When Gameboy creator Gunpei Yokoi was tragically killed in a car accident in 1997 he was working on what he saw as the successor to Nintendo’s machine – the bizarrely named ‘Wonderswan’. When the handheld was eventually released in 1999 manufacturer Bandai respectfully dedicated the first game – a puzzle title, unsurprisingly - to the late designer. Fast-forward to the present day and that same game has now been radically restyled by ex-Sega staffer Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s ultra-talented studio Q Entertainment, previously responsible for the DS classic Meteos and the only reason to own a PSP - Lumines.
The basic premise of Gunpey DS has remained unchanged – the player must create horizontally flowing lines using five rows of tiles. Each tile has a different line on it – some are diagonal, others are v-shaped. By linking five or more of these the player can successfully clear the screen before the playing area moves upwards. Successfully created lines remain on screen for a few seconds and the player can then link other tiles onto the line, if possible – the only stipulation is that the line must reach from one side of the screen to the other. If the any of the tiles reach the top, it’s game over, man.
Like all decent puzzle titles, the concept is simple, but Gunpey DS does require a little more perseverance than most. Initially you will find yourself staring at the screen with bemusement as the tiles flood along but within the space of a few minutes it all starts to click into place. Unfortunately even when you have become accustomed to the play mechanics of Gunpey DS, it doesn’t quite reach the same grand heights as Tetris or Meteos. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is, but the game lacks the addictive qualities that are required for a puzzler to be granted ‘classic’ status.
Q Entertainment has certainly given the original concept one hell of a facelift. The DS version of Gunpey (which differs in appearance to the PSP release) is brash and loud in terms of visuals and sound. Most of the time this isn’t an issue – the game is nothing if not eye-catching – but unfortunately there are instances when the garish background interferes with your view of the action. Considering how visually sparse the Wonderswan original was, you have to question the decision to make the DS update so busy in terms of graphics. A more humble approach might have ensured that the player’s focus remained on the task at hand rather than on the visual chaos surrounding it.
The music is also a decidedly mixed bag – while the audio quality of each track is tremendous (many are practically CD standard), the actual tracks themselves range from passable to vaguely annoying. Although the box promises a dizzying fusion of puzzle-solving and music (as was the case with Lumines), this actually turns out to be something of a empty boast and the gameplay never really effects the music that much.
Ultimately, Q Entertainment was fighting something of a losing battle here. Gunpey DS is a decent enough game but it simply isn’t in the same league as titles such as the previously mentioned Tetris, Meteos and Lumines. The concept just isn’t compelling or additive enough to grant the game classic status and the developers haven’t really added anything to change that.
If publisher Bandai had priced it a little more reasonably (at the time of writing it remains a full-price title) then it would be easier to recommend but there are much better examples out there, such as the recently released Puzzle Quest and ultra-cheap Trioncube. If you’re a puzzle nut and you’ve sampled all the DS has to offer then you should at least consider picking it up, but just don’t expect it to grab you in the same way other great puzzle titles have.