The Starship Damrey is a survival-horror and adventure game available for the Nintendo 3DS via the eShop. This is the first game for Level-5‘s second Guild series, Guild02. Guild02 is a compilation of games from famed Japanese creators such as Kazuya Asano & Takemaru Abiko, Kaz Ayabe and Keiji Inafune, much like how Guild01 featured four different games from notable Japanese auteurs. Unlike Guild01, this second Guild series was announced for a Western release via Nintendo Direct and all the games in Guild02 will be available to Western gamers via the eShop. The Starship Damrey is the first in the Guild02 series from Asano & Abiko, creators of the SNES classic, The Night of the Sickle Weasel. The first Guild series featured plenty of intriguing ideas from some of Japan’s most innovative creators, can The Starship Damrey continue that tradition of delivering an unique game experience?
The plight of the Damrey is a mystery and the player has to use the robot, AR-7 as a proxy to explore the ship and find the answers. Each clue in the game may seem unimportant at the time, but as the player progresses through the game and opens up new path ways, those clues become important to figuring out exactly what happened on the ship. What is the most fascinating puzzle to solve in the game is the identity of the player character trapped in the pod. There are eight crew members of the Damrey and it quickly becomes clear that a struggle happened on board when a crew member is found dead in a space suit (which is abnormal, the space suit). Then there is the actual nature of the struggle that occurred on board. These two mysteries are the major thrust of the story. Being thorough when exploring the ship is the key to figuring them out. The story and gameplay feed into each other in a great way that makes the story rewards for gameplay progression worthwhile.
There are no tutorials in this game, that is the first thing The Starship Damrey tells the player and it is not a lie. The bulk of gameplay is about discovery putting the onus of learning how to progress through the game on the player. The mechanics in play are fairly simple, once the player has figured out how to reboot the OS at the beginning of the game, they gain access to the ship’s robots. Most are offline, but two are still working and the player has to figure out how to get the one fully functional robot free. After they do that then they can start exploring the ship. The entire game takes place in the first-person perspective of the robot, AR-7. Movement is done on a grid pattern via the D-Pad. What makes up the gameplay bulk is using the Circle Pad to look around the ship in a limited range of motion. The player can look around the ship in a limited field of vision depending on what direction they are facing. So to view something left of the vision field, they must exit view mode and turn 90 degrees then search again. It may seem like a hassle, but it works to allow the player feel like the trapped crew member who is limited when using this robot.
Then the goal of the player and AR-7 is simply to move through the ship and looking at items and analyzing them while figuring out what happened. Each of the items will help inform players on how to get pass barriers or what happened to the crew. Solving puzzles become as much about knowing what to do, as it is remembering where the necessary items were located. Thus, remembering that the kitchen has a hot plate and that robot’s cannot survive a certain temperature is as necessary as having a canister that can hold oil (and where to get oil). Searching and examining everything is key. The beauty of the Starship Damrey’s gameplay is knowing that the key to progression rests solely on the player because the game will give them no hints.
Graphics and Sound
The Starship Damrey will win no prizes for its graphics. They are not awful, but they are nothing particularly special. The graphics are serviceable, but they do a good job at creating atmosphere through lighting. AR-7 has a limited vision because the light on top of its head is weak, so the player can only see about a few steps in front of them. It gives the Damrey a foreboding and imposing feeling. This makes exploring the empty starship a creepy proposition, which is exactly how it should feel. The little amount of cut scenes in the game look quite a bit better and they are a welcome change of pace from the normal visuals. The biggest misstep of the game is the sound design, while there are parts of the game that truly make good use of smart sound design to drive home the survival-horror feel. For the most part, it does not do enough, and there are little things the game could have done to improve the atmosphere established through the visuals. However, there is one moment late in the game that uses sound so amazingly that it kind of makes up for what the sound design lacks. Almost.
This is not a perfect game by any means, it has flaws, but it provides such a compelling experience with a great story and an oppressive atmosphere (the ship seems intent on making sure that the player does not find out what happened). The gameplay may not be extremely complex, but there is an intensely satisfying feeling to solving the game’s puzzles and opening up new portions of the ship (and knowing that it was through the player’s own ingenuity that made them possible). This is the kind of game the 3DS eShop and other digital stores should be focusing on: smaller experiences that take risks and while may be imperfect, they offer something new to gamers at an affordable price. If anything this should excite 3DS owners for what else the Guidl02 series has to offer later this year.
A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of this review.