Kuru Kuru Kururin
Publisher: Nintendo (all regions)
Size: 32 Mbit
As you can see, this is the first game that wasn’t released in the States. And for a good reason – it’s pretty much unplayable.
The basic idea isn’t anything new – you are guiding a rotating stick through a series of increasingly complicated mazes, and each time you touch a wall you loose a portion of your life. Something similar to the Irritating Maze/Stick series of games from Saurus, one of SNK’s subsidiaries.
It’s a rather nice looking, nice sounding (score by Atsuhiro Motoyama certainly helps to reinforce the cutesy mood set by the graphics) arcade game. I just wish the controls wouldn’t render the game unplayable most of the time.
You see, the game requires pinpoint precision, something that DSLite’s D-Pad can’t deliver. I did a quick comparison run on an emulator, and the game controlled way better on a keyboard, and was not as infuriating with savestates here and there, but that’s not something one could do on the original Game Boy Advance…
Also, there’s not really much to do here. There’s about 30 or so levels in the game, most of which can be finished in less than two minutes. You can spend some time besting your personal records, or trying to finish a level without taking damage, but the controls don’t really motivate you to do it. I personally gave up at around the halfway mark, after spending more than an hour on one of the levels, dying constantly on a section just before the goal.
Now, I wouldn’t really mind having an NDS port of this game with touch controls, but as it stands now, it’s about as fun as a light-gun game played on a keyboard.
When I first sat down to write this, I hit the wall on the silliest of problems. How do I call a game one can play anywhere, anytime? My first guess was “mobile”, but Wikipedia claims this word is reserved for cellphones. “Handheld” describes the hardware, not the gameplay. “Pick-up-and-play” implies a flat learning curve, as does “casual” (and I’m not going to ever use “casual” and “game” in the same sentence anyway because I don’t want to be associated with people who do). Finally I settled for “portable” – it has a different meaning too, but at least the context is on my side.
So then: In Kuru Kuru Kururin, we finally have a perfect portable game. With its short levels and simple gameplay, it lets you start playing anytime, anywhere, for any span of time you have available, and then stop without remorse.
The problem with this particular title is that there’s literally nothing else to write about it. Even the gameplay description can be finished in one sentence. You control a revolving stick to lead it from start to finish, using springs to change the direction it turns to, trying not to hit the walls and avoiding a total of three kinds of moving obstacles. There, you have it, that’s the entire idea. Out of other aspects, music may deserve a short mention; but again, while it’s good (finally, something that’s a pleasure to simply listen to), little can be said about it apart from “soothing” and “cute”.
The one thing the game has going for itself is, fortunately, the basic and vital quality of any game ever. It’s challenging. From start to finish, by its very design, brilliantly hard and unintuitive. The stick (actually a helicopter, judging from the silly placeholder cutscenes) moves in such a weird way that controlling it takes hours to just get used to, not to mention master. Every narrowing of the track, or the simplest of curves, becomes a dangerous trial for the unprepared. And even when you (slowly and gradually) grasp the mechanics of it, even the shortest loss of concentration will still lead to a crash.
That, I believe, is the reason for the game’s extreme simplicity. When even the basic movement is a challenge in itself, there’s no room for much more. Really, I’m pretty happy with the job the level designers have done, but still, even with just 38 levels in the story mode I start noticing that things are getting repetitive. Or rely on gimmicks. Or simply get too random to grasp and rely on memorisation, or trial and error, rather than actual skill. (There’s also a challenge mode with levels that don’t suffer from any of that – but they’re really, really short instead.)
The game leaves a lot of room for improving your skill, instead: when you finally finish all the levels (it’s gonna take time, a whole lot of precious time), you can polish your time records or do perfect runs with no wall or obstacle hit. If you want to. I, for one, don’t. Just finishing the basic story mode levels was enough for my nerves. Never again. Unless I find myself in some boring place with no other electronics apart from a Game Boy and Kururin in its cartridge slot, that is. As I said, a perfect portable game.