Vib Ribbon has been a long time coming to the PS One Classics range. Released back in 2000 and developed by the creator of the classic PaRappa the Rappa, Masaya Matsuura, as with his other games, this was a unique take on the music rhythm games starring a charismatic rabbit, Vibri…
Unusually for the PS One, gamers in the UK and Europe were well served with the game as it was released here as well as in its native Japan but not in the USA, unusually and it’s only now with its release as part of the PS One Classics range that it’s available officially for our American friends. But has it been worth the wait?
Before I continue I do want to stress one thing about Vib Ribbon and this review in particular. As with virtually every PS One Classic that is available to buy from the PSN Store, this game runs on the PS3, PSP and PS Vita but while I have played the game on all three systems, I am only looking at it in relation to the PS Vita for the purpose of this review. This is especially important in the case of Vib Ribbon as I’ll explain later on…
As with the other games developed by Masaya Matsuura, Vib Ribbon is a somewhat surreal experience. Vibri can be best described as a dancing rabbit living in a monochromatic word who hops, skips, and jumps along a never ending line avoiding obstacles in his way. His only “companion” as he travels the line, the Vib Ribbon, is music that helps him along the way but whatever he is listening to affects the ribbon, shaping it, and distoring it, placing obstacles in Vibri’s way that he has to negotiate.
Four main types of obstacles are thrown in his path – blocks, pits, jagged lines and loops and these can be traversed by pressing the appropriate button on the PS Vita – L, Down (on the D-Pad), X and R respectively although timing of these is critical. Mistime the button press and the line starts to distort and eventually Vibri devolves into different creatures including a frog and a worm making traversing the Ribbon more difficult but successfully bypass enough obstacles and Vibri can evolve, the peak of this is his winged form. You need to be careful though as if Vibri devolves too many times and collides with too many obstacles then it’s game over.
The game is split over three difficulty levels – bronze, silver and gold and each of these is split into two rounds. Each round features two songs (performed by Japanese group Laugh and Beats) and as you progress through each round and level, the tempo increases, and as such the rate at while the obstacles appear increases as well. One the tougher settings, combined obstacles also appear that require multiple button presses adding an extra twist to the game.
Visually the game is incredibly simplistic as the screenshots show opting for a vector graphics approach seen in the arcades in the early 80s but this works surprisingly well. Vibri is still full of character and at no point does the game look cluttered or confusing and everything is easy to make out. Sound fits the game well to with an undertandably J-Pop approach but with plenty of cutesy sounds effects and speech that bring Vibri to life. There are plenty of short animations throughout the game using the wireframe engine featuring him that really do bring our long-eared friend to life remarkably well and while he’s not a character that you could see taking the lead role in a major title, he’s incredibly charismatic in his own unique way.
It’s not all good though… on first impressions loading up Vib Ribbon, the title screen starts off well and sets the tone for the whole game and introduced Vibri waling around the screen while the title track played… although the first signs of the game’s limitations show here as the title track lasts mere seconds before looping and quickly grates. Looking at the astonishingly small file size, I immediately began to wonder just how much music was actually present on the virtual disc… Not a lot as it turned out.
As I said, including all three difficulty settings the total game is split over six rounds but each time you play the same pieces of music are used meaning that there are only six pieces of music on offer in the entire game. For a game that centres around music this isn’t really acceptable. If I decided to buy a game in the Guitar Hero series, I’d at least want to have a reasonable selection of songs to play on the game and I expected the same here. At first this may have seemed like a massive mistake by Sony when first developing the game, but this is where Vib Ribbon’s original gimmick came into play and what leads to it’s downfall on the Vita.
Originally, the game allowed you to remove the game disc and insert your own audio CD into the PS One and use that to create your own custom game soundtrack. When doing this you could play the game against a single track or an entire album and it left you in total control of the game’s difficulty. If you wanted a more laid-back experience all you had to do was insert a slower more relaxed CD but if you wanted a hardcore gaming experience then all you had to do was find a fast tempo CD and let the game do all the work for you. The concept was brilliant and the execution of it was fabulous and gave the game unlimited replayability making it a true classic. Without it, Vib Ribbon would have just faded into obscurity.
Now, on the PS3 this function has been retained so you can still use your own CDs – it’s a great gaming experience and short of being able to use your own MP3s as background music for any game it makes for a perfect music game and combining that with the easy to learn yet addictive gameplay you really can’t go wrong with it. BUT this isn’t a PS3 website and I’m not talking about playing Vib Ribbon on a PS3. The more observant of you may have noticed that the PS Vita can’t play CDs. It only runs PS One games through emulation (unlike the PS3 which can play PS One games physically) so that leaves us with something of a quandary. We may be able to run the Vib Ribbon game from the PSN Store, but when it comes to using additional music the game simply won’t allow us to. There’s no MP3 support, we can’t simply “change discs” (the game doesn’t support virtual disc swapping the same way PS One multi disc titles do, and even if it did, we’d still need music converted to virtual discs for it to work) so we’re stuck with the six included songs and nothing else.
It’s incredibly frustrating because I genuinely enjoyed playing the game and – as with all the PS One Classics – it looks better on the Vita’s screen than it does blown up onto a TV screen through the PS3. It’s just so frustrating that the entire game – all six rounds – takes around 20 minutes to play through and that’s all there is to it. Beyond that, there’s no repeat play value other than attempting to better your personal best scores and achieve a better performance on any of the rounds in the game. That would be all well and good but the game fails to make any use of the Vita’s virtual PS One memory cards so if you do manage to get onto the game’s hi-score tables, any records are lost once you quit the game. While this may seem like nitpicking, for a game that offers hi-score table support, this really isn’t acceptable for a PS One game from 2000 when games released at the start of the console’s lifespan were offering that as standard.
I really had high hopes for this game considering its pedigree but – on the Vita at least – I was sorely disappointed. While I certainly enjoyed playing it, it was incredibly short-lived and failed to deliver on its true potential and because of this it’s not something I can wholeheartedly recommend to PS Vita owners. Strip away the ability to use custom soundtracks and the games shortcomings are all too apparent and it offers too little long term appeal to be worth considering for play on the go. By all means buy this if you are planning on using it on the Vita’s big brother, but if you’re only interested in this for your handheld then look elsewhere.
At A Glance
- Title: Vib Ribbon
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- System: PSOne Classics
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- PlayStation TV Compatible: Yes
- Memory Card Space Needed: 25Mb