Review: The Starship Damrey (Nintendo 3DS)

The Starship Damrey
Developer: Level 5
Publisher: Level 5
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 05/16/2013

I’m a big point and click adventure game fan, but one thing you don’t run into often are games of this genre set in space. I can think of From Software’s Echo Night Beyond and, well… that’s it. At least until now, as The Starship Damrey gives me a second title to name off the top of my head. Originaly part of The Guild 02 collection in Japan, this three game collection has been broken up into stand-alone downloadable titles, similar to what happened to The Guild 01 when it came stateside. I thought Liberation Maiden was fun, fell completely in love with Crimson Shroud and… didn’t bother with Aero Porter as it didn’t look interesting to me. I knew I had to play The Starship Damrey the second it was announced. I love my point and click horror, and it’s so rare to find a console exclusive version of this genre for a handheld or console system these days. Generally console/handheld adventure games are PC exclusive or bad ports of one.

The good news is that, while nowhere as good, scary, or as long as its Western contemporaries, The Starship Damrey is an interesting experience. The bad news is that you can 100% the game in under two hours (one hour, fifty minutes for me) and that includes both endings, the two optional sub-quests and sitting through the credits twice. The extreme brevity of the game may disappoint the gamers who pick this up, especially with the $7.99 price tag attached to it – as long as they aren’t adventure game fans. Those gamers who primarily enjoy point and click titles will be less bothered by the price/game length one-two punch because they’re used to it. Adventure games are generally “one and done” titles like this, and their price tag these days can range from $2.99 to $19.99, and in some extremes even more. Of course, they’re also generally two to three times the length of The Starship Damrey, with many being even longer, but when you consider sites like Big Fish Games sell you adventure/hidden object titles for $6.99 a pop, the cost of The Starship Damrey comes off only a little higher, and the length a little shorter, than the scores of similar games coming out of Europe every day. As well, DS and 3DS point and click adventure games like Murder on the Titanic or Vampire Moon cost about the same as The Starship Damrey, but aren’t as well done, so in all, this really is one of the better handheld point and click adventure games released in some time.

As soon as you boot up The Starship Damrey,it warns you that it will not give you any instructions on how to play the game at all, and that figuring out the controls is an integral part of the experience. This is an interesting idea and a very atmospheric way to start the game, but it sounds far more interesting (or excruciating) of an experience than it really is. You’ll figure out how to play the game in literally seconds, even if you’ve never played an adventure game before. There really isn’t a lot here, control-wise, that will throw you. You tap the screen to interact and the D-Pad to move. It’s pretty standard fare for the genre, and I think that the games does itself a disservice with this “warning” because it’s bound to disappoint anyone who thinks it’s going to be a far more immersive or original experience than it actually is.

Story-wise, The Starship Damrey is quite fun and should compel you to keep going from beginning to end without a stop. You are an unnamed silent protagonist who awakens aboard the ship inside a cryogenic pod. The ship’s computer informs you that you are not only suffering from amnesia due to the cryosleep, but it is also unable to let you out of the pod. All you can do is lie back in the pod and interact via the touch screens in your pod. One of these screens gives you access to a robot that you can control. The problem is that the robot can only hold one object at a time, and can only move at 90 degree angles, so precise actions, such as getting over debris or say, ripping your pod door off is out of the question. Together with your little droid chum, you have to figure out the layout of the ship, where exactly your body is in the ship, and why you are trapped in the pod. As your robot goes about its little exploration, you discover that the ship has been decimated by an alien life form which has slaughtered most of the crew. You’ll (or rather your robot will) see some of the dead crew members, the alien itself and a strange little girl in a sun hat as you traverse the interior of the Damrey. The game isn’t scary or spooky, but it IS atmospheric, and I really enjoyed my short time with the game. I loved the ending, and it really changes your entire perspective of the game as you watch it unfold. I think half the gamers will see the ending coming though, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. You’ll also get two optional post game visual novel type pieces for doing two sub-quests – one involving a ring and the other involving exterminating twenty “space leeches.” Again, the game will be done in less than two hours, so don’t go in expecting an RPG length experience. The Starship Damrey is short, sweet and fills a point and click niche that the 3DS has really needed since its debut. Nothing less and nothing more.

