The cocked eyebrow has been the default reaction to any merger between sex and games since Custer shuffled his way across the desert. There it was raised in horror, but it has also been raised in amusement (Leisure Suit Larry), bemusement (that “naked Lara” urban myth) and bafflement (Catherine).
“Certainly, there’s a degree of self-awareness, a cheekiness underlying the experience.”The grandiose, symbolic Catherine tradition is probably the one most befitting of Luxuria Superbia, but it’s a loose fit for a game that really doesn’t want to be categorised. True, there are echoes of those whacky experimental titles that have trickled out of Japan over the years (the infamous LSD came to mind within a few minutes), but this is a game with its own perspective on matters carnal.
It’s not a perspective devoid of humour, either. Certainly, there’s a degree of self-awareness, a cheekiness underlying the experience. The sexual content is relegated to the realm of euphemism, with the player tasked with reawakening the colour in a set of flowers by rubbing their way down a tunnel lined with buds, which burst to life upon being touched. The aim is to strike a balance between fulfilling the needs of the flowers and prolonging the process. Progression is marked by a set of columns (of course it is!) and, as the instructions inform us, “time spent in a colored flower makes its column grow” (of course it does!).
Luxuria Superbia is a multi-platform title, but the iPad feels like its natural home. Touchscreen gaming can all too easily devolve into virtual joypads, so it’s refreshing to find a game which re-kindles the sense of excitement that the launch of the DS awakened just under a decade ago (whilst also fulfilling the promise of all those filthy jokes we thought up back then, as well). By making full use of multi-touch, the game encourages the player to engage with it on a purely tactile level, finding new finger combinations, new means to rub and caress. At its best, this tactility can take on a hypnotic, blissful quality reminiscent of Flower. It’s a brilliant piece of interface design, the defining moment for which will come when the player realises that they’re giving a massage to the device they read their e-mails on.
Whether an experiential, experimental game like this can be judged against the usual metrics is a tricky question, the answer to which can easily slide into either reductive dullness or artier-than-thou snobbery (“It’s not supposed to be fun, philistine!”). It certainly seems valid to expect a game to meet a basic threshold of engagement, and while Luxuria Superbia is never boring, as such, it’s hard to avoid a sense of repetition when each level is fundamentally the same. Those transcendent moments are certainly there, but the wait between them might not be so blissful.
“It’s a brilliant piece of interface design, the defining moment for which will come when the player realises that they’re giving a massage to the device they read their e-mails on.To reiterate, though: this is an experience more than a traditional game, and it’s just the sort of experimentation with interface that should be welcomed as we move increasingly away from the traditional modes of control (see, for example, the recently announced Steam controller). That eyebrow is still cocked, yes, but it’s with intellectual curiosity and, perhaps, admiration this time.