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Kororinpa: Marble Mania

It’s quiet inside the room. Or at least, you think it is. There’s an upbeat tune coming out of the screen in front of you, and your breath is coming out in soft sighs. You’ve blocked the noise out, though; you’re too distracted to notice your surroundings. Your hand is trembling as you rotate it ever so slightly, turning the object with your fingers with the delicacy of a brain surgeon. Failure is not an option here; one slight miscalculated movement could spell utter disaster for your efforts. Not only will you lose what precious little time you have, but your wits as well. The dull ache rising out your wrist isn’t helping things, either. Despite your best efforts, an involuntary jerk tilts the WiiMote, effectively destroying your well-laid plans. As the marble onscreen drops into the abyss, you howl in despair and wait for the chance to begin anew.

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In Kororinpa: Marble Mania, such experiences are all too common. You’ve been granted a small marble and charged with a single mission: leading it through various levels and unlocking more areas to explore. That’s it. No epic story, no quirky characters; just you and the marble rolling through life and avoiding several obstacles along the way. Fans of Banana Blitz, another of the Wii’s ball-into-the-goal titles, shouldn’t cast this off as a cheap knockoff as their beloved game. After unlocking a slew of extra balls with varying sizes and enduring 40+ levels and a handful of extra stages, you’ll have completed an adventure more daunting than anything you’ve ever seen on the console.

“No epic story, no quirky characters; just you and the marble rolling through life and avoiding several obstacles along the way.”Based on such a simplistic premise, you wouldn’t think that the game is particularly interesting or engaging. Yet it takes only a single movement of the WiiMote to understand exactly what Kororinpa is: an incredibly finely tuned puzzle game that rivals the likes of Super Monkey Ball and its kin. With the controller firmly in your grasp, you can manipulate a level by changing its slopes, ledges, and platforms with a single flick of the wrist. Having a hard time getting the marble up the hill? Try tilting the controller downward. The entire level will descend as far as you please, letting the ball drift slowly down the new path. Trying to get that ledge down on that far corner? Try turning the level until the nearby wall is level enough to be a makeshift platform. The controls and physics are so precisely integrated that even the slightest movements can impact the progression of the ball. The game presents a further challenge by making you collect a bunch of shiny gems spread out across the level; once you’ve managed to carefully snag all the collectibles, the exit portal will appear and grant you access to the next area.

Oh, if it were only so simple as that.

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The game starts off with a bunch of fairly easy levels to explore; you roll onto the nearest platform, grab the pickup, and venture onward. Somewhere around the fourth stage, the challenge spikes in difficulty, forcing you to endure several levels filled with spiraling walkways, tricky angled platforms, and more bottomless pits than you should probably shake a stick at. Several hazards come into play, such as icy surfaces with no friction whatsoever, globs of honey flowing across walkways, and even a roving band of laser beam weapons disguised as giant magnifying glasses. The snipping sound of the massive scissors will send waves of dread flowing through your mind. The game also implements respawning stations in the later areas, but these will provide little comfort as your crusade wears on. Since the learning curve in Kororinpa remains fairly steady until you reach those last hellish bastions, the gameplay won’t seem too engaging for a good portion of the game.

Despite such brutal adversaries, gravity remains your most potent foe. Later levels will require far more precise handling and timing than most of the other areas. There are only so many convoluted turns and blind leaps that you can take before you eventually break down into a sobbing mess and fling your WiiMote across the room. Once you’ve put the controller’s wrist strap to good use and regained your composure, you’ll inevitably try to find cheaper ways to get across a level. Forget all those seesaw ledges and Sinkholes of Doom; just tilt the damned level on its side and hope for the best. If you get lucky enough (and you will, considering the game’s generous leeway for taking shortcuts), the marble will plink down to the desired target and hopefully save you some tears and aggravation. At least, until you flick the WiiMote in excitement and accidentally send the marble careening into the abyss.

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“Despite such brutal adversaries, gravity remains your most potent foe.”All the while, the game practically mocks your suffering by placing extra pickups in far-flung corners or at the ends of catwalks that are near impossible to navigate. Don’t fall into temptation and try to skip these bonuses; they can grant you access to special levels, an extended music selection, and different kinds of balls. There’s nothing quite as strange as rolling an inflated panda bear across a massive expanse of ice. Despite their challenge, the levels are presented with simple themes and motifs. You’ll be rolling balls down funnels and across giant pastries, seeing a massive bakery looming in the background. The urban levels are situated on the level of a city skyline, offering glimpses of tiny cars scurrying below your yellow-line marked cement paths. Even the forest levels are made out of tree bark and fallen leaves. Combined with some cheerful instrumentals and a somewhat child-oriented presentation, Kororinpa is far tougher than it appears.

Sadly, this game will never get the kind of attention it deserves. It is a well-crafted puzzle game that showcases just how precise the WiiMote can be. The highly tuned physics and crafty levels will make laugh, cry, and keep your eyes glued to your screen. On that same note, however, Kororinpa falters in the face of certain issues. The difficulty remains slow and steady for much of the game and ascends dramatically towards the end, alienating gamers who thought the game would be more forgiving. The fact that the game spans roughly fifty levels with little other extras won’t justify the price for some buyers. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give Kororinpa a chance, though. Few games can boast some of the best controls that the Wii has to offer.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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