Fun yet elementary. This is about as decent a description of Mastiff’s Falcom-developed action adventure Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure for the PSP as any you’re going to get. It’s an entertaining, yet largely sterile adventure that retraces the steps of countless games that came before it. Yet, sometimes the mold is not in need of being broken, and as is the case with Gurumin, a game can readily play within established boundaries and still be quite enjoyable. While not quite up to the standards of let’s say Daxter, Gurumin is nonetheless a welcome addition to the PSP’s slowly growing identity.
Gurumin tells the story of Parin, a little girl whose archaeologist parents sent her to live with her grandfather while they embarked on a dig abroad. Sadly, upon arrival in the quiet mining town of Tiese, Parin quickly discovers that she is the only child around, leaving her largely alone in the strange new place. Before long, however, Parin notices a dog barking at a small girl in the streets, though oddly nobody else in town seems to take notice. Parin and the little girl, Pino, become fast friends, though it turns out that indeed none of the other people in town can see her. As it would have it, Pino turns out to be a monster child from a neighboring dimension that is invisible to adults, and it isn’t long before she takes Parin to her world to meet her strange yet accommodating friends in Monster Village.
However, soon after stepping foot in the dimension, the village is attacked by a group of powder blue creatures known as phantoms who capture many of the town’s peaceful monsters and cover the world in an evil mist. To save her new friends, Parin takes up the village’s legendary artifact, a mysterious yet powerful drill once used by a human long ago to defeat an ancient dragon, and with it she takes to the task of finding her friends as well as various other stolen items. As monsters and items are uncovered, Monster Village is slowly rebuilt over the course of the game’s 10 or so hour adventure which, while perhaps overly cute, is nonetheless fairly entertaining.
Even with a mythological drill on a stick, combating the game’s various enemies can prove to be somewhat trying, especially for a twelve year old girl. Gurumin’s enemies come in all shapes and sizes, and the particularly tough ones – phantoms – often come protected with an assortment of equipment to help tilt the balance in their favor. Thankfully, however, Parin’s drill is uniquely suited for stripping these bits of metal off opponents, and even better, these bits of discarded junk can then be gathered up and used to upgrade Parin’s equipment in Tiese to help tip the odds back in her favor. Sort of cosmic balance, I suppose.
In addition, Parin herself has a few tricks up her oversized sleeves to help throw back opponents. She can charge her drill in order to dig through opponents and obstacles, and she can do a guard dash in order to move quickly out of the way and avoid damage. In addition, as more attacks connect, the drill’s level slowly increases up to three levels, with each offering more potent attacks and new abilities as well. For instance, when maxed out, the drill can project a laser for long distance attacks, an invaluable asset when facing multiple phantoms at once. In addition, taking damage lowers the drill’s level a bit, so there is an added incentive to play defensively as well.
For a game as, for lack of a better term, simplistic as Gurumin, the game is surprising in its depth and emphasis on replayablity. There are a number of secrets to be found that, while completely optional, are certain to make the game more appealing to those players looking to get more out of the game than just the main quest. Everything from unlockable items and costumes for Parin to numerous collectibles and mini-games are waiting for the dyed-in-the-wool completionist.
While all of this is good fun, as with the lion’s share of PSP titles, Gurumin’s most significant shortcomings lie not with the game, but rather with the handheld itself. Besides the inordinate amount of loading that can and does crop up from time to time, the game’s controls are also a bit nonsensical, forcing you to perform rolling D-Pad and button combinations ala Street Fighter II in order to pull off Parin’s various techniques. It can be done, but it’s an activity for which the console is certainly not ideal.
However, altogether Gurumin is a welcome surprise for the PSP, and one that owners of Sony’s sleek handheld should well consider picking up, if even just for a rental. The game is short, but offers enough extra content to keep players coming back should they fancy an extended stay. The game is fun, whimsical, and while perhaps a bit child-like in its presentation, is still accessible to most anyone with a penchant for anime-inspired action.