An often overlooked strength of the 3DS eShop is the way it can serve as an unexpected harbour for under-the-radar gems. We likely never would have touched Yumi's Odd Odyssey without the eShop, nor seen a contemporary remake of Steel Empire. Add to these ranks Gurumin 3D: A Monstrous Adventure, which originally saw light on the PC in Japan before hitting the PSP in 2006. Why is a remastered port of it suddenly on the 3DS in 2016? Eh, there's probably a good reason.
Gurumin 3D follows the tale of Parin, a girl sent off to live in a sleepy mining town with her grandfather. There are no kids around, to her dismay, but she soon discovers the existence of monsters that only children are able to see. They invite her to their village just in time for it to get blasted by evil phantoms, leaving Parin to pick up a legendary drill and venture out to set things straight.
The meat of the game is set up as a series of small dungeons, with access opening up to more as previous ones are cleared. The paths through these areas can be somewhat linear, but there are still plenty of secret spots to find and items to smash. Most of them feel like a bite-sized mix between a Mario course and a Zelda dungeon, well built for portable play and not feeling like a chore to replay if you need more coins. Some pleasant puzzles and minigames are even scattered about for nice variety.
Parin's drill operates like any held spear, at its most fundamental level. Holding down the attack button, however, charges it up and allows it to smash through pillars, cracked walls, and whatever else happens to look dust-worthy. If enemies are wearing equipment, it can be drilled right off them and picked up as "junk" to upgrade equippable items. It's a simple mechanic, but there's a tangible "oomph" to drilling that just feels darn right and satisfying.
A good drill needs good care, though. The weapon can be charged to three levels, but getting hit will gradually reduce your capability to reach those upper strengths. Successfully hitting back, digging magic earth or using oil on the drill will restore it. Drill parts can also be found or discovered to unlock special moves and elemental infusions, some of which can work rather nicely together. It's just a fun little weapon to have.
The game starts off almost alarmingly easy, but starts to build a decent challenge quickly. Wise use of the equippable items becomes a benefit, as only one can be worn at a time and they'll providing varying assistance such as reducing water damage or providing resistance to gas attacks. Upgrading these items with junk adds a great deal to their benefits, making the desire to improve all of them feel worthy.
For a game whose source is more than a decade old, Gurumin 3D is a stylish, colourful romp. There looks to be polish in the environmental textures, and the towns are lovely to run through (even if one gets turned to rubble).
Unfortunately, there are some small technical problems. The character animations do show some age, especially in cutscenes, and in-play animation can slow down at times when there's a lot going on at once. The camera can also feel tight in places, but tends to correct itself quickly; you can always also resort to the Y button to put the camera in the direction Parin is facing or use the L/R buttons (or New 3DS C-stick) to rotate manually. None of these foibles ever reached a point where it was any real detriment to play, but it can still somewhat take you out of the experience.
It's the same situation with the music stuttering on loading screens: no effect on the game itself, but still mildly jarring. The 98% of the time the music is playing just fine, though? It's great. A bouncy, energetic soundtrack that melds with the atmosphere beautifully, although the opening theme is oddly poppy.
The story does feel a bit overdone, but it's hard to turn down that charm of childish wonder and hidden worlds. Still, it would have been nice if some of that childishness had been toned down in areas. There is a distinct "boing" sound made when Parin jumps and the characters often resort to basic anime-style faces and arm waggling to express themselves. Some may find it sigh-worthy, but most should find the presentation far from deal-breaking.
A run of Gurumin 3D should take about 10 hours, but expect more time if you want to find everything and attain the highest medals for speed and performance in the dungeons. Two difficulties are available at first play, with more unlocked with a New Game+ mode after completion.
Gurumin 3D may be short on epic story and have a few technical blemishes around the edges of its gameplay, but its fun style and a surprising depth in collectibles and replayability make it well worthy of consideration for action-RPG fans. Did we mention there's a pretty sweet drill?