Kuru Kuru Kururin - Rotaing In My Mind
If there is any genre most suited to the handheld format, it’s probably puzzle games. Sure, the Game Boy ADvance didn’t quite have the pick-up-and-play qualities we’re used to now; no sleep mode, no, nothing of the sort. But then we remember that Tetris - the granddaddy of all puzzle games - basically helped the Game Boy blossom from the very beginning, and thus puzzle games will always, always, be inextricably linked to the Nintendo family of pure handhelds - from Tetris, to Game and Watch collections, and to a unique little game added to the launch of the Game Boy Advance’s Switch app - Kuru Kuru Kuruin, a charming, unique platformer that, as luck would have it, captivated me as much as it made me want to punch a hole in the war. Let’s jump in, shall we?
Originally, I planned to play Mega Man Zero for this 35th edition of the Game Boy Abyss, but with the sudden surprise launch of the Switch’s GBA app, I felt it was only right to kick us off with a look at one of these special little titles. Kuru Kuru Kururin - which I’m just going to refer to as Kururuin from now on - was the obvious choice, being a smaller, lesser-known title with a much smaller scale then The Minish Cap or Superstar Saga. It’s also a little more notable then the average title as Kururin was a launch title for its release in Japan, the EU, and my home turf of Australia, though interestingly enough, the game never saw a release on the GBA itself in the US, only coming across the pond as a part of the Wii U’s Virtual Console.
Kururin is a puzzle title where you play as the titutar Kururin, a bird-like little dude who sets out to find his missing brothers and sisters, lost amongst a variety of different locales. His craft - the Helirin, a long, stick-like vehicle that is constantly rotating, at odds with the narrow, corridor-like paths that make up each level. Kururin’s gameplay premise is simple - in the main story, you have three hearts per level, and you must reach the goal of each maze-like locale without losing them all. Touching any walls, with some minor exceptions, will deplete a heart, forcing you to time your movements through the maze so you can ‘bend’ around corners and deftly avoid obstacles. At its heart, it’s a very, very simple game, but from its humble, relatively simple beginnings emerges a genuinely engaging, tough-as-nails puzzler, where single mistakes can rapidly cascade into a failure in mere seconds. And whilst at first it seems rather small in scale, Kuru Kuru Kururin at times genuinely daunting challenge does much to stretch out the time you’ll be spending with this quaint little title, without giving it an real padding, or difficulty for simply difficulty sake - at least, if you’re not going in with a total completionist mindset.
The main draw of Kururin - Adventure Mode - is what I just described; Kururin works his way through a number of various ‘worlds’, each consisting of three stages. Each world will introduce new gimmicks, mechanics, or up the ante of the complexity of mazes. At first, you’ll be rotating through *relatively* straight corridors, timing your rotation to make it past those pesky corners. Before you know it, though, you’ll be dealing with springs, moving hazards, and branching paths that very much could lead to your salvation, or Kururin’s rapid death from banging into walls. As I said, Kururin’s craft is constantly rotating, at odds with the narrow locales he is traversing, so you’ll have to be timing it’s turns to stretch around otherwise impossible corners, or knock into springs to change your rotational direction. And when you’re reaching some of the final levels, not only are they throwing more than a couple of mechanics at you, you’ll be dealing with a true maze-like layout and walls and obstacles seemingly designed to trip you up. Oh yeah, there’s the whole thing where you have to rescue Kururin’s various siblings - honestly, as it should be, this is an afterthought to the actual puzzling traversal, and generally all of his siblings are just in the main path towards the end of each final level of each zone, so don’t worry about it.
