Prey the Stars DS Review - February 9th 2009

Can Koei's obscure Japanese platformer make waves on the home of obscure Japanese puzzlers, the Nintendo DS?


Unexpected games with original concepts are few and far between on most consoles, but on the Nintendo DS, it’s a genre onto itself. Prey the Stars Gabu Gabu Planet is one such game, and as the name suggests, it’s a crazy Japanese fuelled title. You play as a small, but hungry dog-like creature that must eat near everything on screen in each of the levels. Is this interesting concept enough to make Prey the Stars Gabu Gabu Planet a worthy title to showcase the 30th anniversary of Koei?

In Prey the Stars, your dog-like creature chomps his way through a variety of everyday objects, and as he does, you earn points dependant on the item’s size. These points are then compared to the other player/computer controlled creatures also trying to eat as much as possible, and the winner is decided following an allotted time. The game consists of this basic gameplay, with a few extra twists thrown in for good measure as you progress. At the start of the game, for each level or two you complete, you gain a new ability to add to your repertoire. You begin with only a bite to use, while you gain the ability to lick items up-required for elemental infused objects, grow in size by eating a specific kind of object and the skill to suck small creatures out of other ones. These are introduced early on, but each extra skill makes the opening portion of the game interesting - something that the later levels distinctively lack.

The characters are fun and innovative.


With these new abilities though comes an amplified difficulty; the game has a steep learning curve. Once you learn all of the necessary skills to take on anything, the game immediately punishes you for even the smallest error. Pits of lava that appear every now and again, which take off up to half of your points, and special abilities you and the other characters can use by chaining objects together are just a few of your persistent problems. The second of these things can be helpful at times, activating some sort of assistance - such as a bomb or a small time of invincibility - when you eat 3 of the same type of object in a row. The problem with this is that the enemies are experts at this part of the gameplay and so will spring traps on you left right and centre. You lose points constantly, often without knowing what hit you, which means that it can be near impossible to win a stage without practising over and over again.

This type of progression is the game’s chosen style though, which makes the uneven difficulty even more apparent. To unlock the actual mission of the stage, you must first gain a certain number of points by repeatedly playing the level. If you come first in the stage, you get all the points you earned from chomping through objects, while a second place will earn you half of this value. Last place though will grant you with nothing, and because of this there are far too many times where 5 minutes of gameplay - the average length of the stages - grants you with no progress, even if you missed the mark by a few measly points. That said, even if you do get first place on a stage, the amount of points required to progress will be so high that multiple attempts - I completed some levels 5 times over - are needed to combine to meet this bar. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the game featured some variety, but sadly Prey the Stars is the same thing over and over, with each stage being set up in a different layout. Repetition and boredom sets in fast while playing the game over a long period of time, disappointing after a promising first hour.

It's a charming game for the mostpart, just too repetetive.


This repetition seeps through to the level and character designs too, as while each stage mixes things up with a new background, or some new items to eat, it ends up simply as a set of boring squares joined in a unique way. The character design succeeds a little more, with 4 substantially different creatures making up the playable cast. Each is designed to show off their specific skill; the bite move expert has teeth the size of some of the other characters etc. These designs look good both in the lazy cut scenes that open and close each level - drawn out as more of a series of slides than a video sequence - and the 3D engine for the game. The graphics here are well done, with some impressive effects and a large amount of things happening on screen at once. The music on the other hand is another case of listen to your own for the system, as it gets more repetitive than the gameplay very quickly, and so is best to be ignored entirely. The game has a distinct style, which it keeps to throughout, making the experience cohesive, if a little samey.

Prey the Stars Gabu Gabu Planet is yet another DS game that most will look past on the shelf. It’s full of extremely bright colour, both design and gameplay wise, but lacks the longevity needed to compare to the other puzzle/action crossovers on the system. It’s fun for the first hour or two, but once you think you have the skills to proceed further in the game, the difficulty ramps up considerably. This only increases the already present repetitive nature of the experience, making the game’s early promise fade quickly. It’s the sort of game that kids could enjoy, but the hardcore level of challenge present may prove too much. Frustration is never good in a pick up and play handheld game, which is exactly what happens in Prey the Stars. Missing this isn’t too big of a deal.


- Sam Atkins

   

Interesting concept for a game.

 
   

Fun for a short while.

 
   
Longevity isn’t enough to keep you hooked.
 
   

Very Hard, very quickly.

 
   

Becomes repetitive early on.

 

5

   
     

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