12th Feb 2007 | 18:46
Kororinpa makes us feel guilty. Sort of. It's not that it's usurped Monkey Ball's place in our hearts, exactly, it's just that... well... now we've seen so much more of it, we kind of want Monkey Ball to pack a bag full of its tired, tedious minigames and get its embarassing soundtrack and limited flexibility out of our goddamn lives forever.
It's time for Kororinpa to move in; glorious Kororinpa with its 100% responsive meaty 3D, its sanity-defying corner leaps and turns, and its entire lack of banana-obsessed morons.
It's not that Kororinpa's the most beautiful game we've ever seen - it's not. You can't accuse us of just being shallow or anything. What the screen shots and video footage don't tell you is how intimately successful your remote interaction with the board is; how every tiny tremor of your tensing fingers makes the game board twitch and turn around the marble, flicking you round ludicrously tight corners and flipping the board a full 360 degrees so you can get around and behind it for shortcuts and bonuses.
Not to mention doing things like rolling up stairs (by the power of twist), jumping through gaps to fall perfectly on to hidden levels, dodging obstacles, and basically doing more things with a remote and a marble than stupid, predictable old Monkey Ball even realises is possible.
A cross between Marble Madness and the wooden board game Labyrinth, Kororinpa is immediately homely and familiar, but this doesn't mean it's without delightful surprises and innovations.
From the first level, and in every consecutive level after, you'll be tenderly greeted with new challenges: how to flip the ball over a hurdle; how to accelerate down a ramp, leap a large gap and then stop the ball absolutely dead still; how to turn the remote upside-down in your hands without losing your wrist strap and your mind. Kororinpa promises it will never bore you.
In order to exit each level, you have to collect lots of sparkling gems along the way. There are two kinds - oranges and greens. Only the oranges are compulsory; the greens are bonuses that'll unlock a variety of different balls to play with (see box above right).
There's only one green per level, and their locations range from the easily accessible to fiendishly disguised and dangerous corners that mother used to warn against: on the pinnacle of a micro-thin slither of board, or high above a platform that will risk a death-defying leap. Do you hear us, Monkey Ball? Kororinpa's got its edge, too.
Getting the green gems and completing the levels quickly unlocks you new marbles to use. Well, we say 'marbles' - they include cats and dogs with protruding body parts.
Although they take a bit of getting used to, the pokey limbs act as a sort of brake, making it easier to complete some of the harder levels. We particularly like the dog, which barks at you through the Wii remote speaker when you drop from one ledge to another. All the marbles make noises, in fact: the cat miaows, the standard marble klonks solidly and the panda, er, makes a gravelly groany yawn noise.
All manner of terrains are explored, and they all feel convincingly different: rugged conveyor belts whisk you along from one end of a platform to the other, while others try to stick to you, or else merrily dance you around on a stage of ice. The boards themselves are incredibly intricate, and the 3D just works, superb and satisfying.
The ball drops
But we know that affection can blind us to the truth, and we're well aware that Kororinpa has flaws. The levels can be too short and, actually, the death-defying leaps to get certain gems aren't really death-defying. You have an unlimited number of lives, and whenever you respawn at the start, you no longer need to collect the gems you got before dying. So there's no incentive to complete the level in one go without falling off the edge.
It's not so much death-defying as suicide-inducing. Oh Kororinpa, no! Just when we were falling for your ready handling and flexible boards. Plus, the multiplayer has no player interaction - so what if player two gets to use the nunchuk? How the hell is that meant to make us feel better now?
And then - oh, as if Kororinpa hadn't already lied to us about how much it has to offer - getting to the end of the first 45 levels unlocks another 45 levels, but they're just the first levels reversed. Not played from back to front. Just mirrored. It was about at this point that our heart broke, and we couldn't do anything but weep softly.
Kororinpa - how could you do this to us? You didn't keep the promises you made. We left Monkey Ball for you, and going back to its minimally tilty boards would just be a dry and empty experience now. We're left alone with you, and all we can think about is how great it should have been. Balls.