It’s Chomp Time!
Prey the Stars is KOEI’s newest attempt at arcade gaming on the DS. Players take on the role of a very hungry monster-dog and are tasked with feeding it with anything that’s on their path. The gameplay happens in a themed arena packed-full of junk – or food, I guess. Anything in this game is edible, whether it’s a couch, a glass of soda, a dollhouse, or a barbecue set.
The lower screen shows a map that represents a summarized version of what you see on the top. The stage is divided in squared portions with objects scattered throughout. There are objects of many different sizes and qualities, and not everything will be suitable for your hungry character, at least at the beginning.
Green blocks in the map represent areas with smaller objects, yellow areas have medium-sized items, and pink areas have the biggest treats. Players will have to start by munching on small objects and they’ll grow up exponentially, while racking up points. The main goal is to be the player with the most points, and the bigger the items you eat, the more points you get. However, you shouldn’t waste too much time trying to eat bigger objects when you first start; you’re better off taking it easy and doing things in order. That way you’ll become the biggest guy in the lot, being able to eat literally anything that gets on your way.
The single-player campaign, also called Story Mode, will act as a tutorial, guiding you through different levels that get progressively more difficult, as they keep adding new features and further strategy. For example, in the first level you learn you have to bite most things a few times in order to eat them. You do this with the A button. You can also attack your enemies by biting them, which slows them down for a few seconds. You can also block certain incoming attacks with the L button. Later on you’ll find out you should eat the same kind of food consecutively, because it will grant you special abilities. These abilities will become very useful as you advance, because the whole goal is to have more points than your adversary, and for that, you’ll have to play dirty! For example, you’ll get water waves that will push the enemies off the stage, thunder that will shock the adversary, bombs, and more. You can also get a “steal” item that allows you to steal abilities from them, or the “absorb” and “shrink” power-ups, which will make you bigger or simply make the enemy smaller.
If you eat similar items properly and are lucky enough, you’ll transform into something dangerous for a few seconds; it can be fire, water, wind, or thunder. You can also find Hyper Transform Objects in the game. While transformed, not only will you eat everything you come across, but you’ll also be able to crush and kill your opponents. They’ll end up respawning, but at least they’ll be out of the way for a bit and also lose their current size. Needless to say, these are all abilities the enemies can get as well, so if you don’t watch out and check to see where they’re at on the map, they’ll keep attacking you and making you lose points left and right. That’s maybe one of the most frustrating aspects of the game, and the most amusing at the same time. It’s what makes the multiplayer mode so much fun!
Another important thing you learn early on, is how to eat properly. At first, you’ll be able to just chew things a few times in order to eat them. Later, you’ll have to time the bites right in order to make them count. The better the bites are, the less time it’ll take you to munch them down. There’s a little marker on the screen that shows you when to bite. When the light goes up to green, you’ll have to hit A. Repeat this two to five times, and the item is yours. Unfortunately, you’ll have to watch out for potential threats meanwhile. Your enemies may be nearby trying to attack you with one of their elements, or even certain on-stage dangers may decide to show up. This becomes especially frustrating with the lava pools in the fourth level. They appear all of a sudden and start taking points from you. Sometimes it gets so nerve-racking, you end up running into the pools more than once, losing your hard-earned points in a flash.
In addition, specific objects are charged with elemental powers. Some are burning, others are frozen, etc. When you come across these, you’ll have to start by licking them instead of biting. That way they won’t hurt you and you’ll still get to fill up your belly. You can also eat nutritional items in order to earn Nutrition Power. This makes you faster and your bites more efficient. Other special items drop on the stage once in a while. You’ll be warned about them with a certain sound and transparent placeholders showing where the items are going to drop. They’re also marked with the P letter on the lower screen once they appear on stage. You should try to eat as many Power-Ups as possible, as they really help to increase your size.
If you keep getting “perfect” ranks while eating objects and fill up the “perfect” gauge, you’ll end up entering GabuGabu time. It will only last for a few seconds, but in the meantime, you’ll get double the points, you’ll be immune to your opponents’ attacks, and, best of all, you’ll be able to eat much faster by just biting a couple of times without worrying about timing. You really have to try to make the best out of this, because moments like this are the ones that end up counting the most towards your final score.
When you beat a stage, you obtain new skins that can be used on your character of choice. These skins provide extra powers and sometimes more accurate biting abilities. Also, they’re cute! You can dress Garu, Pero, ChuChu, or Bari as many different things, from soccer balls to presents, or even a strawberry! There are 30 different skins, each with their own qualities.
As you can see, all this sounds like a fun game with good rules and enticing goals. However, there are a few complaints that come with it. First, the Story Mode is a bit short, and playing against the machine is not as fun as multiplayer battles. Also, it lacks of a real story, other than the dog being hungry and little spirits showing him how to eat and beat the others. Second, biting things several times is a little annoying, mostly due to the fact that you have to deal with a two-second animation every single time. Instead of being a super-fun and fast-paced arcade experience, it becomes more like a chore.
The good news is you get used to it. When I started playing the game, the first thing I said was “Oh, no!” But after a while, I became addicted to the game and beat one stage after another without thinking too much about the gratuitously slowed-down gameplay. Of course, this game will never become as popular or addictive as Katamari Damaci and the like, but at least it provides fairly entertaining gameplay!
You can’t really say the visuals or the sound are top-notch either, but that’s not something to worry about when the gameplay is amusing. The tunes are cheery and fun. To tell you the truth, they fit the game’s style perfectly. Also, the characters have been designed by a popular Japanese pop-artist called TOUMA, which makes the game a little more special. I know this game has been somewhat successful in Japan (Gabu Gabu), so it has the potential to make it here as well. I, personally, thought the overall presentation of the game was cute and fun to look at, so I have no complaints in that regard.
The best part about Prey the Stars is, no doubt, the multiplayer battles. The game can be played offline with up to four friends, and whether they own the game or not is not an issue, as you can play via local wireless single-card download play. You can also hop online and play against other players out there. Playing against others is really competitive and fun, and I could see this game becoming as popular as Bomberman battles, if it wasn’t because Bomberman has been around forever.
Overall, it offers a fun and rewarding experience, but unfortunately, it’s not quite as entertaining and addictive as it could have been. There are quite a few things that don’t let it reach the levels of quality games like Katamari Damaci have been able to provide. However, I’m sure some casual players will find a good value in the game and children will have lots of fun with it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.6 Graphics
Character designs are cute, but environments and objects look a bit simplistic. 3.5 Control
Lack of stylus controls might be a missed opportunity. Slow “chomping” action detracts from a great experience. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Cute and whimsical music fits this funky game well. So do the sound effects. 3.6
The single-player game can get a bit repetitive after a while, but the online and offline multiplayer action adds some extra fun.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.