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Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure

The hostess with the monsters.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Repeatedly smashing things up is not the best way to restore harmony unless you are in a game. It's a good lesson to bear in mind, especially if you're invading countries because a man showed you some blurry pictures, and it certainly applies in Gurumin. Here your main concern is going around each of the areas you're in and using your magical handheld drill to break pots, pillars, rocks, bits of metal, trees, posts, bins, and of course faces. Every time you do, some money falls out, so of course you leave no object unbroken. After all, you need the money to make your drill better, and to buy biscuits.

It's less wacky than it sounds. A fairly straightforward mixture of 3D platform game and RPG, Gurumin puts you into the little red dress of Parin, who turns up in a mining village one day to live with her grandfather and subsequently discovers that her new home backs onto a monster world where running, jumping, whacking and collecting are the norm.

Following a bit of amateur dramatics (and we do mean "amateur", despite what the box says about an "all-star" voice cast), time skips forward a bit and we rejoin Parin and her friends the monsters, one of whom has been kidnapped by the Phantoms - weird blue nasties who are up to no good. Given a special drill by her new friends (who grown-ups can't see, obviously), Parin sets off to rescue him from, er, Potato Ruins. As soon as she does that, though, a Dark Mist descends on the monster world and monster village is destroyed by the Prince of the Phantoms and his shadowy band, all of which drags things into much more familiar territory: you have to set off into the world, complete 3D platform levels, defeat bosses, and return to town now and then to visit the bakery (healthy treats) and other amenities.

Obviously the PAL version's in English, but these are nicer shots. Believe us, you don't want the other ones. They punch kittens.

Each of these offers a number of good investments. The shop next-door sells you a wide range of items with health benefits (gas masks protect you against harmful gases, amazingly) and upgrades, the roving drill enthusiast teaches you new drill-based attacks (when he's not trying to chat you up), the mad old biddy of no fixed abode opens your mystery bags and gives you whatever's inside, and your loopy grandfather takes medals you find and gives you money or loot in return. As you work your way through levels in monster land, gradually demisting the world map, you also retrieve items of furniture, which need to be returned to the monsters you befriended earlier. Typically when you're not platforming you're working your way through these exchanges and conversations in order to trigger the next in-game event.

It's all a foil, mind you, for the runny-jumpy bits. Controlled with the left stick (and a mite twitchy), Parin lopes around while you wrestle with the camera using the left and right shoulders (it's angled a bit low, but otherwise behaves relatively well), and swings at enemies and anything else that isn't nailed to the walls (although, in saying that, you do get to smack the walls to uncover coins and passages, too). Given that it's central to most levels, it's good to see developer Falcom opting for a fairly considered whacking system too - a power-meter along the top of the screen, split into three chunks, not only fills with orange juice as you hold down X (to increase the power of your attack upon release), but also fills up with blue in the background, which you build up by repeatedly attacking enemies and smashing up the scenery. Fill up the bar with blue and your drill power increases noticeably - but taking hits from enemies reduces it until you might as well be flapping your girly hands at the problem, so watch it.

Parin sometimes moves a bit quickly to control, but fortunately she can grab edges and generally platform like it's 1999.

As well as power, Parin's also able to unlock various other techniques - elaborate spin attacks among them - which require you to perform beat-'em-up-style button combinations to execute, and generally do more damage than you would with a normal blow. Plus they look fairly good, making the most of the game's stylised character models. None of it really plays into the level design though, with any puzzles you encounter simplistic to say the least. There are some fairly standard hidden bits - areas that you can only reach by performing a sequence of aerial attacks that bounce you through the air like latter-day Sonic the Hedgehog - and the odd bit of crate-pushing, but the emphasis is mainly on collection and combat, as the presence of an uppercut juggling move in your initial line-up of techniques ably demonstrates.

Apart from a few minor quirks (pushing crates is only reliable if you go up to them and press a d-pad button to start the movement, rather than the analog stick you're probably using for everything else), it all coalesces into a perfectly enjoyable romp that has you happily picking away at the Dark Mist level by level and item by item, fighting bosses (the sort that require you to disarm them a bit first before whittling down their health bar) and listening to the Prince ham his way through the occasional confrontational cut-scene, during which you also get to enjoy Parin's impressive range of pouts - and that "all-star" voice cast (Amber Hood!) offering their best attempts to sound like they're re-enacting an episode of Sweet Valley High.

Parin gives someone a clip round the ear. As you can see, it's all jumping numbers and fractions so you'll think it's an RPG, which it sort of is. A bit.

But while there's a vast range of unlockables including additional difficulty levels and mini-games for gamers keen on an extended stay in monster world, and Parin strapping wacky tools to her head and body is always good for a chuckle, the game's solid, jigsaw-like construction doesn't really add anything remarkable to the popular platform and RPG elements that it borrows and blends together. The story's a means to an end, and the end's the sort of thing that would have made a decent impact in late '90s, but these days stands a better chance of filling the hours rather than commanding your attention. In other words, it's worth a look if you're short of a good portable adventure, but it's not quite smashing.

7 / 10

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