Friday, March 02, 2012

Wii Hidden Gems #3: Kororinpa

When I was a wee lad, children still played with physical toys (as opposed to electronic) on a regular basis. On school trips I would often bring along my mercury maze, slide puzzle, Rubiks cube or whatever else was in vogue, and it was common to swap these amongst my fellow classmates for the duration of the journey.  One of my favourites was a maze carved out of wood, with a small indentation at the end for the goal, and many holes along the way to lose your ball down.  What made this even cooler is that it was actually hand made by my own grandfather. I am not sure what became of it in the end, but I do know that the rise in popularity of first the Nintendo Game & Watch and later their Game Boy led to this sort of old fashioned entertainment declining in popularity.  However, in 2006 Hudson released the subject of today's Hidden Gems - Kororinpa, which is directly inspired by old marble mazes.  I don't think this game ever gained that much popularity, probably because of the title which means very little to the average person (but apparently is a Japanese onomatopoeic word for the sound a rolling marble makes).  However for fans of puzzle games, it is well worth the trouble of seeking it out. Let's get the ball rolling...

Publisher: Hudson
Developer: Hudson
Expect to pay: £15 - £20

Graphics: 6 out of 10
The actual in game assets are mostly fine, albeit starting to show their age a bit.  The main problem I have with this game (at least the version that was released in PAL territories) are the horrifically large borders and the squashed looking aspect ratio.  I find this really off putting.  If you TV has some kind of zoom mode you can circumvent this to a certain degree, but it is a shame Hudson didn't take the time to optimise the game.

Other than that issue, the game features some nice colourful graphics in a range of settings, including a world where which is entirely made of cakes, biscuits and chocolate, as well as one set in a garden.  Think Micro Machines, but with marbles.  As for the ball, it is an accurate representation of a small glass sphere - but this is not your only option.  As you progress through the levels, you will unlock a whole slew of alternative balls, including a panda head, a pig and a frog.  All of these have an effect on the physics and the way the ball behaves - some making what is already a fairly challenging game even tougher, and others slowing the pace down a little. Don't expect Kororinpa to really blow you away with its visuals, they are functional at best.

Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
Music in Kororinpa consists of tunes of a whimsical, cheerful nature.  They are, I have to say, somewhat on the cheesy side, but mostly suit the overall tone of the game.  Besides this, if you choose one of the alternative balls - the frog for example - you can expect comedy ribbits as you collide with obstacles.  This will probably raise a few smiles, especially from younger players.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
This is the best thing about the game. It is entirely controlled by tilting the maze using the Wii remote.  This takes some getting used to at first as it doesn't take much movement of your wrist to send the ball flying off into the stratosphere, but with a bit of patience and prudence you will start to get the hang of things.  The overall object of the game is to collect a certain number of of orange crystals from around the maze, then get to the goal.  There isn't really a fail state - falling off just sends you back to the start.  There is the fun addition of a two player split screen mode, where you race each other to be the first to get to the end - again this suffers from the stupidly large black borders that encroach on the real estate of the game. A real shame.

Levels start off fairly easy to deal with but increase in complexity and challenge as you move through the various worlds.  By the second world you will have to deal with moving lifts, obstacles that either just get in the way or actively try and push your ball off the stage, and maze layouts that see you having to flip the whole level 90 degrees.  It is great fun, and the lack of a game over screen prevents things from getting too frustrating.


Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out of 10
Marble maze based video games have been done before - most famously with Marble Madness - but Kororinpa successfully implements the tilt controls of the Wii remote and contains many cleverly designed stages.

Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
Kororinpa won't take you all that long to finish if you are persistant, but the addition of the two player mode adds some life to the game.  The game can actually fetch prices of up to £20 on eBay, which does show that it is in demand by those who are aware of what it is.  A sequel with the title of Marbles! Balance Challenge was released in 2009, and is even pricier - frequently selling for £25 - £30.  I haven't played the sequel as of yet, mainly because of the price, though I would like to pick it up one day.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Kororinpa is still a game that occasionally gets dusted off and booted up when I visit my brother, as he is also a fan of this sort of game and the multi player mode is a lot of fun.  If you are in the mood for a fun and colourful puzzle game, or you were a fan of marble mazes, then you should definitely think about adding it to your Wii collection!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Hidden Gems 2012: The Horde

Title: The Horde
Format: PC, 3DO, Sega Saturn
Genre: Action/Strategy
Expect to pay: £5 - £15

It has been quite some time since my last Hidden Gems entry, but I wanted to highlight this game in particular because I spent many enjoyable hours playing it over and over on my PC circa 1994 when the game was released.  The game, developed by Toys For Bob, who have most recently had great success with Skylanders, is a kind of fusion of the strategy and action genres.  Your character is tasked with protecting his farm from the titular Horde, and you do so by first setting down barricades and traps, as well as planting trees and crops and expanding your land.  You only have a fixed amount of time to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of ugly purple monsters, at which point you have to race around and killing them all.  Should all your livestock, buildings and crops be decimated, it's game over.  Then the whole process repeats again, only the Horde gets tougher, with more varied enemy types and in higher numbers.

The game had great graphics and sound for its day, and sure it is showing its age today but the gameplay still holds up.  In many ways this is the precursor to the Horde mode featured in Gears of War 2 and adopted by pretty much every shooter that has come out since.  Unfortunately getting the game to run on a PC may take a bit of effort at the moment as you have to use DOS Box - it hasn't been released on Good Old Games or Steam as of yet.  If you happen to have a 3DO or Sega Saturn you may want to consider picking up this title for one of those systems - a quick glance on eBay reveals that the game is not that hard to come by and shouldn't set you back more than £15 at the very most.  If you do get the chance to try The Horde, make sure you don't pass it up - and if this post has piqued your interest you can watch a brief clip of the game running below.  I hope to have more Hidden Gems for you in the not too distant future.