SCE Japan Studio’s new puzzler OPEN ME! is the first game on PlayStation Vita that gives you real reason to dig around in your drawers to search for those Augmented Reality (AR) cards that have probably been gathering dust since the handheld launched in 2012. The concept may be simple and AR may still be considered a gimmick, but its execution is truly genius.
Gameplay involves trying to open a series of boxes in order to claim a reward. Placing an augmented reality card onto a flat surface and pointing Vita’s camera toward it makes a box magically appear on screen. The idea is to work out a way to open the box and bypass its locking mechanisms as quickly as possible by examining it from all angles and interacting with it in a variety of ways to try and work out a way in.
OPEN ME! isn't for coach potatoes as it requires some degree of physical movement as you move Vita’s camera around the box to examine all sides in order to search for clues on how to open it. Consequently, it’s a game that you won’t be playing on the move. In fact, you’ll probably want to play it alone locked away in a room with total silence so that your brain can process the logic required to master some tricky puzzles.
A brief tutorial introduces players to some of the actions that are needed to open the boxes, including deft flicks, multi-point taps and quick burst combos that enable you to bypass traps, open clasps and trigger sliding mechanisms. The act of having to physically move around the box - as if Vita’s camera is a magnifying glass and you are a detective - while interacting with Vita’s touchscreen, is a fun and intuitive combination that feels so much different to other puzzle games on the handheld.
The full game, priced at a modest €7.99/£6.49, gives you access to 12 packs of boxes each containing four boxes that you need to crack, making a grand total of 48 head-scratching puzzles. However, it’s good to see that Sony has also given players a range of alternatively-priced options with a six pack bundle for €4.49/£3.69 (24 boxes) or the option to try one pack (4 boxes) for just €0.79/£0.65. If you’re unsure whether OPEN ME! is for you, we’d highly recommend you trying the demo or just one pack. If you love puzzles and are up for the challenge, we guarantee that you won't want to put it down after cracking your first box.
The real challenge of OPEN ME! is provided by the design of the boxes which vary in look and complexity. From simple wooden chests that require you to activate a basic sliding mechanism by running your finger across the screen to high-tech metal chests complete with computerised devices and finger-snapping traps, no two boxes are the same. A degree of logic is needed to progress as you encounter elaborately designed boxes with multiple mechanisms and traps to bypass or sequential codes to crack. Multiple on-screen gestures, such as having to hold down a button while moving around the box to flick a switch, are soon called for as puzzles get increasingly more complex.
An example of one of the more elaborate boxes
Boxes can often be interacted with in multiple ways with the likes of buttons, clasps and switches that when touched might cause another mechanism to trigger. Consequently, you often need to work out what each action does in order to carefully plan the best way to open it. To make things trickier, there are often traps that can be triggered at any time revealing obstacles such as rotating blades. On these occasions, it may be a case of having to time a series of button presses so that you don’t get your virtual fingers hurt.
The feeling of satisfaction gained each time you open a box motivates you to keep ploughing on through the single player mode, though the rewards inside the boxes aren’t particularly impressive; expect to find the likes of a fried egg and a trowel for your efforts. The real reward however is the kudos of beating the box and achieving a good ranking which depends on how quickly you crack the puzzle. OPEN ME! supports Trophies too so there’s replay value in beating your best time and achieving ‘A’ rankings across the board.
Beyond the single-player campaign there’s also a co-op mode where players are tasked with solving boxes together. Sadly, this is an ad-hoc mode only so you can only play with another Vita owner at your location, but there’s more tricky boxes to open and working them out together is double the fun, with the only annoying factor being when the box disappears from the screen temporarily if you don't keep the camera pointed firmly at the AR card.
One of the most impressive features of OPEN ME! is the online mode which allows players to create Challenge Boxes that can be sent to friends. It’s a simple and intuitive interface for creating boxes, which requires you to drag traps and switches into slots on the screen. You can take a photo of anything you like (keep it clean) and place it inside the box as a reward for whoever cracks it.
You can gain XP for creating boxes, for solving boxes that are sent to you and for creating boxes that others cannot crack. XP gains you access to more elaborate devices for your boxes so you get rewarded each time you create one. The idea is to build up your XP to such a level that you’ll be creating boxes that are so difficult to solve that you’ll rise up the leaderboards. For further added value, Sony has also promised rare boxes will be delivered to your inbox in-game and if cracked will yield better XP rewards. They’ll also be more boxes made available via the PlayStation Store in due course.
OPEN ME! makes very clever use of AR to deliver a game that is both fun and challenging. Considering the aim of the game is to just open boxes, it’s testament to the designers that after completing each box we’ve been really eager to play more. For the modest price tag too, OPEN ME! offers superb value for money with single-player, co-op and an online mode that could be extremely popular if the game takes off. And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t as OPEN ME! delivers the best use of AR cards yet for Vita and is a thoroughly enjoyable game to boot.
-The Final Word-
Fun, challenging and addictive, OPEN ME! proves that augmented reality gaming isn't just a gimmick.