Review: Kororinpa (Wii)

[ editorial ]
When I was a kid, my grandmother had an intriguing game in the grandkids' toy box. The objective of this game was to roll a marble through a maze from the beginning to the end, avoiding marble-sized holes that were in the way. The catch was that you didn't actually touch the marble or the maze, but tilted the whole maze by way of knobs set into the side of the case.

Kororinpa: Marble Mania is quite reminiscent of that game, at least on the surface. Your primary objective in any of the game's 65 levels is to roll your marble from point A to point B by tilting the playing field. Red crystals to collect along the way serve to keep you on the game's intended path. The clock ticks from the minute you start the level, and keeps ticking should you fall off or run into one of the rare marble-death-dealing hazards.

How you play Kororinpa arguably makes the game: you hold the Wii Remote out and you simply tilt it in space. Your movements translate exactly into in-game action, and you'll find yourself holding the Remote in some delightfully arm-twisting ways at times while the levels have you climbing vertical surfaces and making little jumps. Kororinpa's implementation of this control scheme is rock-solid, leaving only my own hands to blame should the marble fall. Beyond being merely solid, though, the control is highly accessible. When I had family over for Easter, I couldn't help but notice that while our skills varied wildly, nobody had the slightest bit of trouble with the controls. Everyone from age 4 to 54 was enjoying themselves and getting into the swing of marble-rolling with no trouble whatsoever. (A big hit: the two-player marble race mode.)

Also critical to the game's success is Kororinpa's excellent camera. Rather than following behind you as if you're playing a platformer, the camera angle is almost always fixed to a certain point (though the position and zoom follow your marble), eliminating the need for wild adjustment when you're trying to carefully make your way across a tricky area. It isn't absolutely perfect—I've found if you're trying to do things that the level wasn't designed for, such as climb around the edge and roll your marble on the underside, it will freak out a little and your marble will go flying—but it's as close to perfect as I think it's possible to get for this type of game.

As you progress through the game's levels, you will gain access to an amusing variation of new marbles to try. If you're a high score type and want to see how low you can get your times on various levels, the wide variation in marbles is for you. While some are largely cosmetic (i.e. the assortment of impossibly adorable animal marbles that make various noises as you roll them), others provide a wide assortment of characteristics such as responsiveness, speed, and sliding that can make an already-mastered level into a new challenge. The top five times for each level are saved, including which marble you used to get that time. That's not to say that it's worth replaying every level with all of the different marbles, but each level can be played with at least a handful of different marbles that offer a new and worthwhile experience.

All good things must come to an end, of course, and with Kororinpa it seemed that was coming far too quickly. While many of the later courses took me close to ten minutes to clear, I just felt that I needed more when it was all said and done. There were a few still locked away, waiting for me to get more gold rankings for my times, but I was having so much fun with each new level that I wanted to be handed a steady stream of more to conquer. The game tossed me a mirror mode as consolation, but it just wasn't the same as new challenges.

That game at my grandmother's house—I stunk at it. Maybe it was because I was young and had unsteady hands. I kept trying it, over and over again, and never really conquered it—I made it to the end only a handful of times, and mostly by luck. But maybe what the old wooden game was missing was Kororinpa's highly satisfying control. Kororinpa is definitely one of my favorite Wii games so far, and one I'll be keeping around—if my Wii still works in 25 years, maybe my own grandchildren will enjoy playing it.