Kururin 'copter shot the sky! Kururin 'copter landin' on my eye!
Kuru Kuru Kururin debuted for both the Japanese and European Game Boy Advance launches. The idea was deceptively simple -- all you have to do was guide a constantly rotating stick through a maze and reach the goal without hitting any obstacles. Doing so makes you lose time and health. Three hits and you have to start again. Kururin Squash is the third game in the series, and as such, it expands on this basic idea of navigating your way through a maze. In addition to the standard helicopter, you're now able to guide specially designed helicopters that allow you to punch, dive, shoot flames and throw tornados.
As mentioned in my impressions, the first thing that will strike you about the game is the incredible graphic style. (Take a look at the intro, which is available for download to see for yourself.) The graphics are crisp and bright, and all the characters in cutscenes are moved around as though they were puppets on sticks, with additional sticks used for controlling their arms. If they want to change expressions, the character will flip around and a completely different version of the same character will be on the other side. It's a really refreshing look, and I've never seen anything like it before.
The levels themselves are fully polygonal, which is a massive leap from the 2D (but still excellent) sprite graphics of the previous games. The mazes have some great transparency effects that allow you to see, for example, forests with butterflies underneath you. Other high points for the GameCube version are the lighting and particle effects. It's quite strange to see such great effects in a puzzle game, but there they are. Dust will kick up when you punch walls, lasers will leave light halos, and there are surprisingly massive explosions for destroying enemies. Enemies caught in tornados will be spun high in the air and fly right towards the camera. The effects are subtle, but very pretty.
The game's soundtrack is quite decent. Although the music tracks clock in at around a minute before they begin to loop, they're pleasant enough for you not to notice. There're a large variety of instruments used, including a very Seventies-like "wikky-wa" guitar melody when you successfully complete a level. Each level's music suits its area - the sky levels have airy, futuristic music, the ocean level music is wonderfully mellow, and the boss theme is suitably frantic. Most of the sound effects are strikingly similar to the Game Boy Advance games, which is not a problem, as it keeps a sense of familiarity. Most other sounds are similar to typical video-game sounds, but it's wonderfully satisfying to hear the "whoosh" of the flamethrower Heririn (or helicopter). The only problem that I have with the game's sound are the noises used for the character speech. It's a kind of high-pitched tweeting, and because I use headphones a lot, it rattles right through my brain.
Kururin Squash mixes elements from the previous games -- that is, the guiding of a constantly rotating stick through a maze without hitting anything -- and adds new helicopters that cause the player to think a bit more carefully when guiding them. The Punch Heririn can be used to destroy obstacles and enemies, but you get a bit of recoil from it, so you need to allow a little leeway when you use it. The Dive Heririn will cause you to think on two different levels, as you'll have to play through sections of levels which need to be quickly navigated by rising and submerging again, in some cases fighting strong currents and whirlpools. The Flame Heririn makes things incredibly tough, as the levels take place entirely on-rails. Using the Control Stick will freely rotate the Heririn, and you'll occasionally need to dodge precariously placed crystals and massive enemies that chase you throughout the level. The Tornado Heririn also allows for some clever puzzles. Some will see you temporarily blocking an enemy dispenser; others will have you safely riding in a tornado as you launch it down a corridor full of flamethrowers. You'll also need to learn to use those special Heririns for clever boss battles. Eighting have gone all-out in using the GameCube to create an expanded Kururin experience.
Kururin Squash is also the first game in the series to introduce currency. Strewn throughout the stages are gold coins -- collect all of them in a stage in addition to not getting hurt at all and you'll earn yourself a perfect clear. Coins can also be earned by defeating enemies. You won't need to collect those, as they'll be collected automatically. Coins can be used in the various shops on the map screen (the Carnies from Kururin Paradise make cameo appearances in running the shops), where you'll be able to purchase various items. They include world maps, a GBA to GC Link Up Mini-Game, additional Heririns, Customizable HUDs, and Teacher Hare Movies that show you how to beat the stages safely. Some of the Heririns include a Chocolate Bar, a Tank, and a Heririn with Nintendo logo blades that plays the Super Mario Bros. coin sound when you press the horn. Collecting all of the shop items is purely optional, but it makes for a good reason to return to the game.
The Battle Multiplayer in Squash definitely seems to be more fun than the Race Mode. In Race, avid Kururin players have a distinct advantage over novices, whereas with Battle it's all about beating each other up, powering up, and collecting the most coins. The tables can quickly turn if you have the right power up. In Race, although the leader gets a handicap of becoming larger, they can easily overcome this if they're a skilled player. The GBA to GC link-up game is basically just a memory match game, which is a bit of a shame.
The biggest injustice is that this will be the third Kururin game to not see the light of day outside of Japan. It's totally bizarre as to why, as the game represents everything that Nintendo could possibly want -- a simple, yet fun concept, a new franchise, and a game that can be played without having to worry about the language barrier. If you like your puzzle games and have not heard of the Kururin series before, I'd highly recommend getting this game. Actually, I'd recommend all three, as they're all stellar games. Kururin Squash continues the series' legacy of great fun, lastability, and typical Japanese wackiness. As an import game, the language barrier is zilch. Pick it up from our partners at Lik-Sang now!