Some games just hit you when you're searching for something to buy at the local game store. They have these amazing covers full of great looking characters and pictures on the back of the box that let you know that this is the game for you. Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure is not one of those games. Instead this is the type of title you would probably walk right by, completely ignoring it while reaching for the newest Burnout or SOCOM game. But with its lengthy adventure and engaging story Gurumin deserves to be noticed, even if it has sugar sweet characters and screenshots that don't look very impressive. Gurumin may not look like much, but it's easily the most endearing adventure game currently available for Sony's PSP, and that's just one of the reasons why you should give this game a chance.
Gurumin is developed by Nihon Falcom, a Japanese company that has been around for nearly 25 years. Most people will know Nihon Falcom for their long-running series Y's (which has been on everything from the TurboGrafx-CD to the PlayStation 2), but the company has also released a number other phenomenal games that were critically acclaimed but completely ignored by the video game buying public. Don't let Gurumin become another Popful Mail, it's about time Nihon Falcom has a major hit.
In Gurumin you play a young girl named Parin who is shipped off to live with her grandfather in a sleepy town full of nothing but adults. Understandably disappointed that she is the only kid in this entire town, Parin sets off to find something to do to keep her mind off of what is sure to be a boring situation. Before long our young hero is introduced to what she thinks is another kid, a clumsy young girl named Pico who can't be seen by the adults in town. After some investigating Parin discovers that this young girl is not a girl at all … she's a monster! Apparently Pico comes from an entire village of monsters that is located just outside of the human's town only accessible by a small magic door.
Weighing her options, Parin decides it's going to be more fun to see what's on the other side of that door than it is to do nothing in this boring old town full of old people. And there she is, face to face with a bunch of bizarre monsters who are not used to interacting with humans. But don't worry for Parin's safety, because these monsters are not the evil blood thirsty kinds of monsters you see in Hollywood movies. Instead these are good natured monsters who just want to be left alone so that they can live in peace. I doubt any of these monsters would be able to seriously hurt our young hero even if they wanted to.
Unfortunately Parin has some bad timing, because soon after she discovers the Monster Village a group of evil creatures known as Phantoms destroys the surprisingly peaceful monster town and kidnaps many of the inhabitants. Luckily Parin is more than willing to help these friendly monsters rebuild their living area and save their friends … but then again, what else is she going to do, hang out with old people?
Although Parin is a little girl, that doesn't stop her from being a force to be reckoned with. Early into her adventure she discovers a magical drill that is lodged into the ground. It is said that the person that is able to remove this drill will have the strength, perseverance and good luck to strike down the evil doers. I won't kid you, this element of the story is more than a little similar to The Sword in the Stone, but Gurumin quickly turns into something else entirely. Parin's adventure is pretty straight forward; it's your job to take care of the Phantoms, save all of the monster friends and rebuild the Monster Village. Is Parin up to such a task? You better believe she is!
Once you leave the Monster Village you are able to walk around a sizable overhead map that will take you to one of several hot spots where you will need to take out the enemies and collect the personal belongings of the friendly monsters. At first where you can go is limited, you see the Phantoms have covered the world in this strange dark smoke. Much of the game is spent going to the locations you can get to, killing all of the enemies in side, taking all of the money and special items, and then retrieving some sort of furniture. After you've done all that you can travel back to Monster Village and return the furniture (which includes a table, stereo, shoe rack, lamp, etc.) to its rightful owner who is busy trying to rebuild his or her (or its) house. Complete one of these quests and another part of the map is opened up and you're off on another exciting quest to kill enemies, find the money and retrieve the furniture.
The levels themselves are a fully realized 3D area that is controlled from a third-person perspective. You can run around these levels killing the enemies, destroying breakable objects, solving the occasional puzzle and generally having a good time. These action stages are generally short and diverse; they are a real pleasure to go through. Best of all, you are ranked at the end of each stage so that you can see just how well you did. If you're the type of person who wants to do and see everything then you're probably going to want to go back into the level and get the best possible ranking, others may just want to rush through the levels so that they can move on to the level part of the game.
