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Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess Review (PS Vita)

DeceptionIVbThere are things I could (and will) critisize about Deception IV, but one of them won’t be paucity of content. Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess is an updated version of Deception IV: Blood Ties. As such it includes the content from that game as well as a campaign to play through, with a new character too: Valgyrie. There’s also a new mode for creating and sharing your own scenarios called Deception Studio. Between the two campaigns and this mode, Deception IV crams a hefty amount of game into your Vita.

To a newcomer to the series, it can be hard to guess where to start though. With a Quest mode and a separate Story mode, you can actually play either and feel like you’re getting the main singleplayer campaign. Both will teach you the basics of the game with their own separate (and different) tutorials. While Valgyrie’s Quest is more challenge based with bonus goals and objectives on each level and a branching level structure, the original Deception IV questline is a bit more streamlined and linear. Curiously, this incarnation of Deception IV wins the award for “most tutorials in a single game that all teach you the same thing”, with each campaign having a tutorial, while there’s a third, seperate tutorial that teaches you how to lay traps and defeat enemies.

In truth Deception IV does a pretty good job of teaching you the fundamentals of a complex and unique gameplay system. I’m not sure what the genre is, but Trap Em Up is the best I can come up with. You run around a small environment as a one or more computer controlled enemies hunt you down. While these enemies behaviours are initially quite simple, they progress from simply walking straight at you, to lunging with spears, jumping at you or hunting you as a team. To defeat them, you open up an overhead view of the arena (pausing the action) and lay traps around the environment. The most effective way to defeat your enemies is to create complex multi-traps, building up a combo bar as enemies are smushed with rolling boulders, fired across the room with giant springs or shot full of holes by arrows fired from the walls. There’s a huge variety to the traps you can lay, and your goal is to have them trigger one after another in a sequence that alternately embarrasses, punishes, damages and eventually imprisons your opponents. After the first few levels, you will be absolutely required to engineer complex networks of traps, as your enemies develop longer health bars as well as resistances and weaknesses. For example, you might need to crack an enemies armour with a falling boulder before you can damage them with a bear trap or spikes.

The creation of these Rube Goldberg traps is a unique gameplay idea (I certainly can’t think of any games that play like the Deception series), and when you make them work as you planned, it’s incredibly satisfying. Helpfully, many levels come with examples of how best to use your traps. Often, these examples clued me in on how the traps worked together. For example, the spring floor panels could be used to redirect a rolling rock as well as flipping an enemy onto a square I wanted.

At it’s best, Decpetion will see you create elaborate mouse traps for your enemies. You’ll find that the best traps are recursive, forcing an enemy back to the beginning of the trap sequence when they reach the end, and thus acting as a perpetual conveyor belt in a kind of macabre factory of death. However, sometimes getting your enemies onto the correct panel to start the trap sequence can be a struggle. I never warmed to the realtime elements of Deception IV, and running around my own instruments of death, avoiding my own traps and trying to lure enemies to stand in just the right spot was never fun for me. Even when playing as the new character Valgyrie who has a single offensive move – a kick that moves an enemy back a square – I always felt like the realtime action was a design concession rather than a feature. I would far rather set up my traps and simply wait for the enemies to find their way into them – perhaps more like a tower defence game – than run around taking damage while clumsily shepherding them around the stage.

DeceptionIVGameplay criticisms aside, Deception IV won’t be winning any awards for it’s storyline or characterization. If JRPG’s like this (and I guess it is a kind of JRPG in a loose sense) love one setting, it’s a quasi-underworld filled with demons and the devil. So here, in a kind of humourless facsimile of the Disgaea games, you play as one of a range of demon girls hoping to bring back Satan or replace him or… something. It’s a story told by heavily sexualised static 2D cut scenes between levels, and it’s very hard to care. I guess you could argue that the BDSM imagery is better justified here, wherein you control the incarnations of abstract concepts like punishment and discipline, than in something much more facile and questionable like Criminal Girls: Invite Only, but if I never play another JRPG with sexy, spikey demon girls, that’s fine by me.

Overall, Deception IV is a pretty enjoyable, reasonably pretty Vita game. Currently, the lovely little handheld is a bit light on good new games, so Deception IV is worth considering. When you’re laying traps and designing dungeons, you’ll be having lots of fun. If the enjoyable game was connected to a better story or was a little less frustrating, I’d have less reticence in recommending it to everyone. As it stands, I’d say it’s something that you should try, and that I personally would buy.

3.5 rocks that fall on switches that open doors that fire spikes that shoot acid that… out of 5

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