Take Home Alone, give the protagonist a slightly stronger relationship with The Devil, and you'll get Deception 4: Blood Ties. It's the unexpected revival of a Tecmo series with a premise so irresistible, it's a little surprising the last sequel sits nearly a decade away. Since the series' creaky 1996 beginnings, every take on Deception has felt like a more refined version of the same basic idea, and part four doesn't differ at all in this respect. Tecmo's desire to make Blood Ties about twice as long as it needed to be make some sections feel like a total slog, but the series' focus on lethal Rube Goldbergian puzzles remains undeniably addictive.
Blood Ties throws you into the role of Laegrinna, the very daughter of The Devil, whose frail humanoid form belies her true power: Setting up elaborate death traps to cut short the lives of anyone entering her domain. And while the basic act of luring enemies into bear traps, springboards, and swinging axes may seem simple at first, Deception 4 shines by constantly challenging players to make the best use of their arsenals in increasingly elaborate ways. Sure, you could always catapult that annoying soldier into a bed of spikes, but when you see that rickety chandelier dangling over his head, just try and resist figuring out how to make it come crashing down.
Blood Ties falls in line with later installments of the series by focusing not just on killing intruders, but doing so as part of a long (and creative) chain of mayhem and humiliation. The developers understand that it could be incredibly easy to fall into a rut of using the same traps over and over again, so Deception continually offers rewards for experimentation. Because stairs, columns, and other architectural features of a room shape your trap-placing potential, each section of Laegrinna's habitat presents a unique challenge that tests your versatility, especially when enemies start appearing with resistances to certain kinds of traps. And with each room offering its own pre-installed traps that take a bit of extra work to get right, Deception 4 gives players plenty of tools to figure out how to send an enemy flying from one end of the room to another via a 10-hit combo.
Deception 4 could be an incredibly frustrating game if enemies had the same amount of craftiness as the whisper-thin Laegrinna, but luckily, her opponents aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. Braindead enemies could easily be a downside in another genre, but Blood Ties isn't interested in quick action; instead, the emphasis is placed on building elaborate trap systems that work within the restrictions of their respective rooms. And when you're trying to see if you've finally stumbled into something that works, it'sa godsend to have not-so-bright test subjects so willing to walk across the same spot that nearly killed them minutes ago. The challenge--and satisfaction--isn't so much in the act of killing so much as it is the means of killing.
Keeping with the game's trend of encouraging players to experiment, Blood Ties offers a handful of environments, each with their own unique quirks and pre-installed traps. The game starts off in your standard spooky mansion, but Laegrinna and friends soon flee to a factory with a working sawmill and an abandoned amusement park where you can eject unfortunate opponents into the mouth of a giant clown. Unfortunately, towards the end of the game, Deception's desire to consistently present new wrinkles to the formula had me doing what the game initially seemed engineered to discourage--resorting to repetitive tactics in the pursuit of progression.
The game also works against itself when it comes to certain enemies that employ cheap tactics. About halfway through the game, enemies gain a number of offensive options, and while they aren't any smarter, their attacks sometimes stun Laegrinna. This often results in other enemies getting free, often unavoidable attacks on you. And considering Laegrinna can't take more than a few hits before keeling over, and death often means returning to a checkpoint that's 20 minutes in your wake, you'll tend to resort to a more conservative playstyle. In the latter 20 percent of the game, I stuck to some very basic, boring trap setups because the experimenting I did in the past often just resulted in very, very annoying deaths.
It's this reason Deception IV works best in Mission Mode, which offers 100 unique, bite-sized challenges that range from scoring a particular amount in a trap combo to using a predetermined assembly of traps to kill a stationary enemy. While in the main game, an experiment gone wrong can cost you up to half an hour of progress. In Mission Mode, it's much less of a time sink to finally try out everything you've unlocked from the campaign. And because money and experience from Mission Mode carry over into the story, it's always fun to play a handful of challenges after a chapter, if only to collect resources for some of the costlier traps in a much more relaxing atmosphere.
Even if you've never heard of Deception, there's no need to fear the "4" that follows its title; Blood Ties doesn't require any knowledge of the older games, and, if anything, it's the finest take on Tecmo's cult series to date--even if it doesn't quite stick the landing. Deception hasn't yet been able to shake out all of its flaws, but it's still an undeniably addictive experience unlike anything else you'll find on the Vita… or any other platform, for that matter.