Why I Love… GunPey

Let’s get straight to the point here – Gunpey is the best game you have never played, on the best system you’ve never heard of. No arguments, no returns.

The system first – it should be crap. Produced on the cheap by Bandai exclusively for the Japanese market and focused on delivering the definitive Digimon experience, it really should be ranked alongside the Barcode Battler and Tiger’s atrocious Game.com as among the worst gaming devices of all time. What saves it from this fate are two things – it’s design and some inspired, almost unbelievable even, marketing nous (how Bandai managed to persuade Square to support the Wonderswan in favour of the world-conquering GBA is beyond my understanding). Oh, and the Wonderborg.

I’m in trouble here…

But it’s the design of the machine which elevates it to the gaming gods. It is, in all ways apart from one, the perfect handheld gaming machine – large clear screen, low-weight, 20 hours play off a single AA battery, a full complement of face buttons and, vitally, playable in both portrait and landscape orientation. The only negatives I can throw at the machine are in its name (clearly from the same camp that gave us ‘Dreamcast’) and its size – too small for adult hands to play comfortably for any great period of time. But then again, I have mitts which are approximately the size of Luxembourg so maybe I’m not typical…

Worst named products – 1st Cillit Bang,
2nd Dreamcast, 3rd Wonderswan.

At its peak, this unassuming little device managed to capture close to 20% of the Japanese handheld market from the Colossus of Nintendo.

Perhaps it’s not surprising after all. The machine was designed by Gunpei Yokoi, designer of the original Game & Watch, the Gameboy and the Virtual Boy. Unfairly criticized for the latter, and defecting to start up his own company as a result, he was instrumental in the Wonderswan design. Sadly, it was to be the last project he worked on – and, in fact, he would never have seen a production model.

But enough history – it’s the game that we’re talking about here.

Gunpey, named after Gunpei either as a mark of respect after his death or as a rare bit of self-promotion before it, is quite simply one of the very small number of almost perfect videogames.

What a dashing fellow Mr. Yokoi was.

Gameplay is a none-more-simple case of drawing a line from one side of the screen to the other. That’s all there is. Take the tiles you’re presented with and slide them up and down until you have a line. The line goes away, you get points, a little voice yells ‘Gunpeeeeei’ in an irritating Japanese way and, all the while, more tiles get pushed on to the bottom of the playfield.

There are combo bonuses for completing multiple lines at once. There are bonuses for manipulating your tiles into ever more convoluted shapes, bonuses for clearing the screen and, in the largely superfluous Ex version, there are bonuses for completing lines in a single colour. But at the heart of it, it’s still about getting a line from left to right.

Take your multi-polygonal rendered real life
art shite and stuff it.

Crucially – and this is something that so many puzzle games get wrong – it rarely descends into the blind panic of most block puzzlers, as typified by the mad wait for the 4×1 block in Tetris. There is always a line to make, or a combo to build. You can (almost) always recover from even the most unfair layouts. If you fail, it’s your fault and yours alone. Your fault for trying to build that ten line mega-combo, your fault for waiting for that last piece, your fault for trying to shuffle that one last piece to the top of the screen, your fault for being just too damn slow.

Call yourself a gamer?

Not until you’ve played this you’re not.

Review first published at WayOfTheRodent.com


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