Visually, The Starship Damrey looks pretty good. Character models are nicely done and fully animated… except for the corpses, which would be weird. Cutscenes are a little grainer than what you see during actual gameplay, but that’s because those shots are supposed to be from surveillance cameras rather than the first person view of your robot. You never actually see a human character model outside of their space suits, but you do get some 2D images of the people in the archive or via the rare badge you pick up. These pictures are more cartoon-y in style, and make an odd juxtaposition with the rest of the game and its more realistic visuals. As this IS an adventure game, there is very little animation outside of the cut scenes, so expect a lot of static images that will only change via interaction or from a storypoint. I’m pretty happy with what’s here, as in spite of the lack of animation, the graphics do hold up well with a lot of other 3DS titles.

The aural aspect of The Starship Damrey is pretty important, as you need to listen to the game as much as you look at it. This is not a game you can play with the sound turned down or muted, unless you want to do poorly while playing it. There is no music to the game, but there is voice acting (mainly the ship’s computer) and the noise space leeches make when you get near them. The result is a very quiet experience, for the most part, but each and every sound then alerts you that something big has happened, and it turns what we usually consider small, forgettable noises into big moments in the game.

As mentioned earlier, gameplay is pretty simple. There are only a few puzzles in the game, and as a result, most of the game is navigating and mapping the ship, which means The Starship Damrey is more a visual novel than anything else. The few puzzles in the game are pretty simple by adventure game standards, and although the lack of challenge may disappoint veterans of the genre, this is actually a really good “first” adventure game to help get younger, casual or less experienced gamers into the genre. The puzzles basically involve taking object A to location B or using object C on object D to create an effect. We’re talking early 80s style adventure game puzzles here, which is fine AND fun, but there shouldn’t be anything here that taxes your brain or presents even the slightest challenge.

In truth, there’s nothing special or out of the ordinary about The Starship Damrey except it’s one of those rare point and click adventure games that isn’t available for the PC. It’s short and easy, but highly atmospheric and makes use of an underutilized setting. Were this a PC game however, point and click fans would be quick to point out that it’s pretty paint by numbers or generic of an experience, and I’m sure if I had thrown this at Aaron (who has taken the reigns of slogging through most of the adventure games we get in as I try to retire from video game reviews) he probably would have said something like, “It’s the stuff Big Fish puts out, but without any hidden object puzzles.” Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Starship Damrey, but I’ll never have a yearning to go back to it, and it’s pretty forgettable as far as adventure games go. Perhaps the game’s biggest problem is that adventure gamers are primarily PC gamers, and while it’s nice to see the genre get a fun and cheap release for the DS, the gamers who generally play this genre will be less than impressed by what is offered here. Perhaps, though, this will also turn out to be the game’s greatest strength, as Level 5 fans purchase and enjoy The Starship Damrey only to discover literally thousands of games with this gameplay style – may of which are far superior to their introduction to the genre.

Short Attention Span Summary
The Starship Damrey is less than two hours long and costs $7.99, and that one-two punch may be enough to keep gamers from picking it up. Those that do decide to purchase it, however, will find a fun but simplistic point and click adventure game with an engaging story and very easy puzzles. The Starship Damrey will probably disappoint longtime adventure game fans, as it’s a very generic experience outside of the setting, while people who are relatively new to the genre may find it a gateway to the wide range of better offerings that are out there… and mainly PC exclusives. It’s great to see the 3DS getting another adventure game besides Murder on the Titanic, but The Starship Damrey really is a “one and done” title, offering no real replay value. Here’s hoping this is the start of several fun point and click releases for the 3DS, otherwise fans of the genre won’t really have a reason to switch from their PC to a handheld or console device.



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