As you play through the game your magic drill will become even more important. Eventually you will run into power-ups that you can attach to your weapon of choice, including the ability to give your drill fire, lightning and ice attacks. I'm sure it won't come as much of a surprise that these different abilities will come into play as you advance the story, especially when it comes to solving puzzles and taking out certain enemies. It's also worth noting that Parin can buy brand new drill-related special moves that you can pull off by a combination of buttons and fancy analog stick movements. All this makes the combat a lot more interesting than your average dungeon crawl, you will definitely be doing more than just button mashing and hoping for the best.
The nice thing is that there are usually a few different levels you can tackle at any given time, so you won't have to beat the levels in some predetermined order. Along the way you will also run into new characters (many of whom will help you on your quest) and large boss battles. The bosses in Gurumin are generally large and difficult, but like any good boss, they also have a predictable pattern that you will have to use against them. One thing that is cool is that many of the bosses are introduced long before you have to battle them, so they feel like they are part of a larger story and not some tacked on beast. Beat the boss and you'll save one of the kidnapped residents of Monster Village, who will be excited to go back home (and will need you to help them find more furniture).
But Gurumin is about more than just helping the friendly monsters. When you're not out battling bad guys and solving puzzles, you can go back to the sleepy old town and talk to the residents, buy clothing/items, and see what you're missing. The items you can buy in the town end up playing a major role in your overall adventure; for example, you'll be able to buy a bandana that will make your attacks even more powerful, a gas mask that will keep you from taking injured by poisonous plants and goggles that will allow you to travel through water without being hurt. You will also be able to upgrade these items to make them even more effective, assuming you have enough money. There isn't a ton of stuff to purchase in this town, but what's there is useful and it's all integrated well.
Parin's adventure takes her all over the place, as soon as you start to get bored of one type of environment Gurumin switches gears and takes you someplace completely different. Better yet, there are a lot of times when you will be able to choose which type of level you want to jump into. By the time you've destroyed the evil Phantoms and discovered the mysteries of Gurumin, Parin will visit snow-covered mountains, underground caves, a giant castle, a peaceful lake, and a number of other cool locations. Not only do these levels feel different, but you will also be dealing with different types of enemies (which goes a long way to set each environment apart).
The reason this all works is because Gurumin ends up being a whole lot of fun to play. The action stages are surprisingly satisfying, the story moves right along, and the controls are responsive. This is the type of game that could have gotten old quickly, but Nihon Falcom has figured out a way of making you want to keep going … even if all you're doing is retrieving people's furniture. Couple this with the fact that there aren't a lot of good adventure games on the PSP and you have a game that's a must-buy if you're the type of person who gets into this style of action/adventure. The game itself is actually pretty lengthy, it will take a good fifteen hours to play through on your first time through, and even after you've seen all of the levels there's still quite a bit of incentive to go back and improve your score and earn all of the extra content. There are also a few different difficulty levels, which goes even further to make this game a great value.
Based on the somewhat cheesy cover I didn't expect to care much for the characters, yet I found myself loving each and every one of them by the end of the game. Not all of them have a lot of character development, but the voice work is strong and pretty much every character has at least one or two memorable lines. It's also worth mentioning that the voice talent did a remarkable job, some of it occasionally dips into Saturday morning cartoon territory, but for the most part it's strong and full of emotion. I've played so many games lately where the voice actors don't even try, so it's definitely refreshing to see such good line reading … especially since this is a portable video game.
While the graphics aren't nearly as detailed as some of the other PSP games currently on the market, they have a simplistic look that works for the most part. It would have been nice to see a little more time spend on the level details, but the game has a unique look that generally works. The characters are also good looking, because they are both large and unique. Some of the monsters you run into are very unusual … which makes sense considering that they are monsters. The game has a nice art style, even if this isn't the graphical show piece game you might be looking for.
Gurumin is the type of game that is easy to recommend, it's an incredibly fun adventure game full of memorable characters and some pretty good writing. It may not have the best graphics or the name recognition people want, but as adventure games go on the PSP this is one of the best. Even with its sugar sweet appearance, Gurumin is definitely worth your time and effort. It's not without a few unoriginal moments, but thanks to the other elements being so strong these complaints are hardly worth bringing up. If you're looking for a great action/adventure for the PSP then you can't go wrong with Gurumin.