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Stop Ignoring Level 5's Crazy eShop Experiments

Attack of the Friday Monsters! and The Starship Damrey represent some of the most interesting games released for the 3DS yet.

While everyone checks daily prices for turnips, I’ve been hooked to my 3DS for very different reasons. Level 5, a company best known for JRPGs and the Professor Layton series, doesn’t usually show up on my radar. My ignorance shifted when chatter about Guild 02 kept coming up among some whose taste I deeply trust.

Guild 02 is Level 5’s second set of eShop-exclusive experimental games made in collaboration with outside designers, and this lineup includes Kaz Ayabe’s Attack of the Friday Monsters!, Kazuya Asano and Takemaru Abiko’s The Starship Damrey, and Keiji Inafune’s Bugs vs. Tanks. You might remember The Starship Damrey because Vinny and I took a look at it a few months back.

When that Quick Look finished, The Starship Damrey joined a pile of games I had every intention of returning to, even if I knew, in my heart of hearts, it would never happen. But I kept reading and hearing about Attack of the Friday Monsters!, and finally decided to see what Level 5 was up to.

Guys and gals, make your way to the eShop immediately. Level 5 is getting weird and wild.

Attack of the Friday Monsters! joins a growing trend of games looking to draw emotional resonance from the seemingly mundane. So many games dwell on saving the world and/or universe, unfathomable situations we can barely begin to imagine, let alone empathize within. Gone Home, the first game from The Fullbright Company, looks for this in a creepy but otherwise seemingly ordinary house from 1995. The Novelist explores the small decisions, such as choosing to spend time with your son at the beach or working on your book, and unintended consequences. Attack of the Friday Monsters! concerns itself with the naivety of childhood, albeit set against the rather fantastic backdrop of a world having come to grips with kaiju-like creatures stomping around every Friday evening. (There’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to spoil.)

You spend much of your time in Attack of the Friday Monsters! balancing your relationships with other super young kids.

Isn’t that at the crux of the problem, though? It’s not that we’re tired of ambitious scope and extravagance, but so many games have done a poor job at establishing a relatable world with empathetic characters. The focus on characterization is why people are so passionate about BioWare’s games. Although Attack of the Friday Monsters! begins with a familiar premise, that premise isn’t immediately exploited to push the character into preposterous situations.

Sohta is the 10-year-old at the heart of the game, and his family has just recently moved to a suburb of Tokyo to start a clothes cleaning business. Sohta’s father is clumsy and not particularly good at his job, and it’s clear he feels as though he’s disappointed his son with his choice of career. Washing clothes is not something Sohta can brag about at school, and the townsfolk whose clothes don’t come out perfect pick on poor Sohta. Much of the game is spent exploring a very tiny area over and over again, talking with characters, making new friends, collecting card pieces that are used in an entertaining variation of rock-paper-scissors, and trying to find the secret of Sohta’s new town. What he learns is heartwarming and not the least bit epic, underscored by the game's fascination about how children perceive reality compared to adults.

And, gosh, it’s just charming and beautiful and you want to hug it from start to finish. There’s nothing else quite like it, and the description of “life simulation” I’ve seen attached to it is alarmingly appropriate. Some of us use games to escape from our own lives, but the lives we decide to escape to are, sadly, limited. Reveling in the normalness of others can be riveting, too.

The Starship Damrey is, tonally, way over here, completely the other side of the spectrum. It’s a horror game, albeit one with a limited amount of actual horror to speak of. It’s more about a creepy tone, sense of dread, and culling atmosphere from the terror of isolation. It’s more than that, though. When The Starship Damrey boots up, it comes with an appropriate warning:

“This game contains no tutorials or explanations. Part of the experience is to discover things yourself.”

There's a whole lotta dead bodies in The Starship Damrey.

Weird, right? Right off the bat, before anything actually happens, prior to the appearance of a single polygon, The Starship Darmey has communicated its most essential quality, a message that immediately put me on high alert. The Starship Damrey, both the ship and the game, wants to invite you aboard and poke around. It puts trust in the player, rather than holding their hand.

