GunPey may look like your standard portable puzzle game, but behind the simple game play lurks a game that houses a lot of history. Fans of early Nintendo portables (Game & Watch, Game Boy and even the Virtual Boy) will remember Gunpei Yokoi, the genius hardware developer who lost his life in a tragic car accident. Before he passed Yokoi was working on the WonderSwan, a defunct-portable distributed by Bandai. Unfortunately he would never see the final product; the WonderSwan didn't make it to store shelves until 1999. As homage, the first game released on Bandai's portable was a game called GunPey, an addictive puzzle game where you try to connect lines from one side of the screen to the other.
Apparently GunPey was destined for bigger and better things, as this quirky little puzzler is getting new life on the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Lumines, Space Channel 5, Sega Rally Championship) has decided to retrofit the WonderSwan puzzle game for a new generation; full of amazing backgrounds, hip music and multiplayer modes. Sadly that isn't the version I managed to get my hands on, instead I went all the way back to the late 1990s and snagged an original version of GunPey on the WonderSwan. Is this a game worth bringing back for a new generation, or do people love this game because of its history and emotional ties?
In a world where nearly every puzzle game involves some kind of blocks falling from the sky, GunPey sets itself apart from the rest of the crowd by offering a game that is almost leisurely in tone. That's not to say that you won't have to think fast while playing GunPey, but when compared to something like Tetris or Lumines this WonderSwan puzzler feels more like a peaceful walk by the lake than the stressful run we're used to.
Playing GunPey is simple, it involves you moving tiles found on the board. Your ultimate goal is to connect the tiles from one side of the board to the other, completing a connection will make the tiles disappear and give you some much needed points. As you are trying to connect the tiles the board will be working against you, moving the conveyer belt-like board up one space a little at a time. If any of your tiles get too close to the top it's game over for you.
At first I had a frustrating time trying to figure out how to line up my pieces, but the more I played the easier this became. GunPey isn't one of those games that is so simple anybody can figure it out, it may take the casual player a few turns before they actually get the hang of it. Once you've figured out how the game works it can be a lot of fun, but GunPey never quite hits the heights that Tetris or other popular puzzlers hit. It's a fun little game with a lot of potential, but it's not the type of thing I wanted to go back to on a regular basis.
Thankfully there are a few reasons to continue to play GunPey, including a few really fun modes. The game starts you off with the standard challenge mode, known in GunPey as the Endless mode. You can also go through each of the stages independently, which can be a lot of fun as well. There's a puzzle mode that gives you a bunch of pieces and wants you to put them together before time runs out. There's the story mode, which introduces you to some interesting characters. And finally there's the free mode, which gives you a chance to play GunPey at your own speed. None of these modes are going to blow you away, but the variety will keep you coming back if for no other reason than they are different enough to fit several different moods.
Despite the fact that this is a puzzle game, from time to time there are a few brief moments where the game actually looks really cool. The game is set in this crazy Wild West-style era, full of outlaw characters, wanted signs and dust clouds. Between levels you will be treated to short (but generally humorous) cinemas that will bring a smile to your face and make you want to continue playing. When you're actually playing the game the graphics are flat and empty, but when you're playing a puzzle game do you really need top notch visuals to get your point across?
Unlike most games on the WonderSwan, GunPey is played by holding your system vertically. This gives the tall screen enough room to display the entire board. I found holding my WonderSwan this way a bit awkward, but ended up getting used to it before long. I can understand why Bandai would want to have a game that showed off their product's versatility; unfortunately I never got into the idea of holding your system in a less comfortable position.
GunPey is one of those fun little puzzle games that deserves to be found. Due to the limited success of the WonderSwan few people have actually played this game, but thanks to Tetsuya Mizuguchi maybe the world will finally take notice. If you want to impress your friends then maybe it's worth tracking this puzzler down before the U.S. version comes out next year, but most gamers will probably want to just wait for what promises to be a far superior PSP and Nintendo DS product. GunPey is a fun game, but it won't have you putting down your copies of Tetris or Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo.