Review by Tom Clark
" AKA: Super Spinny Stick Penguin Challenge!! Possibly. . ."
There are some games that redefine their genre. That raise the stakes for all other games of their ilk, and become the new benchmark by which all others will be judged. Mario did it for the platform genre, Street Fighter for the 2D fighters, Doom for the first-person shooters, and until very recently, Tetris for the puzzle genre. But now it's time for a new puzzle king to step up to the thrown. Yep, a flying penguin is here, and he's kicking the Russians' butt.
As with most puzzle games, The concept in Kuru Kuru Kururin is almost painfully simple, and as such I'm not sure that words can adequately describe why it works, so just accept the fact that it really does. Basically, you control a spinning stick, and you have to get to point B from point A through a sequence of increasingly narrow and winding passageways. You can't stop your stick from spinning, but using springs that are located at strategic points around the levels you can change the direction of the spin. Hit the wall three times and your stick shatters and it's back to the start. Stop off at an energy refill point and your energy... refills. Make it to the end in one piece and it's off to the next level. And that's pretty much it. However, from such simple roots grows forth what is easily the best Game Boy Advance title, and most probably the best puzzle game of all time. It really is that good.
There is a plot to this stick spinning madness, albeit a powerfully bad one. One bright sunny day, Momma Penguin was out walking with her offspring, when the cheeky mongrels ran off. She calls on you, Kururin, to rescue them. And so Kururin takes to his helicopter (which, viewed from above, appears to be a spinning stick - see?) and sets off to bring the wayward scamps back to their mother. However, they've spread out across the many different territories throughout the land (such as the predictable Ocean and Cave based levels, to the more diverse and downright weird locations, such as Cake Land). Like I said, the plot is hardly award winning material, but good puzzle games don't need a plot.
Along the way Kururin can gather add-ons for his Kurucopter (not the official name as far as I know, but it sounds kinda cool), such as spray cans that can change the colour scheme, and different style sticks, such as the spiked stick. While these changes are all aesthetic and seem superfluous, using them wisely can actually increase your chances of success - in the dark coloured levels picking a cheerful colour can help increase the visibility of your stick, and the reverse is true in the bright coloured levels. It's only a small detail, but every little helps, as they say. Also, it's possible to let the penguins that you've rescued sit on the helicopter as you navigate the levels. Again, it adds very little to the actual gameplay, but seeing the penguins getting thrown off the stick when it hits a spring is a nice touch.
In addition to the adventure mode there is the challenge mode. This mode doesn't even pretend to have a plot, and lets the gameplay shine through. Here you are presented the simple task of getting the best time in each stage, and not hitting the sides. It sounds simple, but in the level one challenges the times are almost all under four or five seconds, and it only gets tougher. Believe me, it will take a long time to get the best time and a gold star (for taking no damage) on every challenge level, and then there are all the adventure levels to complete in this fashion too... Kuru Kuru really is a massive game. But eventually, if you stick with it, you'll achieve the best time physically possible on each level. It may take over a year to do so, and I'd put money on the fact that hardly anyone would do so, but the fact that the game is finite still nags away in the back of your mind. In games of other genres this isn't a problem, but in puzzle games a large amount of the appeal is that every game will be different, as in Tetris. However, the gameplay in Kuru Kuru is so mind-roastingly addictive that if you ever were to do this, you'd probably just start from scratch again any way. Yes, I keep saying it, but the game really is THAT good.
Presentation-wise this game is similarly superb. The visuals are crisp and smooth, and everything is well defined. The back and foregrounds are as detailed as they need to be, and are colourful and dark at all the right times. Aurally, too, this game is a real treat. From the title screen, when you are presented with what appears to be a Japanese schoolgirl trying to say the name of the game as fast as is humanly possible, to the time when you switch the game off, the sounds are perfectly suited to the levels. The music is not too imposing as to distract your attention away from the task at hand, but good enough to have you humming along without realising it ( the cave levels boast an especially fantastic tune that reminded me somewhat of the old Sonic games), and the sound effects, especially the shattering sound upon defeat, are very well done. There's also a few speech samples scattered around, the most notable being the sound of what appears to be a small schoolboy opening each stage. Logic dictates that this plucky infant is saying 'Start', although it sounds for all the world as if he's really saying 'smart'. Sadly, this burning issue really has caused a bit of a debate amongst my friends.... sad really. While this game hardly seems to stretch the GBA to it's limits, there is nothing here that shouldn't be here, and nothing that should be here that isn't. In short, they got this game just right.
I don't feel that I can recommend this game highly enough - the controls are spot on, the presentation is just right, the gameplay is blissfully simple and agonisingly complex at the same time, it has a whopping 80 levels waiting to be perfected, the whole package is more addictive that your favourite snack product, and to cap it all off, it has penguins in it. What else do you need? I received this game at a time when I was starting to ponder whether the GBA had been a worthwhile purchase. Although it had a few great games, I was beginning to feel disillusioned with the system as a whole. A sea of forgettable ports were drowinging out what few worthwhile original titles were on the market. Kuru Kuru changed all that for me, and breathed new life into the tiny, sandwich-sized machine: it really is a game good enough to get the machine for. While, across the broad tapestry of gaming, there are better games than this, that number is probably in single figures, and this game is certainly the best puzzle game of all time. This game deserves to do for GBA what Tetris did for the Game Boy all those years ago. Sadly, the limited global release of this game means that it will possibly never get the width of recognition that it so deserves, but I wholeheartedly recommend that if you live in America, where the game was never released, you import the game from here in the UK (for obvious linguistic reasons). You truly won't regret it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/08/02, Updated 01/01/03
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