You awake inside an isolation chamber, try to reboot an operating system, and take control of a robot on a deserted spaceship, which probably means something went very wrong. Flicking off the light inside your chamber produces a distressing message about “Lucy,” but the chamber won’t open, and it’s time to guide this robot around and see what’s what.

The game remains true to its word, and explains very little about itself. You can complete the whole thing in about 90 minutes, and it’d probably take less time if you don’t concern yourself with the game’s sole, optional collectible. It delivers some simple puzzles and a few effective jump scares along the way, and its minimalism keeps you on edge during the whole session. It becomes clear pretty early on that The Starship Damrey is gearing up for a singular revelation, and the payoff is extraordinary. I worry to say much more for fear of giving you too many ideas, but implore you to stick around through the whole credits sequence.

I haven’t yet tried the third game in Guild 02, Inafune’s Bugs vs. Tanks, but given the pleasant strangeness of Attack of the Friday Monsters! and The Starship Damrey, I’m inclined to check it out. Let me know if you’ve played it, but in the meantime, these two come highly recommended for a lazy afternoon of gaming.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by GaspoweR

WELL...wish I got a 3DS to check those out.

Edited by TheManWithNoPlan

I really need to check out this and The Starship Damrey.

Edited by Mento

You know, I've already given you today's allotment of snark about ignoring Crimson Shroud (and by extension the other Guild 01 games) despite it being a Matsuno/Level-5 joint. No point flogging that dead Wiegraf again. But you're right, folk need to stop ignoring these.

Edited by MisterCrow

Patrick you rock for continuing to provide the site with content like this. There are so many wonderful indie / small shop games out there I would otherwise be missing.

Posted by murph267

Well I guess I know what I am going to buy with the SMT4/Fire Emblem special of $30 worth of Nintendo e-shop credit now . Also what about the first wave of Level 5 3ds games like Liberation Maiden and Crimson Shroud. Are those games any good?

Posted by MrPilkington

@murph267 said:

Well I guess I know what I am going to buy with the SMT4/Fire Emblem special of $30 worth of Nintendo e-shop credit now . Also what about the first wave of Level 5 3ds games like Liberation Maiden and Crimson Shroud. Are those games any good?

Crimson Shroud is very good.

Edited by Fistfulofmetal

Starship Damrey was a pretty decent little game however I felt that the entire game did not live up to the really awesome first 10 minutes.

Also the concept of it having no tutorial or explanations were a bit hollow to me considering the game features some extremely basic adventure mechanics that spell themselves out and make the solutions blatantly clear.

Posted by sonicrift

I was curious, but I think your recommendation pushed me over the edge.

Posted by Shaanyboi

Patrick, please continue to provide coverage of weird-ass eshop games.

Posted by ImmortalSaiyan

I would love to play attack of the friday monsters. I don't have a 3ds though.

Posted by Graham_Nix

@murph267: Crimson Shroud is really good, but know going in that it's part visual novel; be prepared to read.

Edited by Hunter5024

Don't tell me what to do Patrick!

Edited by murph267

@graham_nix: Is it a well written game because if it is i won't mind the reading at all.

Posted by Nigthguy

I'll use those 30 eshop dollars I got from the SMT4 and Fire Emblem promotion to buy both of these games. Attack of the Friday monsters sounds especially interesting

Posted by RecSpec

I bought LIberation Maiden last year and thought it was neat except for the fact that I couldn't play it left-handed. But yeah, most of these Guild games are pretty neat.

Posted by Seedofpower

I can't watch the video.

Posted by Raven10

Although people mostly associate Level 5 with Professor Layton, they do a ton of really interesting stuff. Shame a fair amount of it doesn't hit the US ever. Glad the eShop has given these games a chance to find an audience here.

Posted by GunstarRed

I have both Friday Monsters and Damrey on my system, I just haven't gotten around to them yet. I'm pretty drawn to the absurdity of Bugs Vs Tanks, but I heard it can be insanely punishing which put me off. I'm sure I'll get around to it at some point though. I wish this second set of games had something as bizarre as Liberation Maiden... That game is fuckin rad.

Posted by nickernzen

I wish we had a weekly podcast or at least a section on the Bombcast to cover these eShop releases!

