Tilt gaming has been on a bit of a roll in recent years. Some 17 years after the revolutionary arcade release Marble Madness, Super Monkey Ball revived the genre with its first outing on the GameCube in 2001. The premise was simple; roll a ball round a tray-like maze to reach the goal. Immediately accessible for the casual gamer, and ramping the difficulty high enough in later levels for the hardcore player, Sega's simian sphere series enjoyed huge success.
In the wake of the popularity of the Super Monkey Ball titles came Mercury, with a more puzzle heavy orientation, and We Love Katamari, the eccentric ball rolling game that saw you gathering everyday objects with your strangely magnetic orb.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz was the first tilt game to come to the Wii, which offers the genre an obvious advantage thanks to the motion sensitive controller, and hot on its heels comes Kororinpa. But is there a need for yet another game to jump on the bandwagon and what can it offer that hasn't been done before?
The first significant step that Kororinpa takes away from the Monkey Ball formula is the vast difference in the subtleties of the titling. Guiding your tiny monkey round SEGA's course demanded great delicacy and mastery of control. In contrast, Kororinpa is fairly generous in terms of how slowly your ball moves, but there is good reason for this. The vast, maze-like kevels of the game can be tilted far more extremely than any game has let you do before, at least to someway beyond 90 degrees. This has allowed some far more extreme level design, allowing vertical walls to become floors as you flip a course on its side. The developers have come up with dozens of ways to take advantage of this, and the route you must follow twists and doubles back on its own axis creating some thrilling and occasionally confusing paths to the end of the level that make Super Monkey Ball's attempts seem a little sober.
'The occasional and infuriating downside of this is that humans didn't evolve arms with the ball-and-socket joint dexterity of the machines that spray paint cars on factory production lines.'
The occasional and infuriating downside of this is that humans didn't evolve arms with the ball-and-socket joint dexterity of the machines that spray paint cars on factory production lines. Unfortunately Kororinpa sometimes forgets our evolutionary shortcomings at some of its more challenging points, and you find that your arm reaches a point where it is contorted to its limit, sending your ball rolling off the maze and into oblivion.
The other step away from the Super Monkey model is that the emphasis on completing a level shifts away from speed and towards collecting bonuses. Though time does dictate your final high-table position in Kororinpa, there is no time limit. Instead, you must collect all of a number of orange crystals before crossing the finish line. Additional hidden green crystals that are tucked away in the areas that are trickier to reach do not have to be collected, but open secret levels.
Another change from the standard of tilt games is that if you fall off the track you are still sent to the beginning of the level, but do not have to collect the crystals again and the timer is not reset. As a result the clock continues to rise and you feel obliged to press on with more haste with every restart, causing you to make more and more frustrating mistakes - even though time isn't the most important factor.
Restarting without so many crystals to collect means that you can take alternate routes to the finish, and the development team seem well aware of this. In later levels there are several alternate routes, though some of them demand huge and often blind jumps. Replacing Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz's jump button with a flick of the wrist to leap in the air is a nice idea, but sadly it is not always accurate enough for the job in hand.
The other problem comes with the camera. It seems intelligent enough not to get tangled up in the scenery, and always keeps you in the centre of the screen, but at the times when you find yourself rolling towards the camera, there is nowhere near enough space ahead of you to see where you are going.
The final additional gameplay mechanic is the option to change the ball you use, with more being unlocked as you play. Some are simply visually different, but others are heavier and faster, though all this really means is that you can revisit the earlier levels to achieve faster times and receive gold awards for your efforts.
Moving away from the gameplay, the audio and visuals are likely to have a huge bearing over your opinions on the game. As the title suggests, Kororinpa falls into the category best described as oddball, cute and extremely Eastern in style. The graphics are technically unimpressive, but echo the hilarious design of We Love Katamari and PSone cult rarity No One Can Stop Mr. Domino. What this means to the uninitiated is levels made of everything from chocolate biscuits to sections of motorway, and though it won't appeal to most, if you are a sucker for the more unusual of Japan's output it is among the best there is. The audio is a little saccharine, but always tongue in cheek and undeniably catchy, though again, it may annoy those who enjoy game soundtracks a little more like Grand Theft Auto's.
The lack of mini-games seems an unusual choice in a release like this, but on a system already overwhelmed with compilations of the tiny and ridiculous, it almost feels like a refreshing change. The two-player split screen mode is a nice touch, and the game is filled from top to bottom with nice details. A few hours in and the rather easy levels suddenly begin to up the difficulty, offering some real trials of skill.
Gentle and frustrating in equal parts, on the whole Kororinpa is a worthy addition to any Wii library, presuming that you bought the console as you weren't interested in a constant supply of macho shooters and driving games. If you are looking for something a little more showy though, don't say you weren't warned.