Gunpey DS/PSP Preview

Gunpei Yokoi is best known as the father of Nintendo's enormously successful Game Boy, though he may be nearly as well known as the creator of the significantly less successful Virtual Boy. An engineer at Nintendo from 1965 to 1996, he also created Nintendo's Game & Watch and produced Metroid (NES) and Kid Icarus (NES) with designer Satoru Okada, as well as the original Donkey Kong arcade game alongside designer Shigeru Miyamoto. After leaving Nintendo, he founded his own company, which developed Bandai's WonderSwan handheld console. Yokoi died in an unfortunate car accident in 1997, before WonderSwan was launched, but in his honor Bandai named the system's first game "Gunpey."

Now, Tetsuya Mizuguchi's studio Q Entertainment is recreating Gunpey, a line-matching puzzle game, for Nintendo and Sony's modern handhelds Nintendo DS and PSP. True to Mizuguchi form, the DS and PSP iterations have integration between gameplay and music, a feature found in past Mizuguchi games such as Lumines (PSP), Meteos (NDS), Rez (PS2, DC), and Space Channel 5 (PS2, DC). The two versions of the game have some significant differences as well. I recently had the chance to go hands on with both.

Both games have the same core gameplay mechanices. Lines of various angles scroll towards the top of the screen in a five column wide playing field, and the player must slide the line fragments vertically in order to create unbroken lines from the left side of the screen to the right. After doing so, the created line disappears. If any of the line fragments reach the top of the screen before they have been assembled into a full line, the game is over. After connecting a line, you are given a couple of seconds to create new connected lines branching out from the first one, allowing you to achieve combo bonuses. The dynamics of the game are similar to those of the classic falling blocks puzzle format, but the actual mechanics are quite different.

Gunpey PSP

Lumines is the obvious model for Gunpey's presentation on PSP. Much like Q Entertainment's acclaimed PSP puzzler, Gunpey on PSP features user-selectable "skins" consisting of different background images and music tracks. There are about 40 different skins from which to choose, slanted in the electronic and pop direction. Some of the skins actually double the playing field's size from five squares across to ten squares across, making it twice as difficult to create an unbroken line all the way from left to right. There is even a "double" mode, which has the player juggling two different games of Gunpey simultaneously. One of the games is displayed at the normal size, while the other plays out in thumbnail form in the lower right hand corner of the screen. At any moment, you can bring the thumnail game into the main area and vice versa in order to keep the lines in that game from scrolling up to the top. If either of the two playing fields has its lines reach the top of the screen, the game is over.

Similarly to the music integration features in Lumines, in Gunpey creating lines and performing combos will result in little sonic cues that add to and blend in with the background music. It's essentially expected from a Mizuguchi puzzle game by now, and it works as well as always.

Gunpey is controlled with a two-square vertical reticule that is moved around the screen with the d-pad. Pressing the main face button will vertically swap the position of the two adjacent squares highlighted by the reticule, which is how you move the line segments around to create longer lines. It works just Meteos when using the d-pad rather than stylus control. The problem is that, as with Meteos, it can be somewhat cumbersome to quickly move the reticule around the screen quickly to keep the constantly scrolling line segments under control. Unlike in, for example, Tetris, you are not expected to manage only one block at a time; all of the lines constantly scroll upward. The controls certainly work, they are just somewhat limiting in terms of speed and fluidity.

Multiplayer is supported via a two-player local wireless versus mode.

Gunpey DS

Just as Gunpey on PSP evokes Q Entertainment's PSP puzzler Lumines, Gunpey on DS evokes Q Entertainment's DS puzzler Meteos. The game contrasts Gunpey PSP's slick presentation with a more colorful and animated look. Gunpey DS features skins as well, but they exist as part of a single-player story mode that is unique to the game. As far as I can tell, the story has something to do with two guitar-wielding bounty hunters having to take down ten enemies in an Old West-in-space world. In single-player missions, you face off against a computer-controlled opponent with his own game playing out on the top screen. There is of course also a standard play-until-you-die non-story mode available in the game.

The DS version of the game also features music and gameplay integration, though it is not quite as striking as it is in the PSP version with its sleek techno skins. Surprisingly, the DS version does contain an exclusive music composition feature allowing players to make their own music, though I was not able to try that section of the game during my hands on time.

Despite being less appealing than the PSP version on the visual presentation side, the DS version of the game shines when it comes to control. While the d-pad control option is present, the DS version is intended to be controlled with the stylus. Rather than manipulating a reticule to shift individual lines one square at a time, you simply use the stylus to drag line segments any vertical distance almost instantly. It allows for incredibly fast-paced play, which helps immensely when the screen starts to fill up. Meteos players will feel right at home, though Gunpey's fundamental gameplay mechanics are more straightforward than those of that game.

Multiplayer is supported via a two-player local wireless versus mode. The DS version of the game also features single-cart game sharing for multiplayer games.

Gunpey is shaping up well on both PSP and Nintendo DS, with the PSP version taking the edge in presentation and the DS version winning out when it comes to control. Multiplatform owners who consider one aspect more important than the other will have an easy decision, while gamers who own only one of the two systems can look foward to a solid game on either.

Q Entertainment's Gunpey ships for Nintendo DS and PSP on November 14, 2006.