A Monstrous Video Adventure for Kids

Gurumin, a new offering for PSP, has a creative, non-generic storyline, but still struggles with the 3D surroundings

Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure has the rare privilege of having a wonderfully descriptive name. Alright, so that "Gurumin" part doesn't exactly make sense, but the Monstrous Adventure subtitle aptly describes the game's premise. Too busy to bother with trivial matters like child rearing, young Parin's parents force her to live with her absentminded grandfather way over in Tiese. Fortunately, Parin doesn't mind, since she'll have the time to settle down and actually make some friends. The only problem? She soon arrives at a town devoid of children. Respite from the locals arrives in the form of the monster Pino. It turns out that the nearby adults simply can't see Pino, nor any of her fellow monster friends, nor their settlement just outside of town.

Parin, Pino and Pino's brother, Puku, quickly become friends, and as time passes, Parin grows in popularity around Monster Village. After all, with that other town full of grownups, she doesn't have much else to do, making the already-notable residents of Monster Village, such as the break dancing Poco, that much more interesting. In typical RPG fashion, trouble strikes, and after pulling some legendary weapon free of its trappings, Parin sets off to save the population of Monster Town, and by proxy, the whole world.

Don't cast young Parin off as just another tired tough girl stereotype. The translators over at Mastiff have done a wonderful job keeping her lines from hitting those generic notes. A strong-willed heroine, yes, but also a cheerful little girl. For example, Parin may not turn down from a fight, but her favored method of health regeneration includes cookies, chocolate and strawberry shortcake. Her weapon of choice? A drill, not exactly a popular pick among game protagonists.

Much like Parin's individuality, her drill also contributes to the game's unique feel. Playing out like some bizarre action-based combination of Namco's Mr. Driller and Square Enix's Brave Fencer Musashi, the drill proves extremely useful in dungeons, allowing her to drill through rocks, trees and yes, walls. A charged up attack knocks the armor off enemies, the collection of which then allows Parin to upgrade her equipment. The drill even permits Parin to home in on airborne enemies, with proper timing allowing her to access otherwise unreachable areas.

The entire time, Gurumin pumps out bright, colorful 3-D graphics with nary a hitch in the framerate. Simple stage design keeps the levels from getting too cluttered, and most of the areas seem flat, focusing on horizontal movement instead of vertical progression. Combined with the simple camera controls—L rotates the camera left and R swings it right—this helps Gurumin avoid many of the pitfalls that have plagued other 3-D adventures on the PSP. It even manages a lock-on system, accomplished by holding both L and R at the same time.

However, some areas of the game still struggle with the 3D surroundings. A twisting pathway hides foes behind a crevice, their presence announced when the previously invisible monsters assault Parin before actually appearing on-screen. An early boss fight raises concerns about uneven difficulty, the unexpectedly tricky encounter coming out of nowhere given the game's light-hearted nature. Whether the game returns to its more casual pacing after that encounter remains unseen, but uneven spikes in difficultly do not constitute pleasant surprises. Though far from a major issue, extremely choppy animation also mars the current build of Gurumin, particularly that of enemies just entering an area.

That said, Gurumin still has a lot going for it, and only further playtime will determine if these issues hamper the final product. Luckily, the creative array of colorful and distinctive characters exceeds expectations of tired clichés, so that counts for something. Furthermore, the relaxed pace of dungeon exploration, the colorful graphics and the intelligently designed stages nicely sidestep a good chunk of issues intrinsic to 3-D games on the PSP, and hey, how many games actually manage to call both Mr. Driller and Brave Fencer Musashi to mind? If nothing more, PSP owners looking for something a little different should keep a close eye on Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure as its February 12 release draws near.