Developer: Q Entertainment/Koto Lab.
Release Date: 19/10/06
Although it has only really existed on the fringe of popular puzzle games, Gunpey (famously a tribute to deceased WonderSwan and Game Boy designer Gunpei Yokoi) is still held in high regard by some as one of the most compelling ever made. A delightfully simple game that probably takes longer to explain than it does to grasp, it's fortunately been considered enduring enough for this 21st-century respray - Oto wo Tsunagou! Gunpey Reverse?
Also released on Sony's PSP, this update stays faithful to the WonderSwan original in that the game rules remain the same in both versions, but there are differences in the design and controls which deserve a quick mention. For example, the front-end for the DS version is assigned a character-driven makeover with vivid, rainbow colour schemes, providing the backdrop for some oddball anime characters to battle past (the PSP's visuals instead take on a more minimalist, Rez-like quality and the music is suitably appropriate too). This gives the impression that the DS version is aimed at the younger player, but the style is just about pleasant enough, if a little dazzling on the eyes at times.
But back to the basic rules for the uninitiated: in Gunpey, boxes containing various types of horizontal lines appear from the bottom of the screen and slowly edge upwards. Move these up and down to form a complete trail from one side of the screen to the other, and the row (and any other connected pieces) will disappear, but don't forget to keep a close eye on stray lines hitting the top of the screen either. Even for anyone who has never played it before, it's wonderfully intuitive, and most players will be able to follow the basic concept within minutes.
This is only assisted by the clever implementation of touch screen controls, because now it's simply a case of touching anywhere on the screen and dragging pieces up and down with the stylus. It's a revelation, and you'd be forgiven for thinking Gunpey Reverse was a fresh new game design, tailored with Nintendo's handheld specifically in mind such is the effectiveness of these new controls. In fact, the failings of the default D-pad and cursor method (as used in the PSP version) become so evident that even the game acknowledges it to the point where a "switch" attack is unleashed by the CPU; forcing you to revert to using the D-pad for a short period of time. Indeed, this is one of the most irritating strikes the computer can throw at you, as your linking skills deteriorate into slow, clumsy movements, temporarily giving your opponent the upper hand.
"Frontier" mode is essentially the arcade slant to the game, with distractions in the form of Time Attack for speed play and "Endless" for those wanting a longer session. There are two game rules to remember throughout: the first is "Original" (where setting off chains simply clears panels); and the new, easier "Break" mode which handily pushes all segments further down the well when lines are cleared. The top screen displays a live feed of your opponent's progress, a handy feature which also adds to the pressure on you to perform or take advantage of poor play. On the harder difficulty settings, tactics switch emphasis from creating elaborate, zigzag chains to simply clearing them as quickly as possible. Doing so is the only way to form a meaningful sustained attack on the CPU, and it's these matches that deliver the most exhilarating, panic-driven battles. It also has to be said though, that these same matches do tend to drag on for a while, so there is a slight difficulty balance that hasn't been fully addressed.
So far, so simple, but that's not to say there isn't more depth for the discerning player. The real hook comes in the predictable shape of our old friend, Mr Chain: attaching additional lines to an already-completed row clears even more panels. When a line is created, the player will have a few moments to scan the arena and chain further segments. The more that are set off, the further down everything is pushed, giving the player some extra breathing space.
Background tunes plod along in innocuous fashion, and although there are sound effects for most actions in the game (moving, clearing and chaining lines), some are barely audible without headphones, and add no depth to the gameplay in general. Considering Takayuki Nakamura's involvement (of Lumines and Meteos fame), it's disappointing to discover the music doesn't fuse with the images perhaps as well as expected. The DS can send a demo to another machine through download, and 2-player wireless battles are available through multi-card play. Some rather strange distractions come in the way of a confusing, (but certainly comprehensive) music-editing suite, and the "Gunpey Gallery", where a tiny 4-bit character showcases his endearing animations. Extensive play unlocks up to a hundred of these dance moves and walking styles for the little guy, and he will perform them during solo games like a dutiful dog for his amused owner, prancing along the lines of the play area and falling to temporary doom when sections are moved or cleared. His inclusion is almost missable, and certainly cosmetic, but it's a charming little touch.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi and his team have essentially just given the WonderSwan favourite a new pair of shoes some eight years later, but they again strengthen their reputation here as one of the most perceptive puzzle-game developers around. Gunpey Reverse is certainly involving in doses, but does lack the challenge and variety that Meteos and Lumines seem to have in abundance, preventing it from having quite as much appeal. Nevertheless it's a remake that puzzle fans in particular will enjoy, and a product that Yokoi-san himself would be pleased with.