[16 November 2008]
Cast your minds back to 1996. Square Enix (at that point Squaresoft) announced that for the first time ever, the latest entrant in their premiere RPG franchise, Final Fantasy VII, would not be on a Nintendo console. Instead, it would move to a new home, the PlayStation. Undeniably one of the most significant events in videogame history, the change in platforms ushered in a new era for our medium, almost entirely changing the landscape of games and their culture, with its aftershock still impacting us to this day.
Soon thereafter, other major US and Japanese companies, buoyed by Square’s confidence in the PSX, would follow suit and align themselves and their triple AAA titles with the PlayStation brand. This effectively ended Nintendo’s console domination and began a ten-year stint at the top for Sony. Dragon Quest, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Grand Theft Auto, Tekken, Ridge Racer...would these have been on the PlayStation, or for that matter, would they even exist today, had Square not believed that the PlayStation platform was the right place for their vision?
The console that has both Square and Final Fantasy tied exclusively to it, will emerge victorious for that generation, or so history dictates. This of course makes the recent internet furore over Final Fantasy XIII going multiplatform seem almost understandable. Almost.
I say bollocks to all of that. The clear sign that your console is top gun is that it has crazy, off the wall, utterly pointless nonsense like Prey The Stars—or as I like to call it, the winner of 2008’s WTF game so far—on it.
Games like this exist mainly due to a console having amassed a large enough user base with high enough software sales that companies begin microtargeting niches within that base, in this case a niche that will buy anything Japanese and bonkers. Though this particular game originated in Canada, the Japanese origins are all too obvious.
Of course to get there you need all the big money makers, like the ones mentioned above. No doubt FFVII and its ilk did that for the PlayStation, and as a result you can see that both the PS1 and PS2 are littered with this kind of madcap stuff. The DS is no different, so my point remains valid; shit like this means you’re number one, kind of like a backhanded compliment. Games like this mean that the device has garnered the trust of the industry to invest in throwaway titles such as Prey The Stars.
So what exactly is Prey The Stars? Well it’s impossible not to draw comparisons to Namco Bandai’s Katamari Damacy. You play as a weird dog/shark/Pokemon knock off creature thing, eerily similar to Stimpy from The Ren & Stimpy Show. Gabu, as he likes to be known, and three of his similarly deformed friends run around maps like the mall, a theme park, undersea, “and more,” according to the blurb on the back cover. In all of those places they eat things. Initially it’s just fruit and vegetables, but as you eat more, you get larger and begin to devour all other manner of large household objects such as TVs, radios and then eventually whole buildings! The winner is the beast that’s eaten the most, because eating stuff equals points, points equal high scores, high scores equal victory. Clever, huh?
You chomp on B to chew your food and you can collect different skins to personalize your thing and improve its attributes. Cleverly, there’s a multiplayer option with just one card and even an online mode is thrown in. And that’s about it. There’s really nothing else to the gameplay aside from running around globe like levels and eating stuff, tapping the B button and getting the highest score.
Everything is bright, colourful, and cheery, and Gabu is sort of adorable in a Sloth-from-Goonies kinda way. But if you’re here for depth, skill, strategy etc. then you’re in the wrong place.
This is a game not celebrating its gameplay, or here to boast some brand new innovation, but instead it feels more like a nod to the industry’s silly, arcade, popcorn-fun style games of yesteryear. These are games that are often forgotten about as we pursue more complex experiences, with cutting edge graphics, movie-like stories, blah, blah and blah. So you know what? Leave the cynicism at home, kick back and appreciate a slice of gaming bizarreness. Let yourself be entertained in a way that was commonplace before that group of pesky, spiky haired, emo kids turned up with their grey PlayStation thingies.