The poor, abandoned PlayStation Vita continues to cling to life thanks to periodic influsions of gaming goodness. In particular, if you’re really into fanservice-laden anime titles, you can’t really beat the Vita; the PS4 comes close, sure, but nothing can top the Vita’s library when it comes to that…subgenre, is that the right word? Anyway, fanservice doesn’t necessarily mean a game is bad (and for many it might not even be a downside); Mary Skelter: Nightmares, the latest in Vita dungeon crawlers, is a great example of how that works.
Jack and Alice are childhood friends! They’re pals for life, though that life might not be especially long if we consider the fact that they’re imprisoned in a horrific biological monstrosity from which there is no escape. Nobody really knows where the Jail came from or why it does what it does, but the fact is that it’s full of nasty, seemingly-indestructible monsters called Marchens. Being stuck in jail forever wouldn’t make for much of a game, though it might be preferable to playing Mighty No. 9, so it’s not long before Jack and Alice meet Red Riding Hood, a girl with mysterious powers who can defeat the Marchens.
Red’s a Blood Maiden, a lady whose blood reacts with the Jail and Marchens in such a way that she can battle them. It’s soon revealed that not only does Alice have a similar power, but Jack does as well despite Blood typically being a girls-only club. Together with other Blood Maidens and a cast of supporting characters, Jack, Alice and co. will have to work together to try and find a way out of the Jail.
The Vita’s had its share of first-person dungeon-crawlers; Stranger of Sword City, Demon Gaze and Operations Babel and Abyss spring to mind. It’s a decent platform for this sort of game given that it’s easy to save your place and resume later on if you’re playing on the go. Mary Skelter is unique in that it’s a more character-focused Wizardrylike, incorporating a pretty decent plot into the mix to keep you delving into the monster-infested Jail.
Most of your dungeon-crawling tropes are here: explore floors, creating a map as you go and sniffing out secrets, and battle monsters when they show up. That includes both random encounters and more powerful monsters called Nightmares that need to be rendered vulnerable via special conditions before they can be defeated. Combat is turn-based with a couple interesting twists; characters accumulate blood as they fight, which can be spent either on power boosts or on support abilities via, er, licking.
A character that gets a little too bloody gains a superpowered boost called Blood Skelter, so managing the amount of blood going around is important to make sure everyone’s being as efficient as possible. Really, I’m just trying not to dwell too much on the licking or the associated cleaning minigame that…uh, yeah, this is a game on the Vita, you probably know what to expect at this point. Victory results in experience, money and gems used to learn skills and change classes; each class has its own stat adjustments and set of skills to learn, but more importantly they also each have their own outfits. Hooray for dress-up!
It’s a generally difficult game all around as you’d expect from this sort of dungeon-crawler, but at least Mary Skelter is pretty. It’s got a nice, contemporary anime style that compares well with other visually impressive Vita games like Demon Gaze. That’s a good thing; stumbling upon a particularly nasty random encounter that gets a surprise attack and devastates your party is infuriating, but at least you’ll simmer down slightly thanks to the game’s interesting art design? Really, those people who get all up in arms about Dark Souls need to give some of these Wizardry-style games a try.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares is certainly one of the better examples of the genre thanks to great art design, some unique gameplay twists and a plot that’s not just a throwaway excuse to keep you delving. It’s also just as punishing as one would hope for given the niche it fills. There’s the usual Vita fanservice and most people can take that or leave it, but if you don’t care (or even prefer that kind of thing) then chances are you’ll enjoy your time with this.