Alongside the main ‘adventure’ mode is the challenge mode, which features shorter, bite-sized stages for you to tackle. Due to their short nature - usually below twenty seconds, or less, Kururin is only graced with two hearts, massively lowering the margin of error you have to work with. Pound for pound, the later levels of Challenge mode are more difficult then their Adventure counterparts, but with them being a third - or less - the length of the main stages, I found myself growing far, far less frustrated to push through them - even if I frequently found myself killing Kururin in stupid ways more than a dozen times apiece. They are certainly less complex then much of Adventure Mode, and in that extent a little less interesting to tackle, but I found Challenge Mode - ironic, as it is - as a nice haven when I was getting particular frustrated with one of Adventure Mode’s more brutal levels, since they’re short length felt a little bit more satisfying to bash my head against. As of the time of this review, I haven’t completed Challenge Mode and hit the hardest levels it has to offer, but I’ve heard the final set is beyond brutal… I’ll get there, one day. Ultimately, this is a game that’s proficient in one thing, and one thing alone, and goes all in on that. There’s no hacky puzzle-styled boss fights, no ridiculous, optional tasks you have to deal with - Kuru Kuru Kururin knows what it is, and whilst that limits the scope of the game somewhat, I think it was the right choice, especially as a GBA launch title.
Being one of the inaugural games on the GBA, the visuals of Kururin don’t have that much to say - which is to say, whilst it ultimately is a game about a rotating stick avoiding various geometric shapes, the general flavor and aesthetics of the game do so much to create such a charming little world from the jump. Each Adventure Mode zone has its own endearing aesthetics all their own. Whilst the focus is on the puzzle-like mazes, the aesthetics truly are little more than set dressing, but I don’t say or see that as a bad thing. Challenge Mode is good and all, but it can grow a bit repetitive having the same look for fifty stages. As an aside, across Adventure Mode you can collect ship pieces so you can customize your rotate-o-tron, but it wasn’t something I was ever particularly interested in, since it basically amounts to just color palettes or giving it a spiky facade. It’s for some people, but not really for me. Finally, whilst it is one of the *original* GBA titles, I wasn’t surprised that Kururin didn’t have any soaring orchestras or dramatic themes, but for what it is - an upbeat, almost aesthetically relaxing chiptune set of beats that was genuinely a good way to relax after a hard day’s work - impressive, considering how tough the last couple of worlds are.
Ultimately, though, as this is a twenty-year old puzzle game, there isn’t a gigantic amount of time to sink into it if you’re not looking for a hardcore challenge. Depending on your skills, you’ll probably reach basic completion on all the Adventure Mode and Challenge Mode stages in around three to four hours. However, if you perfectly navigate each stage, completing them all without taking a hit, you’ll unlock Last Land, an additional set of levels in Adventure, and five Lvl.11 stages in Challenge Mode. Considering how hard some of these base levels are to complete at all in the first place, I think I’ll pass on going for the perfects - though if you’re a crazy hardcore fan of Kuru Kuru Kururin, you’ll have plenty to satiate you, you… masochistic lunatics. Adventure Mode and Challenge Mode’s base set are fine for me, thank you very much. Unless… *I* decided to be an idiot…
I’m glad I decided to try out Kuru Kuru Kururin - not only to celebrate the arrival of GBA games to the NSO, but I just think there are so, so many cool puzzlers on the GBA that I’ve never had the chance to interact with. Seriously, I had a GBA almost from the very start, and I didn’t even know this game existed until literally last year. In any case, Kuru Kuru Kururin is a solid, satisfying maze puzzler, with a challenging difficulty curve and surprising amount of side content to this simplistic title. It ultimately lacks variety, but I feel that’s only an issue on extreme ends - those just dabbling, and those who seek to do each and every task this game has to offer. Otherwise, I think it's proficiency in what Kururin has achieved speaks for itself - and in the end, probably sticks out as the sleeper champion of the entire GBA launch lineup.
Thank you so much for reading my review of Kuru Kuru Kururin! Really surprised I enjoyed this so much - I expected it to be one of those games that made me want to bash my head into concrete for stupid reasons. Either way, next week will be Mega Man Zero, since that was originally going to be today’s review, so look forward to that. As always, you can find me over at Twitter @Lemmy7003 or you can email me at email@example.com if you have any requests or questions. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you in my next review!