by Mike Campa
Few genres seem as perfect a fit on the Wii as the tilt/roll games. While the wiimote may not deliver as well as we expected for sword fighting games or cooking simulators, it shines when it comes to the tilt and roll mechanics required for this niche genre. Yet, despite this perfect fit, very few tilt/roll titles have been released on the Wii. We can add another to that small list which includes Super Monkey Ball, Mercury Meltdown Revolution and Kororinpa, as Hudson has released a sequel to Kororinpa called Marble Saga: Kororinpa. It’s a welcome addition to the genre, but one that also makes it clear that this style of game needs a revamp if it ever wants to become a viable genre.
Marble Saga: Kororinpa plays just like the previous installment: you tilt the wiimote forward and back, and side-to-side to make the world move. As you do so, the marble onscreen reacts accordingly. Although the basic premise is simple enough, you’ll soon find yourself navigating moving platforms, twin rails that your marble fits in between, and even giant cogs that will crush your marble if you get caught between two of them. The game does a good job of mixing in a variety of different mechanical gadgets along the way. Once you feel confident in the basics of the level design, you’re greeted with an uncomfortable curveball that’ll send you flying off into limbo (and death) more than you’ll find fair. Just make sure you have the wiimote strap on while you’re playing, or you could end up throwing your remote in frustration a few times.
So what is compelling you to complete all these levels? Well evidently the developer didn’t think the sheer joy of getting through the mazes was enough, so they decided to throw in a story this time around. I don’t know who’s to blame, but somewhere along the line videogame developers were told that there always has to be a story in a game. Well someone needs to go back and tell them that they were told wrong. Sometimes a game is just a game; sometimes the only reason for the game is the gameplay and to tack on a story is not only pointless, but it’s also a drain on resources that could have been put to better use on other aspects of the game or even for its advertising budget.
Let me just tell you right now: the story in this game is horrible. It’s not bad because of bad voice work like Elebits or Dewy’s Adventure; it’s bad because there’s almost no story whatsoever. So get this - you’re a marble who has been commissioned by a group of ants to find over fifty parts of a key that when assembled will open a magical door in a tree stump that will lead to The Great Sunflower. And that’s about the gist of the entire story. It’s told to you at the beginning of the game with text and is only somewhat revisited as you gain access to new levels. There are no characters in this story, except for an ant named Anthony, and no real villains. But why should there be, you might ask. That’s exactly my point. Drop the pretense of a story and let me just play the game. There are plenty of games out there with compelling stories and which require a certain amount of sophistication when it comes to a narrative, but tilting a marble around a series of mazes just isn’t one of those types of games.
As an illustration of how this story gets in the way of the game, you need only look as far as the HUD of this game. On-screen you will see a few images that let you know where you are in the game. In the upper left hand corner you can find out how many crystals you have to collect before you can enter the exit of the level. In the upper right hand corner is your clock with the best time completed on the level displayed above the current time. These displays are a combination of gears and flowers that fit in well with the theme of the game and don’t at all distract the player as he or she is making her way through the level. On the bottom left side of the screen, however, is your ever present, always annoying ant buddy, Anthony. Sure, he’ll give you a heads up after you’ve collected a crystal to let you know how many you have left (via message bubble), but he’ll also let you know if he’s hungry. He’s always hungry, but you can’t feed him. He’ll let you know he likes cookies through that same message bubble that is more than a little distracting as you are trying your hardest not to fall off a sliver of a path on your way to the next crystal, but there are no cookies to find in the game at all. Over the course of the hundreds of levels you will play he will say the same exact three or four random lines without any purpose other than to remind you that you’re there to save him and his family.
Poorly executed story aside, there’s plenty to like in Marble Saga. The game keeps you honest on your path from the beginning of the level to the end by making you pick up orange crystals along the way before you are allowed to enter the exit. There are save locations throughout each level that can only be activated once a certain number of those crystals have been collected and for the most part these save locations are where they should be. On occasion you will have to pass a series of difficult obstacles and narrow pathways to get to those save beacons that could leave you frustrated enough to shut the game off, cursing the game designers the whole time. In fact, you’ll spend a lot of the game wondering why you’re still trying and you may even find yourself cutting a few corners, and I encourage it.
