Level-5 has been on a roll on the 3DS, especially with their eShop exclusive games. Their first set of eShop releases, Liberation: Maiden, Aero Porter, and Crimson Shroud (released collectively as Guild01 in Japan), were a smash success, and they set a new standard for the quality we can expect on the 3DS’s online store.
It figures, then, that their second batch of 3DS eShop games, developed in collaboration with well known Japanese game designers, same as the last batch, would be excellent too. And so, we find that The Starship Damrey, the first game in the Guild02 collection that is scheduled to hit the 3DS eShop over the next few weeks, is an intriguing, if somewhat obtuse and consequently alienating, game that caters fully well to old school game design sensibilities.
How do I describe Starship Damrey? The most ready genre classification that comes to mind is that it’s an old school puzzle adventure game, but that would really be missing the point. Honestly, I would classify it more as an interactive visual novel than anything else- think 999. And like that cult hit DS game, The Starship Damrey too has a science fiction laden horror story. With incredibly moody graphics, aided by a great soundtrack, the game builds a tense atmosphere that, if played in the right circumstances, can be nerve wracking.
Of course, the atmosphere is held back greatly by the simple fact that the game’s graphics are crude and primitive. There is something to be said for visual simplicity, of course, and a lot of games utilize it to great effect, like Journey, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, or New Super Mario Bros. The Starship Damrey, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to pull the trick off that well, and we are left with a game that at best looks like a late generation Nintendo 64/Playstation title, replete with jaggies and bad textures.
Another graphical shortcoming that the game has, but one that is perhaps a deliberate choice, is its draw distance. In this game, you are navigating a derelict vessel in space, one with a complete system failure (more details of the story will be kept to a minimum in this review, as the plot is perhaps the best part about the game). In the absolute pitch blackness, you are tasked with exploring the ins and outs of the ship using nothing but a flashlight. Your flashlight has a small radius within which you can see, and everything beyond it is completely out of sight. It’s unnerving, and gives you the feeling of stumbling around blindly in the dark, and is perhaps the greatest aid to the game’s atmosphere.
The actual gameplay itself is a blend of this exploration and basic puzzles. You move from room to room, controlling an old robot (which can only move in 90 degree angles), controlled by the D-pad, trying to solve the puzzle to move into the next room. As you progress through the rooms, you happen upon clues that let you reconstruct the catastrophe that must have struck the ship.
The Starship Damrey is a heavily linear game- essentially you go where the game wants you to go, and nowhere else. You can’t decide to step off the path and explore, you can’t get ahead of yourself. You’re supposed to do each carefully constructed room, one at a time, and that’s it. The game reduces player agency to a minimum in its attempt to deliver its story to you. It works, but it comes off more as an interactive novel than anything else, even though it has, ostensibly at least, more ‘gameplay’ than the typical visual novel.
However, what this also does is greatly reduce the game’s replayibility. Coupled with the game’s cripplingly short play time- I’d be astonished if it took the average player more than three-four hours to finish this- and you’re not left with a game that you’ll be playing a whole lot. A couple well placed sessions to finish it, and that should be it.
If the game were priced properly, this would not even be that much of a problem. But priced as it is at $7.99, it becomes a hell of an ask for most players. Parting with eight bucks for a game that you can essentially finish in a single sitting is not exactly the most reasonable demand.
Personally, I think the story is great and the atmosphere the game builds is brilliant. This is not a game i would ever return to, and it has a lot of problems, but it certainly is one that I would ask everyone to give at least one shot. The question then would be, just how willing are you to spend $8 on a game that will be shorter than the length of an average Call of Duty campaign? I viewed this as a movie I bought the ticket to, so $8 for three hours didn’t seem so bad then.
But if you really don’t want to spend that kind of money on such a short game, then by all means, hold on to your cash. As Level 5 has demonstrated, they will put their games on sale later to sell them (it happened with the Guild01 games). In the meanwhile, there is a lot of other stuff on the 3DS, and hell, on the eShop, that you could be looking into. Might I suggest you start with Crimson Shroud, which is, yep, another excellent Level 5 game for the platform?
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.