Review by Jeet Soon Kai
"Love to hate it"
Far away, in the depths of a gamer’s mind, where NiGHTS and Shenmue claim residence, the land of Love-It-Or-Hate-It welcomes their newest arrival: GUNVALKYRIE. Much like its neighbors, the greatness of this game is not measured in what it gives, but rather, what you take away. By no means is this a safe game, a la Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in that it’s easy to learn, easy to master, and bathes you with rewards for minor tasks.
This is a game that hates you--hates every organic fiber of your being with every fiber optic of its own. It will kick you when you’re down, laugh when you make a mistake, and never yield even in its quieter moments. Today, any video game that claims to require “skill” is usually substituting the word for unfair mechanics. There is nothing skillful on the gamer’s part if the difficulty is simply raised. Giving your enemy an over-abundance of life, while you retain very little, is simply difficult--there’s nothing to master.
GUNVALKYRIE, however, requires hand-eye coordination of the highest order. It requires an input of commands faster than your mind can react and send impulses to your fingers. Then it pulls off a neat little trick with its gameplay: the control scheme is terrible (which is common) but deserve to be (which is not). It is here where GUNVALKYRIE creates a bridge that will either cross gamers over into appreciation, or crumble into hate.
During your first trip through planet Tir Na Nog, as either GV Gearskin operator Kelly O'Lenmey or Saburouta Mishima, to discover the secrets surrounding the disappearance of Dr. Hebble, you will see this game as nothing more than a third person shooter with a hampered idea of movement. I did. But the more dedication you invest, the more you realize that it was intentional.
GUNVALKYRIE’s lack of adequate and comfortable design is not from a lack of effort, but a lack of faith in your ability as a true gamer. The proof is that its developer, Smilebit, has shown us that they know how to make a game. We saw this fact in Jet Set Radio, and its follow-up Jet Set Radio Future. They know how to spoil us with simplicity, now they dare us to even attempt to complete a game that demands such unbelievable dexterity.
Let’s break it down:
Slick. Very slick. Due to the game’s chaotic nature, you are not afforded many opportunities to appreciate your surrounding environment. Thankfully, GUNVALKYRIE is smart enough to know how to keep us amazed even in the most hectic, fast-paced situations. There’s not a stitch in the framerate, nor a seam in the textures.
Points also go to the wonderful character animation. You would think that people strapped to such bulky shells would be a developer’s excuse not to try. Wrong. They move and react beautifully to the given scenario and it’s those extra little bits of effort that help give the game greatness.
Nothing that calls attention to itself. The music and sounds are nothing that’s going to make your surround sound bump with joy. But, it gets the job done and the voice acting is (what little there is) is top notch as well.
If you break GUNVALKYRIE down into functions (as I know many do), it is a shooter, plain and simple. The joke is that whereas most shooters provide a horde of enemies easily dealt with painless controls, this game provides a horde of enemies impossibly dealt with wonderfully painful, rage-inducing controls. It is the first Xbox game to make you curse at your television as though you could hurt its feelings.
There is also a certain in-joke to this game that few people seem to have realized. The “A” button has been the video gamer’s staple button-of-choice since the first jump of Mario. It confirms our decisions, it takes our character to the next platform, it casts spells, and opens fire on all that dares to oppose us. Here, it can only be used in the menus between levels. That’s right, it has absolutely no purpose during actual gameplay. Once again, this is intentional and is another part of what gives GUNVALKYRIE an integrity that sets it apart from other games.
I am amazed how dedicated people are in making the next video game exactly like the one before it. Whenever a game tries something new, there are always those who cast their finger in a cry of “no, it needs to be like such-and-such”. GUNVALKYRIE has an unfamiliar scheme. It does not condescend itself appease the masses.
It is a game for that small percentage of people who want to experience something different in a video game, rather than the same three ideas repeated over and over (only starring different characters).
GUNVALKYRIE is parodical mixing of every Japanese animation story ever told. It has the anatomically-incorrect women, disgustingly oversized insects, a mysterious planet, bodies taken over, a “special power” that only applies to a select few, a mad scientist, an alternate timeline of currently-existing technology, a human head being kept alive--I could go on.
Fortunately, it is conscious of how ridiculous it is, and celebrates this absurdity as opposed to taking itself as the absolute truth.
There are many things to unlock, such as modes and new Gearskins, but they do not encompass enough variety to keep the average player interested. GUNVALKYRIE is played ONLY to be played. And as amazing as that fact is, it can wear a little thin. Fortunately, this is one of those filler games that can be picked up and played during those gaps we have between more epic titles. It’s always readily available.
GUNVALKYRIE is different enough to warrant the right to stand alone in an age of mediocrity, but too different to appeal to everyone. Again, the depth of this game is not found in its added extras (although, there are plenty to be sure), but what you are willing to devote, and yes, even sacrifice to enjoy this game. Simply put: love for GUNVALKYRIE is not innate, but rather, generated.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 06/09/02, Updated 06/10/02
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