Let me explain. The original Kororinpa featured a timer that would appear on screen after you left the ground. That is, once you were airborne you had five seconds to make it back (and in control) on the ground or the game timed you out and set you back to start. Essentially, you could just short-cut your way through an entire level just by tilting the wiimote and landing near the finish. I found myself attempting to use this exploit whenever I could, and I worried a little guiltily whether I was playing fair. You see, if you tilt the remote enough the maze will drop you onto a lower level of the maze, oftentimes bypassing extensive stretches of the level that would otherwise take you a consider amount of time and effort. Well the developers took out that timer this time around and shortened the interval before it puts you back at the start. In short, if you can pull it off, do it. It isn’t like you can simply start at the beginning and drop to the end; you have to collect all those crystals, remember; but on occasion you will have already collected them and fallen off the edge before you reached the next save spot, so a quick drop and you’re right back where you were without all the headache and hassle of taking the slow road. I commend the developer for doing what they could to prevent the exploit and at the same time not completely disallow it by making it an illegal move that puts you back at the start.
While there have been plenty of improvements made to the game, including a variety of cool gizmos that do things like making your marble bigger or smaller or switches that flip the entire level upside down, not all of the new gadgets are welcomed. In particular, the cannons are completely broken. The cannons are activated by falling in them and they automatically catapult you off into whatever direction you’re tilting the Wii remote. You don’t get to choose when it fires you out, nor do you get to choose with what strength it does it. All you have control over is your trajectory which is shown to you through an onscreen arrow. It’s mostly this arrow that is broken. It doesn’t seem to point the right way most of the time and after you’ve launched from the cannon there is still some wiggle room that allows you to end up in a much different place than you had intended. If only they had used a disk to represent your landing as opposed to the arrow there wouldn’t be a problem. While the cannons aren’t that plentiful in the game, sometimes you’ll have to use several in sequence, a feat not easily accomplished and one which you aren’t likely to want to repeat.
That brings us to the replay value of this game. There’s plenty here to play. I’m quite impressed with the way they handle the difficulty settings in the game. To start there are three modes: easy, normal, and balance board. The latter is obviously a tacked on addition and only includes ten stages. They’re not very exciting and don’t even feel as well designed as the simple yet extremely difficult puzzles found in Wii Fit, which is a bit of a letdown considering the potential that was here. As far as the easy and normal modes go, I’m more than a little impressed. I figured that the easy levels would be the normal levels with rails and bumpers on each side to help you through. Instead, the easy levels are completely different from the normal ones. While they might share a similarity of theme and music, the actual mazes themselves barely resemble each other. So if you’re a bit frightened by the difficulty in the game, you needn’t worry; there’s plenty here for everyone from the novice to the expert. These two modes aren’t the only difficulty setting available, either. After you’ve helped Anthony get into the Stump Temple you’ll be awarded with 100 more levels in which you must find each of the hundred ants that have gone missing. Again, the levels are completely different from the normal ones.
As is customary with many of these puzzle-style games, Marble Saga comes with a level editor. By finding hidden gems in each of the stages you will unlock more parts to use to make your own creations. The game even has an interesting “Fusing” machine that lets you create level pieces by combining different items you recover in the levels. You’ll find recipes as well that let you know what to create or just combine items randomly. While this may sound exciting and certainly adds replay value to the game, the level editor just isn’t that great. It’s difficult to put the pieces together and isn’t at all intuitive. It’s a combination of a problem with the camera in the editor as well as a generally “blind” interface that makes you have to cycle through menus to pull up pieces, rather than having an onscreen palette to pull from.
So if you’re in the mood for something a bit different on the Wii that makes good use of the wiimote and won’t have you waggling all over the place, Marble Saga: Kororinpa is certainly worth a try. The game has a very low price tag of $29.99 and there’s plenty in this game to justify that purchase. The only question you have to ask yourself is how much tilting/rolling can you take. I’m a fan of the genre, but felt in the end like I had had a bit too much. I couldn’t be bothered to find all 100 of Anthony’s friends and felt that the basic “normal” mode was more than enough tilting/rolling for me for a while. Parts of the game sometimes even made me wonder whether the tilt/roll genre needs to evolve to a more standard open world style of game, as opposed to the micro-levels they currently use. There are certainly enough gadgets and tactics at play in this game to open it up a bit more. Include a few enemies and a few power ups for your ball and you could really have something compelling and exciting on your hands. As it stands, though, this game is a one-trick pony that you may feel like getting off before the ride is over. If you've got a thing for the tilt/roll genre, though, add a point to the score. As far as tilt/roll games are concerned, this game is a solid entry that probably won't be rivaled this generation.