"Rather than rely on an obvious weapon like a sword or stick, Parin uses a drill. It’s her sole offensive measure and one more reason Gurumin is so memorable. With a sword, all the rock walls she encounters might have lacked any significance. With a drill, though, they represent the opportunity for exploration."
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure might have been developed for the PC, but you’d never know it from playing the PSP version. The game feels like it was made just for Sony’s portable and you could even be excused for thinking that the inverse is true. Beautiful, fun, deep and frequently rewarding, Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure is the sort of game that in better times might have been a system seller but today runs the risk of drowning in a sea of sports sims and lifeless military shooters.
Perhaps if Gurumin had taken some Western design sensibilities into consideration, it could’ve been a resounding commercial success. The little red-headed girl named Parin that serves as the protagonist could have been replaced with a buxom blonde named Bubbles who lost her armor and now must wear a bikini. The cartoon-styled Phantom creatures Parin fights could’ve been replaced by grotesque piles of bone and flesh. Parin’s drill might have been replaced with a soul drainer and the simple sound of a Phantom bursting upon defeat could’ve been changed to the anguished howl of a beast headed for eternal damnation. That might’ve sold more copies.
It also would’ve been pretty dang stupid.
Gurumin succeeds not in spite of its failure to embrace such mainstream elements, but because of it. The world of monsters Parin encounters is memorable for its innocence, because the slight feeling of menace that pervades the adventure is decidedly out of place. The player is compelled to set things right with brave little Parin as his avatar. You’ll want the Dark Mist that hangs over the map to vanish because the world of monsters is a beautiful place and worth saving.
As the game opens, Parin isn’t so brave and she knows nothing of the monsters or their beautiful home. She’s just a twelve-year-old girl who has come to live with her grandfather in a mining town while her parents work an archaeological site in places unknown. Shortly after arriving, she meets a ‘monster’ only she can see. When she saves it from a snarling dog, she’s welcomed to the monster’s world. Yet shortly after her arrival, disaster strikes. Suddenly, she inherits the responsibility of saving the world from apparent destruction at the hand of the villainous creatures known only as Phantoms.
Saving the world means wandering through a bunch of dungeons. That’s where you’ll spend the bulk of your time. Gurumin feels like Zelda without the overworld. You simply select your next destination on the map and enter it to begin your adventure. Sometimes you’re in an underground ruin. Elsewhere, you’re wandering through a forest or along the face of a mountain or through one of several caverns. Each area is portrayed with careful attention to detail. Little details like crescent-shaped windows along the edge of a cliff give the world its charm and make it feel like it’s really inhabited. Greater variety certainly wouldn’t have hurt, but there are several distinct environments and you’ll come to enjoy them all.
Completing a stage is as simple as wandering through the rooms, vanquishing monsters and solving rudimentary puzzles. They’re of the crate-pushing, switch-pulling variety, but somehow they’re not as irritating in Gurumin as they are in other games. Perhaps that’s because there’s plenty to do besides fiddle around with levers. Parin can also search nooks and crannies that are off the beaten path, and will often be rewarded with treasure above and beyond the reward that waits for her at the end of a given dungeon. In fact, to truly master a level, she’ll have to set foot on nearly every ledge and seek out enemies that don’t wish to be found.
All of that could have grown tiring--and to be honest, sometimes it still does for brief moments here and there--but developer Falcom went a step further. Rather than rely on an obvious weapon like a sword or stick, Parin uses a drill. It’s her sole offensive measure and one more reason Gurumin is so memorable. With a sword, all the rock walls she encounters might have lacked any significance. With a drill, though, they represent the opportunity for exploration. Parin smashes open vases, drills through cracked stone, turns boulders to rubble and trees to splinters. What initially screams ‘gimmick’ turns into an extension of the game’s heroine and allows her to truly impact the world around her. Parin can’t defeat every monster with a few quick swipes of the drill. Instead, she must drill through their protective armor, all the while dodging their attacks.
On the defensive side, Parin has several enticing options. Instead of equipping a suit of armor--though she can find numerous costume changes secreted away in Gurumin’s surprisingly large world--she switches pieces of headgear. Each change has an effect on her stats and also her ability to survive the monster world’s hazards. As an example, she can wear goggles to avoid taking damage when she falls into a pool of water. When she heads into mines full of poisonous vapor, there’s the gas mask. Many of these options for armament aren’t available at first, but instead must be discovered in deviously hidden chests. In this manner, the game offers tangible rewards for constant exploration. There’s always the sense that over that ledge or at the end of that path through the forest, you’ll find something that made any headaches you encountered entirely worthwhile.
Gurumin really only has a few flaws. The lack of variety in the stages sometimes stings, even though everything that’s here is great. Furthermore, those players who want to find every last secret will often finish a level just shy of the perfect rating they needed because somewhere in the stage a monster they had to defeat died without the fact registering, or somehow wandered off where he couldn't be found. Finally, the load times you have to sit through during the infrequent moments where more of the map is revealed are rather irritating, even though you’ve definitely seen worse on the PSP. These are all minor issues. Though they manage to make Gurumin stop short of perfection, they shouldn’t keep you from playing it and loving it. The world of video games could use more monstrous adventures like Parin’s. Don’t miss it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 19, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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