So, we're starting up a new occasional feature on GSW - we will, every now and again, be presenting our impressions of voguish new video games - in this case, Q Entertainment and Namco Bandai's Gunpey both for the PSP and for the DS.

Why would we ever add our cacophonous voices to the multitude of game reviews already out there? Well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we're not really reviewing, so much as just saying what we think of games that interest us and which may not be top of everyone's reviewing heap (which is why you'll see all four Q Entertainment titles released this month be discussed in due course!) And secondly - we're going to skip the whole 'marks out of 10' thing, and just say stuff. Like this.

Introduction

So, Gunpey. Firstly, and I think most people have spotted this by now, but Gunpey is named after Game Boy inventor Gunpei Yokoi, since his firm both developed the game and hardware for Bandai's Wonderswan handheld after his tragic death in 1997. These new versions of the abstract puzzle game are made by Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Q Entertainment, since they have a close relationship with Bandai.

Trusted Q producer Reo Yonaga helmed the titles, and Mizuguchi himself explained the reasoning behind doing the game in a recent Gamasutra interview: "Gunpey is a really primitive, nice game. It’s not gorgeous, in terms of visual and sound, but Gunpey has a really good principle. It’s like the bone of a human body. A very strong bone. And we had the idea that if we remade Gunpey with good music and visual effects, it would be pretty fun. So we asked Bandai – ok, let’s remake Gunpey with new graphics."

Gunpey For PSP

Well, since it's developed by the folks who brought us Lumines, as you'd expect, Gunpey for PSP feels a lot like that title, except retrofitted to receive that mellifluous line-based Gunpey gameplay. So, we get smooth Japanese techno as the aural background, plenty of abstract eagles flying around and odd vector-ish shapes, well-designed menus, and a plain stylish experience.

However, in some ways, the game feels like a slightly straitjacketed version of Lumines, because of the simplistic controls (you're arranging lines horizontally across the playfield, but you can only swap single blocks vertically). I ended up liking this in an odd fashion, because the game starts building up a sort of mindlessly compulsive Bejeweled vibe. But in the end, since you're always flapping to stop the puzzle pieces reach the top of the screen, and have to keep rearranging multiple times to slide blocks back down, there's just a bit too much busy work in here. (This is mainly fixed by the control scheme on the DS, which we'll get to presently.)

If you add that to the fact that the amount of modes in the game isn't that better than the (somewhat lacking) original Lumines, bar some minor innovations like the 10x10 playfield, well... I love the audiovisuals, but it doesn't _quite_ work for me. I don't go as far as the lovely Ed Lewis at IGN, who eruditely claims: "The gameplay is so slow and boring and who cares about seeing a crapping dog?" But Gunpey for PSP just ends up as mildly diversionary, sadly.

Gunpey For DS

However, Gunpey for DS, which goes for a completely different 'space Western' cartoony visual style, makes use of the DS touch screen in pretty helpful ways (looks like this uses elements from the Meteos game engine, just as Gunpey for PSP uses Lumines' codebase). This means a lot of the line-switching scrabble you end up doing one by one on the PSP can be accomplished with a simple stylus sweep on the DS - very good!

In addition, there's a Story Mode for Gunpey DS which helps too, since you get to square up against opponents who you can use special attacks on (or vice versa!) if you get rid of enough blocks at once. Twin the intuitive gameplay with the charming (almost Capcom late CPS-2 quality!) artwork, plus extra modes including Double Screen (similar to the 10x10 for the PSP) and you have a winner here. Even if one of the characters _is_ called 'Nick The Hacker from Haxxor'.

But it's the bonus 'Sound Box' mode, which we actually previously referenced on GSW in its Japanese 'Pico Pico Machine' incarnation - click to there if you want to see a video of it in action - which is the most awesome, giving you a programmable music synthesizer as an add-on to the game. Now sure, it's a _bit_ limited in some annoying ways (it just needed more save slots and the ability to make your custom sounds into backing tracks to make it infinitely more expansive). But it's a complete blast to mess around with using the touchscreen, and you can genuinely program your own melodies/rhythms and switch between them in real-time.

And if you add that to the intuitive and fun gameplay of Gunpey DS, then this is absolutely the SKU to pick, as long as you don't get turned off by the cute-ass cartoon visuals. In fact, I'd ever go so far to say that I've enjoyed it more than Meteos - which is a fiendishly clever puzzler, but doesn't seem to have much natural 'flow' for me. Your mileage may vary, mind you.

[On this note, James Mielke's review of the two games at 1UP has many more pertinent details, for those interested in more info - and his own blog page even points out a Gunpey DS 'Sound Box' & Kaoss Pad video that some hardcore Japanese fan has recorded, showing you really can make 'proper' music with it.]