“Kororroroin-what?”. Yeah, yeah. We know.
Obscurely named Japanese videogames come with the territory, but it can't exactly help them sell to people who run away from anything not called Medal of Duty: The Road to Creative Doom. And despite what you might assume, it doesn't mean we're going to slap 9/10 at the end of the review because we like the quirky name. You cynics.
Rather than simply change the name to something generically 'Western' (oh, I dunno, Rollerama or something), Nintendo has pre-empted the confusion by helpfully slapped a little four word description above the name to inform us that it's a "Ball-rolling Maze Game". They could have added "a bit like Super Monkey Ball but without the mini games or the effortless charm" but that might have been a bit of a mouthful. [Incidentally, for the North American release, 'Marble Mania' has been added as a subtitle.]
The back of the box, though, goes a bit further in doing our job for us. "This may be the world's most deceptively simple game," it ponders, before ruining it with a superfluous exclamation mark and a question mark. I'm Ron Burgundy? Except, that's not altogether true. I am not Ron Burgundy, and there's absolutely no deception going on here; Kororinpa is, to paraphrase the original description, a simple ball-rolling maze game.
And just like Super Monkey Ball you use the Wii remote to tilt and roll your 'ball' (more of which in a moment) all the way to the exit without being ham-fisted enough to spill it over the edge of the course.
But unlike Amusement Vision's stuck-in-its-ways ball roller, Kororinpa forces you to pick up all the red crystals scattered around the course before it will allow you to finish. Try and rush to the exit prematurely and you'll be unceremoniously booted back to the start. How rude!
Whereas SMB focuses largely on how quickly you can manoeuvre to the exit, Hudson's take on the genre combines both object collecting with getting to the finish line quickly. And another important distinction is the fact that Kororinpa has infinite lives as standard and (on the latter, more difficult, courses) checkpoints. This certainly helps quell the frustration factor an awful lot.
And before you hastily dismiss Kororinpa as little more than an unimaginative clone of an ageing idea, Hudson has gone to an awful lot more effort to tailor the game's controls around the Wii remote. Amusement Vision was content to repeat the formula of the two previous SMBs, but add basic tilt controls and a questionable jump ability. But once you start rolling around the more challenging courses in Kororinpa, it strikes you that they make full use of all three dimensions, rather than stick to old 'rolling a potato around on a tray' concept.
It's quite alarming when you first realise that you've got to turn the controller on its side and tip the ball onto a precarious ledge, roll it forward a bit, and then flip it back horizontally in one fluid motion. It certainly gives Hudson license to cut loose with the level design, with some truly fearsome creations arriving a few hours into the proceedings.
Inevitably, obstacles also start to play a greater role in holding up your progress. Initially you might be forced to create a temporary bridge by tilting a sliding platform into position, but later on you find yourself dodging instant death magnifying glasses, conveyors, ice, honey, moving platforms and the like. More often that not, though, any difficulties you might have are down to some fiendish course design, with evil angles that require a deft touch to compensate for the changing incline. Some of your early reservations about who this game's really designed to appeal to begin to melt away as you begin to get quite hooked by its moreish appeal. Far from being cute and cuddly, the game really shows its teeth after a while.
Question marks remain over its long-term appeal, though. Sure enough, you'll rip through most courses in a few hours, and even unlock the bulk of the secret courses without too much effort. And even once you do, the inherent repetition involved in the game makes it hard to play for extended periods of time without tiring of the premise quite quickly. The presence of a split screen two player mode is a definite plus, and the ability to play the game with all manner of different types of 'balls'. Acting, effectively, as a difficulty level modifier, you'll unlock access to heavier balls to make previously simple levels a tad more difficult. It's a novel twist, but, again, there are only so many times you'll want to roll a ball into a goal. Even if they are cute.
And cute as the game is in general, you can't help but feel slightly underwhelmed by the 'cheapness' of Kororinpa's visuals. The courses themselves are pretty rudimentary throughout. Whether you're rolling among biscuits, or girders high above a city street or even outer space, it's 3D in the most basic late '90s sense. The poorly designed, badly animated backdrops, in particular, show up the Wii unfavourably, and detract from what is - in most ways that matter - a charming, addictive game. Of course, I could allow this paragraph to drift off into a 'graphics don't matter' debate, but would it really have been that hard for Hudson to buff up the presentation a little? Even the front end and menus look cheap, but, at a penny shy of Ł35, this budget feel hasn't been reflected in the price, which will surely hurt its chances of success. Xbox Live Arcade fans will have every right to point out the similarities between this and Marble Blast and the vast difference in price. It's a fair point.
Kororinpa, then. Ball rolling maze game. It's addictive, charming, simple, challenging, and a great advert for why the Wii controller is one of the best things to happen to console gaming. But controller novelty value can't disguise its one-trick limitations or the vanilla production values, and there's no doubt that it should have been released at a budget price. One to rent, then.