I remember back in 2008, when I first got my PSP, seeing the cute and colorful Gurumin case on the shelves at GameStop. But at that point in my life I was on an extremely limited just-about-to-graduate-college budget, so I made do playing a ton of Monster Hunter. The terrifyingly cute jagged-toothed cat-monster image never left me, so when I saw the game announced for Steam release I knew it was time to discover what I had missed out on.
It turns out not too much. It’s impossible for me to tell if I would have been more tolerant of the game’s shortcomings back when my thin PSP catalogue was all I had to work with. And once again I have a newer, shinier Monster Hunter consuming my mind space.
The game does do something really well for me: invoke the nostalgia of Saturday morning cartoons. Complete with its stiff but serviceable dubbed voices and slapstick cutscenes, Gurumin’s story bits take me back to sitting around on a weekend and watching Mon Colle Knights. All the smart time dilation and stylistic choices for the cutscenes salvaged what could have been a completely generic narrative, making me curious to see just how silly the next scenes could be.
You play as Parin, a young girl who has been unceremoniously shipped off to her grandfather’s place while her parents run around for their jobs. Her grandpa lives in a mining town with no other children around, so Parin finds herself quite bored until one day she comes upon what she thinks is a fellow child but is actually a friendly monster who the other adults in town can’t even see. She is then invited back to their village. Lucky for her this isn’t a Grimm Fairy Tale and things work out.
As the exploration phase of the game continues Parin gains access to an increasing amount of dungeon-like levels when she rescues her monster friends and brings them back items to rebuild their destroyed home with. Early on she’s bestowed a rather unconventional weapon to make use of, a drill, in order to act as the monsters’ champion. You use this drill to attack hostile monsters called phantoms within the 3D level spaces. Some of these phantoms have tricks up their sleeve, like armor demanding you open with powerful charge attacks first, or some phantoms will hurl tough-to-dodge projectiles at you.
Otherwise your obstacles in dungeons are the environmental puzzles, expecting you to suss out breakable walls in order to find hidden levers, usually revealing access to platforming sections. Equipment collection is encouraged in order to negate environmental traps in themed dungeons. Pretty much everything in a stage can be busted up with your drill and chasing down the coins that explode forth can be rather satisfying at first. At the end of the levels you are ranked on how many monsters you popped and how many jars you broke, and are graded thusly. And some levels are stand-alone boss fights, which all are each unique in their own way.
The monster designs and personalities drove me to complete levels and progress along the story even when dungeons started to feel repetitive. I wanted to meet all of them and see all their cute animations and quirks. I wanted to see how Parin would tease them. There is one little guy who loves dancing and will treat you to a Eurobeat dance solo when you bring him back a boombox reward. Another is a very tall monster who usually has a French affectation, but he can switch it depending on what kind of hats you collect and bring him. And then there’s the giant cat monster from the cover art who will pop up and chat with you a bit when embarking on some dungeon trips.
Something I brushed off at first but got increasingly annoyed with is the dude I had to talk to in order to upgrade my weapon. Upon first introducing myself to him at the beginning of the game this mustachioed townie asked young Parin out on a date. She swiftly turned him down and I thought that was the end of that. But eventually the game expects you to keep going back to this guy in order to buy new skills for your drill. And he will pretty much try to coerce you into dating him every single time. It kept coming up so much it broke past uncle-like teasing to creep territory real fast. And any other girl you talk to in town says he relentlessly hits on them too. It quickly became not surprising why Parin prefered the company of monsters only she could see.
Something I didn’t expect to like as much as I did was the soundtrack. It’s charming as hell! It would have been really cool if it had been made available for download via Steam along with the game. I like how much of a range it has, from rock to techno to jazz to chill. There was one point where I was battling a mole companion and the song had random animal sound effects remixed in, and it totally worked for me. If you liked the Ape Escape soundtrack back in the day you may dig this one.
Between the music and the adorable monsters, Gurumin presents a warm, welcoming world. It’s an overly repetitive game that I’d rather watch than play, though, especially with my free time devoted to hunting those far less adorable monsters over in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure was developed by Nihon Falcom and published by Mastiff. It’s now available on PC and has been available for PSP since 2007.
AM Cosmos used to work in the games industry but now she just occasionally writes about media that interests her—particularly animation, comics and games made by and for audiences of women. And she gets real emotional when thinking too hard about sports anime. Follow her on Twitter and read her blog.