness is sublime and refreshing, and I certainly had some head scratching moments, especially with the robot box (pictured) and the see through boxes that look like they are made from glass. Hats off to Sony for mixing things up and keeping it interesting. Being an AR game however, I found myself wanting to be alone in a room with my pouffe in the centre of the room and no one watching, with the four dogs on their beds safely away from distraction. I know this is the nature of AR games but it doesn’t really go with the portable gaming vibe.
Things are presented in a nice and clean manner but I did find moments where the game struggled to pick up the AR card, even in a well lit room. Further still as this is a game that relies on both movement around the box and tapping it, I found it a bit annoying that some of the smaller buttons and contraptions need a very steady hand and prodding perfection to activate them. Every box you play rates you on time and the number of moves (or wrong moves) and it’s a shame that the game failing to sometimes register your seemingly perfectly placed poke can ruin your high score. I feel the area for registering inputs on the boxes could be a little wider to compensate for the lax technology used. Despite this you can, of course, replay levels for a better score and leader boards are present if that’s your thing. There are, however, loads of boxes in several packs, and Sony has been clever with the pricing structure. Each pack (of which there are 12, 13 if you count the bonus pack) contains 4 boxes with a feature box that is more unique than the others. If you want, you can download and trial the game for free, and you can buy packs for €0.79/£0.65 each. Or you can buy them all for €7.99/£6.49. Or half of them for €4.49/£3.69. This open-endedness will no doubt help people decide if it’s for them, but those looking for the puzzle experience would be advised to go all in for the full set as individual sets can be completed in minutes whereas the whole package could take several hours.
Outside of single player there is a multiplayer offering but unfortunately I could barely test it. The main menu has an inbox which will from time to time send you unique box challenges. There is also a ‘create a box mode’ which lets you choose from a set of different contraptions, traps and mechanisms and drag them to part one, two or three. The game then generates you a puzzle box that you can send to ten friends a day for them to beat. The idea is the more they fail your boxes the more points you get which in turn unlocks more traps and contraptions for you to use. Unfortunately I don’t have many friends (on the Vita I mean, no tiny violins please) so I sent my box out to the friends I have and as yet haven’t had them play it. It’s a good idea in principle but luckily it’s not tied to any trophies. In fact, if you like trophies across the spread of the packs there’s a few easy silvers in there for simply opening boxes. All in all; Open Me! surprised me as a fun and inventive little puzzler that will unfortunately probably not sell too well given it’s nature. It’s far from perfect (and technology is at least partly to blame here) but it’s refreshing to play something a bit different on the Vita. Whether it’s worth the price of admission depends on whether you like puzzle games, but as AR games go this is the first title that’s actually shown me that maybe one day AR games will be more than just a gimmick.