Reviews  |  Wii


Kororinpa
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By Lawrence "NFG" Wright / December 24, 2007


This review was originally published on NFG Games.



The Japanese language is a very onomatopoeic one. A huge number of "words" in Japanese are just sound effects, and daily conversation is littered with sound effects used as regular words. It's a lot of fun, really, but the reason I bring this up is to explain the title of this game: 'kororinpa' is essentially the cute sound of a marble rolling.


Labyrinth

Hudson released this little number with very little fanfare. Compared to other launch titles which were available in very large quantities (up to a hundred of each) at my old local Toys "R" Us in Saitama, there were only four Kororinpas for sale. I snagged the last one, and I've been playing it more than Wii Sports and Hajimete no Wii (Wii Play) combined. It's really great!


Taito's 1989 arcade classic Cameltry is this game's spiritual predecessor. If Taito had said, "Hey, Hudson, let's see a 3D Cameltry!" this game would have been the result. It also superficially resembles Sega's Super Monkey Ball, but Kororinpa's easily the much better game. Of course, it's also the virtual incarnation of Labyrinth, that centuries-old ball-rolling maze game some of us have played as kids. We might have thought it'd be easier if only we could manipulate the maze directly instead of using those knobs on the side, but Hudson has proven us wrong: Kororinpa is damned hard.


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At its heart Kororinpa is a devilishly tricky game with a perfect control scheme. I was very worried that Nintendo's tilt-sensors would be twitchy, jerky, or generally unreliable, but this hasn't proven to be the case. In Kororinpa you tilt the remote to tilt the world; and the ball, affected by gravity, rolls accordingly. Tilt the remote away from you, and the ball will roll into the screen. Tilt it to the left, and the ball rolls left. Rotate it 90 degrees in any direction, and the ball is a hair's breadth from falling to its doom, precariously balanced on the thin walls that kept you from falling off a moment earlier. This kind of insane careless tilting comes in handy later...


This kind of tilting is also the cause of some serious screaming around the NFG household. There are segments where you must flick the controller 90 degrees on its side, dropping the ball onto a new base that was previously a wall, without falling in the gap between them. There are maddeningly tricky spots where you have to navigate diagonal platforms that bend as if along the wall of a tube. Throughout all this the controller never lets you down, and you know damned well all your failures are yours alone. Savour them, cherish them, then overcome them to clear another stage.


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Hudson has done a very good job with this first-gen release. There's not much to learn: tilt the world to make the ball roll. Simple, right? You might expect that such limited controls would limit the long-term appeal of the game, but the simplicity of the concept is its appeal. Unlike several other release-day titles, Kororinpa has clear goals and a definite end. Play and fail a few times, and then beat a stage. Progress is made, and you work hard to beat the next stage. It's engrossing, and as the stages progress, not a little bit mind-bending.


Remaking a simple concept in this modern era is often a tricky thing. The boss wants the game to be 3D, the publisher wants unlockable crap, the platform owner makes stringent demands about all kinds of things, and the poor designer just wants to make the best ball-rolling game the world's ever seen. And all this in time for the system's launch. To its credit, Hudson's done everything required for a modern game without crossing the line between fun and frivolity.


The hidden stuff is easily unlocked: completing a stage is usually all you need to do. There are green crystals that are hard to collect, but they're not really required to unlock the different balls, tunes, and special secrets. In fact, their purpose remains unknown to me. The game only says that "good things happen" if you collect them.


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And here's where Kororinpa really starts to shine: completing stages faster results in bronze, silver or gold awards. Collecting golds unlocks further stages, and these new ones are brutally hard. But this is where Hudson's appreciation for old-school gametypes really pays off, as the player, thoroughly versed by this point in the game's controls and physics, goes back and starts racing the clock. Stages which you completed the first time in four minutes are now cleared in under thirty seconds. Some stages will see you knocking an amazing six minutes off your original time, only to find that you've only achieved a silver. Silver!? You bastard, I'll get that gold this time! Addictive? Bloody hell, is it addictive.


The different balls are very clever. Half of them are just cute variations of the original glass marble: cats, dogs, penguins, each with their own cute face and endearing sound effects. The other half are functionally different, and the game makes an effort to describe them before you select them. Some bounce higher when dropped, some have more mass and momentum, and some are cryptically described as 'for experts only'. In one stage some nasty vertical drops were seeing my little glass marble bouncing over the precipice. I started with a heavier ball and completed it easily. My favourite all-purpose ball is the Gas Tank, which looks like the giant green gas tanks dotting the landscape in Japan.


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Two-player mode

This is a fun diversion. It's the same game, only viewed in a player-selectable horizontal or vertical split-screen display. The players are asked to race to the finish, and if you thought the 1P mode was frantic you ain't seen nothin' yet!


The split-screen display adds a new, difficult twist to the equation, since you can't always see what's coming towards you soon enough to react accordingly. This only serves to increase the pressure while you desperately try to beat your opponent with reduced visibility. It's like racing in fog.


Strangely, the game doesn't use two remotes, forcing player 2 to use the nunchuck instead. This is yet more entertainment, as in fits of WiimoteWaving it's easy to yank on the other person's cord and mess up their balance. =D


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Wrapping it up

It's hard to say how the game will fare in the long term. By stage 25 I was encountering serious difficulty, but for all the adversity I faced I never wanted to give up and stop playing. I don't know how many more stages there are, but I'm having a blast with the ones I've seen so far.


The graphics are very smooth and competent, without being especially noteworthy. The music is really not my style, being suited more to a fancy restaurant than a marble-rolling game. These things really don't phase me -- you can turn the music off (a feature too few modern games offer, dammit) -- as I'm here for the action.


And Kororinpa's got action in spades. It's fast, it's fun, it's often frantic, and occasionally frustrating. It's also enjoyable for all: the game appeals to everyone with its obvious mechanics and harmless graphics. Zumi [His wife. --Ed] has been playing it at least as much as I have, and we've both enjoyed every minute.


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Caveats

There are a couple of weird things about Kororinpa. Despite it being widescreen-aware, the image is compressed vertically, with black borders at the top and bottom. Still, it's easy to fix this using the zoom feature of your TV.


As I mentioned, the two-player mode is played not with a second remote but with the nunchuk controller. I find this a bit strange, but since the nunchuk has its own tilt sensors (who knew!?) the game is no less playable for it.


Final Verdict

I love it. It's bloody hard and bloody fun for everyone you know. There is nothing wrong with any part of the game. If I had to come up with any minor faults, it'd be that by stage 25 it's just too damn difficult. Still, though, that's 25 stages of steadily increasing challenge. The difficulty curve is very well planned.


Kororinpa is a fine return to form by our friends at Hudson. Now, where's my Nectaris DS?