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The Starship Damrey (3DS) artwork

The Starship Damrey (3DS) review


The Starship Damrey starts on a very intriguing, atmospheric note when a random alarm sounds off and the protagonist awakes in a sleep chamber. Putting aside the mystery behind the ship's alarm, there's a more immediate issue: he's stuck inside a barely functioning, gloomy chamber. It's here where the "no tutorial, no hints" aspect, which the title brags about at the eShop purchase page, the instruction manual, and when the game begins, comes into play, as you fumble at poking various things and falter while entering commands on a problematic operating system. Though it might sound irritating, I genuinely found it entertaining trying to find solutions, as it was striking a fine balance between not being too difficult and not holding my hand.

Eventually, you find a way to travel the spaceship's interiors in first person... by taking control of a cutesy robot that goes "WRRRRRRRR" every time it moves. From there, you remote control the contraption, journeying through barely-lit corridors and rooms to discover a way to open your sleep chamber, all while unraveling the mysteriously dire conditions of the spacecraft. With a defenseless robot in hand, navigating the ghostly surroundings, what with the mixture of minimal blue, red, and green lights, was enjoyably unnerving. What helped, too, is the fact that my mechanical companion can only check its left and right sides when completely, casually moving in said directions; I was constantly anxious, thinking that, at some point, a venomous entity was waiting for me in a dark corner!

But 30-some minutes into Damrey, that sensation all but faded away when I realized there would be no horror to supplement that fledgling feeling of terror. The first major hint was the design of the small starship, where the corridors are conveniently big enough to only fit your droid and the rooms being extremely cramped, which would make a scenario of someone or thing going on the attack and chasing your robot through the steely structures an impossible dream. Though, the main giveaway was how predictably scripted everything comes off, meaning that if something important is to happen, it usually only occurs after the game loads, like when you're entering a new floor or after a cutscene is done playing. That's when it dawned on me that this was going to be typical adventure-style fare wrapped in a mystery, rather than a horror experience.

I would've been fine with a nice adventure to go along with the suspense or intrigue, but Damrey even fails at this. It succumbs to being a very generic fetch quest in order to progress the "narrative", like collecting ID cards off dead crew members to unlock doors, so you can... collect more ID cards off dead crew members. The devs do throw in puzzles, which you can get hung up solving if you, like, don't know how to read text in a video game. Joking aside, you can actually get lost on some of these situations, forcing a search of the entire ship for one item, due to oldschool adventure logic of having to look at something more than once, plus the annoying sensitivity of searching. With the latter, you can move a cursor around the screen in the robot's immediate vicinity, with emphasis on immediate. If your bot isn't at the right angle, the cursor won't even acknowledge something exists, and you assume nothing of value is actually there.

Yeah, Point A to Point B routes are super common in video games, but this game botches it because nothing happens during the march towards each destination. You're receiving the literal bare minimum with this package, and in turn, all you really get to focus on are basic design elements that are usually hidden behind content in other games: a billion locked doors, an object blocking a crucial path which forces you to go the long way around, or collectable space leeches (I'm not kidding) as a side task in a game that already requires the need to collect stuff in the main quest. It's especially painful due to the fact that the ship isn't even that big, boasting 23 rooms across two floors, with eight being copy-and-paste private quarters the size of a bathroom!

You can also forget about Damrey having an engaging plot, since the devs latch on to the concept of "what happened?" and, for 99% of the story, does nothing with it. Your robot finds dead bodies, and in every case, it'll come to the conclusion that something killed them. Amazing! And if you're pining for some character backstory on these crew members, it's close to non-existence. Like, you basically get info from the captain's diary late in the game, which is just super brief sentences, and you have to exit the game to view the profiles of all the found members in the archives menu. Seriously, you have to leave the game to get a semblance of story. The only time you receive some legitimate narration is when the game is done, where it dumps every answer and explanation during the post-end credits.

It's just so bizarre and unfathomable how primitive this release does everything, from gameplay and variety, to suspense and character exposition. It's like the opposite of a game titled The Night of the Sickle Weasel. You know what that is? Published on the Super Famicom back in 1994, it's a whodunit "sound" (visual) novel game situated around a group of people in a remote ski lodge. While this style of game isn't my thing, even I will admit that TNotSW succeeds at creating a tone filled with tension and dread as the player attempts to figure out the culprit behind the growing murders inside the premises. What's distinctly impressive is how it does so much with so little material, with walls of text, still images, silhouette figures, and the restless noise of the snow storm outside. The game even has branching paths and multiple endings! The atmosphere is just so thick and unsettling, making it a memorable piece of software to players willing to give it a go.

Why such an obscure comparison? Well, what if I told you the two main creators of Damrey also made TNotSW? Because that's a thing that exists in this universe we live in. Also, one of those guys, Kazuya Asano, was previously involved with a few Dragon Quest and Torneko titles! Sure, the game fails enough without this knowledge, but knowing makes this product even more numbing to the mind; both had prior experience making a captivating mystery plot, while one worked on several games with dungeon exploration, things Damrey has and mishandles tremendously. I truly want to believe they had some kind of brief development cycle or a ridiculously small budget, but when I saw an interview trailer where they say absurd things such as "...we've created a story that maximizes the medium...", I don't know what to think anymore. I should note they also basically give away most of the "interesting" moments in that trailer...

Well, they did leave out footage of the goofiest set of cutscenes in a game that's meant to be overly serious and poker-faced. Really, when I watched the first cutscene play out after solving the "hardest" puzzle in Damrey, I thought the devs lost their minds. See, towards the beginning of the game, there's another robot, reprogrammed to attack when near it, that's blocking a vital path. The solution is to counter, and this involves the use of three items: a cookie jar, oil, and a hot plate. Once you have these three components combined and confront the renegade robot, a full motion video plays out in a surprisingly dramatic fashion. This could've been done with in-game graphics, but they paid extra for something that lasts a few seconds. As for the second cutscene, I'll just say... The Blue Danube Waltz is involved. The third cutscene is a life and death struggle against, well, look for yourself:

From the creative minds behind The Night of the Sickle Weasel, Dragon Quest games, and Torneko games, ladies and gentlemen.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (November 13, 2014)

Fun fact: I accidentally knocked over a table while playing SUPERHOT VR. Twice.

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jerec posted November 13, 2014:

Yeah, I didn't get very far with this one.
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pickhut posted November 13, 2014:

I almost gave up myself. It's not even a decently long game, too, which makes it more sad how it made me want to give up too soon.

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