Reviews | Game Boy Advance

Kuru Kuru Kururin

By Alex Kierkegaard / July 22, 2006

One of the reasons I am always happy to try out new puzzle games is that they keep providing me with fresh experiences, in a way that games belonging to other genres rarely do. The latest shiny FPS, for instance, is in the end just another FPS -- regardless of whatever new tricks or advances it boasts over previous such games. The same thing can be said about most of the titles lining the shelves of your local game store; whether they are racing or fighting games, shooters or RPGs.

But each puzzle game -- and I am referring to the originals here and not the endless Tetris clones or similar object-matching games -- is a world unto itself. Lemmings, Mr. Driller and Polarium all ostensibly belong to the same genre, but each one controls and plays as differently from the others as Altered Beast from Command & Conquer. In effect, each new puzzle game brings into being a brand-new genre -- or sub-genre, if you prefer -- a fact which to an extent justifies the numerous sequels most of them eventually spawn.

Here is another indication to the truth of the above. One of the challenges of reviewing a game is properly explaining, with succinctness, its control system. Puzzle games are the most notoriously difficult ones in this respect, because you usually find yourself describing how a whole new genre works to people who've never played anything similar. Readers don't need to be told how a Quake or a Gran Turismo is meant to be played, but a journalist tasked with reviewing the aforementioned Polarium has his work cut out for him.

But enough of that line of thought: Eighting's Kuru Kuru Kururin occupies a space of its own -- that much is obvious. I first played it in March 2001, taking a chance on it and importing it together with my first GBA, and it immediately made a lasting impression on me (it was certainly above and beyond all the rest of the system's launch titles). But let's see if I can properly describe, with succinctness, how this utterly irresistible puzzler works.

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The idea here is to carefully guide a constantly rotating bar through a series of courses; your goal in each one being, naturally enough, to reach the end without hitting the walls. This sounds simple but can in practice prove quite tricky, because to make it through the confined corridors you'll have to time the translational movement of the bar (which you control) to coincide with a particular phase of its rotational movement (which you don't). If your goal lies across a narrow opening to your right, for example, you'll only be able to fit through it when the bar is aligned horizontally; given it's rotational speed you'll have a window of about a second or less to make it through unscathed.

Initially the courses guide you along a single path, running more or less in an obvious direction. Further on they get more complex, turning back on themselves again and again until you lose all sense of which way you should be heading, eventually forcing you to stop and consult a map of the layout before continuing. A few of the more elaborate courses even form dense, maze-like areas. But the real challenge in most courses arises when a series of narrow openings are arranged in close sequence, requiring you to perform increasingly impressive feats of dexterity and co-ordination to get through them. This is really the essence of the game -- everything else is just detail added for variety and to prolong the experience.

Progress through the adventure mode (which follows a linear route on an overland map, with stages grouped into common-themed worlds) is very uneven. Though most stages can be cleared in a few tries -- and many of them on your very first go -- every so often the designers throw out a new trick and you inevitably get stuck until you work it out, and eventually master it; this taking anywhere between half an hour to an hour or more.

The first such trick you encounter, for example, consists of springs that you have to hit in order to alter the direction of your spin. It is necessary that you do this at specific spots, because corridors curving in a clockwise sense require that the bar spins accordingly, and similarly for corridors curving counterclockwise. These springs are thereafter used liberally throughout the stages, and add a great deal of complexity and fun to the experience.

The same can be said for all the other tricks the designers have come up with. You'll eventually have to learn to adjust your speed at the right moments (by holding down either one or both buttons at the same time), and other complications come in the form of bombs that explode when you hit them, moving platforms that can crush you if you don't time your movements precisely, and various other, sometimes devious, ways in which springs can be used to allow progress through the increasingly complex courses.

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It's impossible not to wear a silly grin on your face when going through the initial tutorial stages and realizing what this game is all about. It's really the novelty of the concept that makes this game, though every aspect of it has been immaculately designed -- with clever stages, a clean look and just the right amount of modes and extras. That initial encounter with a game that plays in a new way is a rare experience, something to be savored, and I was so taken with it that on my first session I kept going until four or five in the morning -- and it's a rare puzzle game indeed that can have this effect on me.

There is a faint plot involving a duck named Kururin and his search for a bunch of lost siblings (which you'll eventually come across around the various stages), and the bar you control is in in fact supposed to be his futuristic helicopter, but all that's just window-dressing. More important are the various ways the designers have used to extend the game's short play time (you can beat adventure mode in a couple of days if you play non-stop and have a decent level of skill in video games).

One thing you can go for is try to beat the record times in each of the courses. Normally you are given three lives, i.e. three chances to hit the walls before being sent back to the beginning, but every time you bump into something you get three seconds added to your time. So if you are going for a record you'll want to make sure you don't hit anything, which can get very tricky in the latter courses. If you clear a course with no accidents you are rewarded with a star; get stars in all the courses to unlock a few bonus ones (this is a very tough challenge indeed, and easily triples the amount of time needed to beat the game, though the bonus courses are hardly worth it). Finally, in a nod towards the obssessive-compulsive among us, you can collect various items during the stages, which you use to customize your bar/helicopter (different paint schemes and styles and such). By far the coolest feature though is the link-up mode, which sees you racing up to three of your friends to the end of a stage. I tried it with a friend and it was awesome fun -- I can only guess at what the full four-player races would be like.

Kururin's brief length works in its favor, because it lacks that elusive something which would compel you to keep playing forever, and which only a handful of truly genius puzzlers possess anyway. You can only enjoy guiding a spinning bar through a maze for so long, and there are only so many tricks the designers can come up with to hinder your progress. This is not their fault -- rather, it is inherent in the idea on which the game is built. The novelty of the concept and the sublime joy of the controls immediately grab you, but the effect wears out eventually. This has been wisely recognised, and so the adventure mode ends just before you begin getting tired of the whole thing. Short and sweet, that's what Kururin is. We could use a lot more games like that.