The first thing I ever heard about the PlayStation Vita game Little Deviants was that you could touch the Vita's rear touch panel to poke flat ground in the game into hills. Doing that would cause a spherical deviant who was sitting on the flat ground to roll.
Brilliant, I thought!
The first thing I did when I got Little Deviants was poke the ground with the rear touch panel.
I... didn't like it at all.
The problem with Little Deviants is that it is all gimmick. It is a collection of mini-games starring little alien critters that look like melting jelly beans and yelp like Ewoks (that design actually works!). Each mini-game is designed to showcase one of the Vita's many control options. The game's stat screen even tallies the ones you've used. You get to play games that require Vita tilting. Others require touch-screen tapping. Some involve back-panel poking. They've even got ones that force you to sing to the system.
If you've played a lot of video games, you might be thinking "WarioWare". That's Nintendo's micro-game series that has recently been used to show off the gadgetry and gimmickry of the Wii and DS. But WarioWare was born on the Game Boy Advance where it simply got to be a good game that showcased good gameplay.
Little Deviants feels like a strained batch of tech demos. It's like some bundle of wood and cloth that might be sold with a Swiss Army Knife just so you'd have something with which to test the scissors, knife, tweezers and magnifying glass.
If only Little Deviants mini-games were much fun to play. They're not. Some are tolerable if unoriginal, usually involving rolling a spherical Deviant through a maze or down a track. The ones that involve playing the Vita vertically pleasingly emulate some of the vertical platforming games popular on the iPhone and Android phones.
The worst games, sadly, are the showpiece land deformation mini-games, which are just frustrating. The back-panel land-poking trick is neat, but it's hard to manage. There's a tactile dissonance between touching the flat back panel with fingers you can't see in order to affect land that is presented with three-dimensional foreshortening on the front screen. You're supposed to deform the land in order to roll a Deviant past enemies and through electrified gates. It's hard to do and, well, the worst thing I can say about a game's controls is that they'd obviously be better with an input method other than the one a developer is forcing me to use.
Little Deviants is graphically attractive and musically joyful. Plus, you get to find and collect a cat in each level. These are cute, charming things. These are not enough, however, to balance what feels like a game made by hardware hard-sellers. Not only do we have mini-games that are made to show off various aspects of the hardware, but even the game's front menu is a ticker-tape of possible friend requests. Just in case you needed to be told that the Vita can do friend requests! No, Little Deviants, I don't want to send a friend request to that guy who my Vita encountered in the system's Near app. Nor that other guy, nor that other other person. But that other guy? I would, but his friends list is full, so please stop asking me.
Little Deviants proves to be a useful laboratory for what works and doesn't work on the Vita. I'm glad it exists to warn future developers to more cleanly re-set the zero point for tilt-based games. I'm glad it shows off how well the Vita's cameras can allow for the kind of augmented reality games (games involving shooting little spacemen who appear to be flying through your living room) that the 3DS was previously doing decently. I'm glad it exists to show developers to not go bananas with the rear touch panel but to consider sometimes running a Vita game vertically on the screen instead of horizontally.
This game is a batch of experiments. May it enable some good games that I can recommend for you to play. This one, however, is a skip.