by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Meet Parin, your hero
As Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure first begins and you’re introduced to Parin, a young girl being sent to live with her grandfather for awhile while her parents go off to do something exciting, the game’s main appeal becomes quickly apparent: it oozes charm and childish wonder. I was a kid that grew up on Disney and Ghibli animated classics, and Gurumin feels like it’s ripped right from that era. While the plot, which eventually expands to a girl meeting friendly and unfriendly monsters that adults can’t see, isn’t anything special, the title becomes memorable for the way its simple characters are so distinct and full of personality, its settings are cartoonily inviting despite a lack of much technical graphic fidelity, and its dialogue is innocently funny and warm without being particularly deep or lengthy. Gurumin isn’t the most challenging or technically impressive game I’ve played, but I still had a blast playing it.
The story in Gurumin is pretty typical Japanese-made-game affair. As stated above, young Parin is sent to live with her grandfather while her parents go off. This seems to be fairly normal affair for her, as we frequently see reference to her parents not exactly being the most attentive. At first a bit dismayed about the lack of even a single child in her temporary mining town home, Parin soon meets another youngling who turns out to not only be a monster, but one of an entire monster city that only children can see right outside of the mining town. Ignoring every horror movie ever made, Parin agrees to go check out their town where she soon acquires a fancy drill weapon and decides to go take out some phantoms (bad monsters) that are giving the town trouble.
This type of story isn’t something I haven’t seen a dozen times before, but, again, it’s the way it’s delivered that makes it a pleasure to play through. In the first 10 minutes of the game you’re introduced to a handful of characters and none of them seem copy-paste. Each is an eccentric caricature and each one, whether it be the little girl monster Pino, the seemingly senile but somehow mayor grandpa, or the creepy guy at the store that wants to go out on a date with you, a young child, I never got sick or bored of new characters through the very end. Again, I’d pay good money to see this adventure turned into an animated film.
Gameplay and Combat
Gameplay in Gurumin actually reminds me most of Super Mario 64, of all things, though of course with its own twists. The game is an action-heavy platformer that jumps from a central hub to a number of separate locations mixing puzzles and jumping with a healthy dose of simple, real time combat. To be honest, most of the gameplay is fairly monotonous. Platform puzzles are what you’d expect and have seen before in 3D jumpers. Move boxes, break walls, backtrack after hitting levers, etc. Combat is also similar, largely relying on buttons to attack and dash, though it’s given a bit of a twist with the game’s unique weapon.
I’m not sure why (and I’m not complaining in the least), but Japanese devs sure like their non-traditional weapons, and this is no exception. Instead of a staff or sword, Parin uses a drill on the end of a long stick. She uses this both to hit enemies with, and to interact with the environment. Combat never really gets challenging, though it’s worth noting that the game’s immovable camera does present enough challenge in itself in some areas. While I think the game could have benefited from a bit more difficulty as it progresses, it sort of fits with the game’s friendly, simple demeanor. The most unique element of combat is the ability to get critical strikes by timing hits up to the beat of music playing. At almost all times a bar is on the top of the screen showing circles moving towards a center line to the beat of music. Keep tapping attack at the moment of intersection (or just use your ears, which is easier and reliable) for that extra damage. It’s a nice little bonus that syncs things up, but at the same time the beat bar gets a bit annoying. It’s cool to have it there when I’m in combat (maybe activate it when I hit the attack button?), but having it out at nearly all non-cutscene times, with all of its motion and fairly large size, can be a bit distracting.
Presentation, graphics and audio are more pleasing than they probably should be. The game is a re-releasing (for the first time on PC in the West, the game was previously available on Sony’s PSP) of a 2004 title, and it’s clear that it’s aged. Animations are generally pretty poor, and models are blocky and simple. Luckily the game was never going for a realistic look. Its bright, vibrant color palette and accentuated architecture and character design have held up extremely well (albeit with touch ups for the re-release), and the game is charming to watch. Kudos are also due to the cast of voice actors. While they have a good script to start with, delivery is a great balance of natural speech and cartoonish exaggeration, bringing the characters to life and making the humor land well. I’ve seen far worse voice acting in many, many English anime dubs.
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure has its flaws, most noticeably with its difficulty, came, and distracting UI implementation for the beat bar, but it has no problem overcoming them to be a simple, charming and endearing experience. Those looking for a hard-as-nails, grind-it-out RPG should look elsewhere. Those willing to sit back and be taken on a ride sure to bring relaxation and smiles should jump right in.
Charming personality, memorable characters, ageless visual style.
The immovable camera can occasionally be a headache, the beat bar on the top of the screen can be distracting, and the gameplay could be a bit more challenging.