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Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (PC) artwork

Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (PC) review

"Retro-laced, challenge-tinted adorableness."

It will surprise some when I mention that Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure was a 2004 release. Maybe you’ll point frantically at the early 2007 PSP version, but that was just a port of the Japanese exclusive PC issue of 2004. It was a good port – It had to be to have site EiC, Jason Venter, rave about a non-Nintendo exclusive – but it’s a little curious that it’s taken over a decade to come full circle. It’s not like the handheld copy was poorly received – it did very well for itself, and, even before that, many people were happy to suffer through moonspeak PC Gurumin to get their fix of adorable 3D action-adventuring.

It just meant missing out on the translated tale of Parin and her whimsical war against the phantoms who vie to take over a world inhabited by monsters that only children can see. That’s okay: I’ll fill them in with what I've learnt. Twelve-year-old girl, Parin, wages a whimsical war against surly phantoms in order to protect the world of monsters only she, as the only child in her boring village, can see. It’s a simplistic tale, where she needs to rescue her monstrous chums and then reclaim their furniture to uncover more and more of the map to explore. Although there are only five different level backdrops included, they all come with their own unique nuances; some delve through winding forests that sport the odd sentient tree who grow bombs instead of acorns and are happy to dump them on your head. Some carve their way through forgotten ruins where spiders lazily assault you or ask you to plot dangerous treks through winding mountain paths or through crumbing rock ledges above pits of bubbling lava.

None of this is entirely new. Well, aside from having the main thrust of your quest revolve around recovering stolen furniture for invisible monsters, and that’s what helps Gurumin stand out. There’s a prevailing sense of impulsive adorableness that runs throughout the vibrantly-created world. Something as modest as pausing the game causes a little speech bubble to emanate from Parin asking the world to “Wait Up!” The game plays cute little beeps every time she blinks or runs. Show off some of your fancier moves in front of an audience to see the speech bubbles return with exclamations such as “Wow!” “Hot!” “Ouch!” and “:-)!” There’s a playful early-morning cartoon feel about Gurumin that seeps into every aspect of the game’s design.

For example! There’s no grind to Parin’s adventure, so your power increase is reliant on finding bigger and better equipment to deck the girl out in, but is mostly represented by headwear. Water-resilient goggles help guard you against water damage and mean you can spend some time (very awkwardly) swimming around when you stumble across bodies of water. This is helpful when early stages present you with platforming sections that punish you by getting you wet should you mistime a leap towards a pedestal. Later, you’ll gain access to a series of dank caves covered in toxic plants that spew out poisonous clouds for which you could do with purchasing a gas mask from the village. This not only offers you some resistance towards being poisoned but swaps out the chunky goggles sitting on Parin’s forehead for, well, a gas mask.

There’s a huge amount of headgear to find in dungeons, buy from the town, trade for completion bonuses or earn through simplistic side quests. I gravitated towards the Vampire Kit which planted a brimmed hat bookended by fangs atop Parin’s head coupled up with sharp sunglasses. This gave you the ability to steal away life force from anything you hit with a critical strike. At first, anyway. The bigger phantoms you fight throughout the levels have to be stripped of their armour before you can hurt them, and doing so allows you to collect the broken scrap and use it to upgrade gear. After one upgrade, the Vampire Kit was bolstering my defence so I took significantly less damage. After another, it was buffing my attack.

Armoured phantoms start creeping more and more into the game as it progresses until they subtly became the norm. Rather than being able to just lay into them, Parin has to charge up her weapon of choice – a mining drill – to smash away at their defences. This is simple to start with when it’s a few isolated targets that wobble helpfully into your attacks so their flimsy-looking helmet flies off, but, by end game, you can expect to be taking on platoons of fully armoured enemies spitting fire, waving swords or clad in giant boxing gloves. The delicate dialling up of the game’s threat presents an almost perfect learning curve – by the time the big guns are rolled out, you should have a decent enough grasp on the game’s combat to hold your own. It’s not hard to keep on top of equipment; you should be easily able to rotate between several well-levelled pieces to suit your terrain. You can buy drill parts in town to unlock fancy power moves, which you will effortlessly be able to afford by endgame without undue resource grinding.

As the game rolls on and stops holding your hand, you’ll find it unwilling to take pity on your fragile pre-teen protagonist and asks you to put everything you've slowly learnt together to forge on. An early boss hovers above the ground, forcing you to chain together a combo of jumping homing attacks on weaker minions just so you can reach them while normal phantoms start piggy-backing on hovering bats or learn how to teleport. Having more control over your critical strikes goes a long way into unstacking the odds; rather than button mash attack and hope a random percentage kicks in, you can farm criticals by attacking in sync with the background music, whose beats are tracked at the top of the screen. Collecting critical strikes also slowly levels up your drill’s power, which debuffs when you take damage, forcing you into a constant balancing act. You don’t want to get hit anyway; it’s rarely a good thing, but knowing that you’ll get chunks torn off that fully leveled drill you’ll been proudly cultivating is an excellent bonus initiative.

Then you’ll finish the level and pick up a stereo for that annoying blue monster back in the town who just won’t stop busting fly dance moves, yo. Another section of the map will be lifted from the fog that stops you exploring, and on you go. Except, you don’t need to forge right on right away; completionists can revisit beaten stages to try and earn a gold medal for S-Rank domination that can be traded for more headgear from your stuttering grandfather back home. There’s not a scrap of the map that you can’t go back to if the mood so takes you with a hardier Parin to rage against once difficult stumbling blogs for brags and gold. Flaccid A-Ranks afforded because I’d somehow managed to not smash one pot or had let a single phantom survive my onslaught stung my manly pride and had to be eradicated immediately.

I found myself extremely taken by this utterly charming 2004 re-release. Gurumin’s ability to rediscover relevance over a decade later in a market vastly populated by gritty realism, numbing brutality and lots of shades of the colour brown is refreshing. It’s a retro-tinged blast of lighthearted innocence that remembers, more than anything else, that we sit down and let our lives tick away in front of a monitor because playing these games is supposed to be fun. Box checked, grin plastered, wooden chest of drawers rescued from that suspicious tree grove.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (April 09, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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