Edited by Max015

Patrick you rock for continuing to provide the site with content like this. There are so many wonderful indie / small shop games out there I would otherwise be missing.

Yeah I agree, Patrick's been knocking it out of the park lately, good show!

Edited by SatelliteOfLove

Anyone who owns a 3DS who hasn't bought Crimson Shroud is a known pedophile and doesn't turn in library books.

Posted by MormonWarrior

I've been burned whenever I get these kind of games. They're boring even if they're trying something different. When I get a 3DS again I'm not going to buy any eShop games except the very, very best this time. Like Pushmo and that's it.

Posted by BBQBram

Stop telling me what to ignore!

Posted by fisk0

i wish they'd do their crazy experiments on the Vita, as I don't own a 3DS.

Posted by LarcenousLaugh

Added to the list. Thanks for the read, Patrick.

Posted by crusader8463


Posted by uomoartificiale

I played Starship Damrey expecting to love it, and I didn't like it at all. Sure it was superficially interesting but it had all the bad tropes of adventure games in the style of Myst, plus it wasn't very interactive and controlled poorly.

I then played Attack of the Friday Monsters and I love it completely. I immediatly look at it as a piece of semi-interactive fiction. It never promised any interaction and so I was really glad when I got some. Super-charming and relaxing.

The "salute" between the protagonist and the cop is worth the price of admission.

Posted by DonChipotle

I never ignored them. I played them. I don't regret it.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@murph267 said:

Well I guess I know what I am going to buy with the SMT4/Fire Emblem special of $30 worth of Nintendo e-shop credit now . Also what about the first wave of Level 5 3ds games like Liberation Maiden and Crimson Shroud. Are those games any good?

Crimson Shroud is very good.

As is Liberation Maiden.

Posted by climax

I was very on the fence about this game, but you might have just pushed me over the edge to grab it. Attack of the Friday Monsters! looks great

Posted by jimmyfenix

You know what @patrickklepek you should take over NDX the train is coming back baby!

Posted by skelington_

I wish we had a weekly podcast or at least a section on the Bombcast to cover these eShop releases!


Edited by aerobatics

Gonna ignore them even harder!

Posted by LandonRobinson

Been thinking about these recently, wanting to give them a fair look. Looks like I have my answer.

Thanks for the reminder, Patrick!

Edited by the_OFFICIAL_jAPanese_teaBAG

Ive never seen the eshop before.... I need a 3DS soon

Edited by paulunga

This is kinda stupid. the eshop is host to many unique and interesting games, not just the Guild01/02 stuff. It's been a good, worthwhile service for a while now.

Posted by falserelic

This isn't my cup of hyphy mud, so I'm going to leave it alone.

Posted by csl316

The Kaiju concept page image is perfect.

Posted by me3639

Ill stick to Steam Indie games and pc mods.

BTW, "Balancing my relationships with super young kids" sounds creepy.

Posted by Eribuster

Hurrah! Love for the Guild.

Liberation Maiden is a fun, little shooter and Crimson Shroud is a great JRPG with table-top trappings. When the next eShop sale comes around, I recommend picking those up.

Posted by buzz_clik

Huh, just finished Starship Damrey last night - a timely article! I really liked what it was doing, and would have happily played more, but as it stands it's a solid little condensed vignette that I think works at its final length.

And I was eyeing off Attack of the Friday Monsters while I was away overseas, but connecting to hotel WiFi sucks with a 3DS, so downloading stuff wasn't really gonna happen. But thanks for jogging my memory, Patrick. Might peep it tonight!

Posted by pocketroid

Guild01 games - all bought

Guild02 games - bought Attack of the Friday Monsters!

The eShop is my favourite part of the 3DS, the main draw for me.

Posted by Bolt3

Attack of the Friday Monsters is really, really good :) Check it out, and thanks for the shout out Patrick! Underappreciated gem.

Posted by Majkiboy

This should be relevant to all interests! ^^

Edited by konig_kei

Patrick you should do a nintendownload x-press with Jeff.

Posted by Pilzi

Level 5 makes me wish I owned a 3DS...

Posted by alexe0506
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