Kuru Kuru Kururin was a launch title in Europe and Japan for the Game Boy Advance in 2001, created by Eighting (originally Raizing, known for shoot-'em ups lie Soukyugurentai or figthers like Bloody Roar) and published by Nintendo. Kuru Kuru Kuruin is usually dubbed a "puzzle" game, though that's classification doesn't quite fit. Rather, it falls into that nebulous "other" genre, the kind of bizarre thing you'd find in the arcade back in the mid 80s. "Kuru kuru" is Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound or shape of an object spinning, which is what this game is all about.
Kururin is inspired by a carnival-type game in a Japanese game show called Ucchan Nanchan no Honou no Challenger (ウッチャンナンチャンの炎のチャレンジャー). This was later adapted officially into games for the Neo Geo (Uchhannanchan no Honoo no Challenge: Ultra Denryuu Ira Ira Bou, or The Irritating Maze in English), N64 and PlayStation, the latter of which was brought to America (somehow) under the title Irritating Stick. Your job in Irritating Stick is to guide a single stick through huge wire mazes, each filled with narrow passes and tight curves. If you touch the edges or run out of time, you lose, so it requires the kind of steady handed skill you'd need to win a board game like Operation. Irritating Stick is just as obnoxious as its title implies, but Kuru Kuru Kururin takes this basic premise and expands on it greatly.
In Kuru Kuru Kururin, you must guide your hero - a little duck name Kururin, who's piloting a helicopter called a Helirin - through a series of mazes. Unlike Irritating Stick, where the stick was static, the helicopter is always rotating. In order to survive, you need to meticulously time your movements so the blades don't hit the walls as you deftly squeeze around corners, coordinating with the Helirin's rotations. You can control the speed of your helicopter, and in some of the games also the speed of rotation, although you can't stop spinning completely. You can, however, change the direction of rotation by running into springs, which are positioned strategically in many stages. Figuring out when and where to use springs plays a vital part in winning many of the stages in Kururin.
Ramming into an edge will cost you a heart, in addition to adding three seconds onto the timer. Lose all your hearts and you need to start the stage over, although there's usually at least one "heart" section in every stage that regenerates your health. There's no time limit per se, but you're ranked on how fast your get through each stage, and you're encouraged to beat them as quickly as possible. Other than some gimmicks added into the later stages - moving pistons, floating spiked balls, rotating fans, various types of enemies - that's about all there is to Kururin, but its simple concept leads to some brutally difficult situations as you get further in the game. All of these elements make it far more interesting than Irritating Stick, which focused solely on speeding through each stage as fast as possible.
Like many Nintendo games, the world of Kururin and his family is filled with bright and colorful graphics, which works pretty well with the dimly lit screen of the original Game Boy Advance. It's also amazing how much some pastels can brighten up a game and make it interesting compared to the terminally bland Irritating Stick. The cutscenes mostly consist of nonsense, with Kururin chatting with his pals, or being taunted by villains. These scenes are cute but can be skipped if you're not in the mood.
There are only three titles in the series - two Game Boy Advance games, and a single console game for the Gamecube. The Kururin titles are cute, enjoyable games that exude a simplistic appeal while still providing a challenge for those who dig into it. Who knows why they never came to America - they're overly cutesy, but that's not something Nintendo has ever shied away from. Maybe it's just due to their brief length - the original GBA game and the GC game can be beaten in roughly two hours, although there are still plenty of challenges to undertake to keep the game going for much longer. They're all dirt cheap and easy to come by, so they're definitely worth experimeting with.
Kururin's first adventure is pretty straightforward - tackle thirty-five levels and get to the end. The controls are simple, too - pressing either A or B will speed up the Helirin, while pressing both simultaneously will give an even quicker speed boost. The trigger buttons make funny noises, but that's about it. It's a cool enough game, but the problem is that it's over before it really begins. Those thirty five stages fly by pretty quickly, and it's not until the latter third of the game that the difficulty really picks up. Certain levels have hidden objects that may require venturing off the main path, but they're just useless little bits that change the color of the Helirin, or little birds that perch themselves on the blades. There is a multi-player mode that allows you to connect up to four GBAs together (with a single cart) to race each other to the finish line.
There's also a Challenge mode with a whole bunch of extra stages, but these are all really short. Additionally, there are three super difficult stages that can be unlocked by getting perfects on all levels - but that entails finishing each stage without getting hit at all, which is significantly more challenging. Still, the payoff isn't really worth the effort, and as a result, Kuru Kuru Kururin feels like a title that was rushed for launch. It is, however, the only game in the series available in English, as it was released in Europe, but passed over for American release.
Kururin Paradise greatly expands on the original game without messing with the formula much at all. The only real control difference from its predecessor is that you can speed up the rotation of the Helirin by holding the R button. But there's plenty more depth, especially in the level design. Although there still aren't very many stages (34 in the main Adventure mode, 30 more the Challenge mode), they get really hard, really quickly. It's definitely meant for veterans of the first game, but it's ultimately a much more satisfying experience. For example, instead of exploring the stages to obtain meaningless color variations, you can now hunt for bonus keys, which will unlock sections of previously played levels and open new areas on the map.
Each section also ends with a "boss" encounter, which is some kind of mini game. One of them is a Balloon Fight rip-off, where you have to control Kururin as he flaps between spiked objects. Another requires that you bounce around a huge playing field and collect stars. Yet another is a multi-player variation of air hockey. Another is a simple race. There are fifteen of these games in total, most of which can played with up to four players. There are also a few of (mostly) useless non-games, which require that you reboot the GBA to play. These include a Love Tester (rank your compatibility with your significant other), among other silly doo-dads.
The graphics, too, have improved substantially. The original has adequately colorful visuals, but everything has been given a pastel, cel-shaded gloss, making it look even more like a cartoon come to life. There are even more cutscenes this time - some evil doer has swindled away Kururin's family - and they're also pretty amusing. Kururin Paradise was apparently rumored for an American release, but that fell through completely, and the game never left Japan.
Kururin's only console installment utilizes 3D graphics while keeping the same 2D mechanics. The visuals aren't technically all that impressive (cel shaded polygons similar to the style of Kururin Paradise would have been nicer), but they're colorful and still plenty attractive. In the cutscenes, Kururin and pals are rendered as little cardboard puppets held on sticks, making for some pretty amusing cutscenes reminiscent of a kid's TV show. Beyond the graphics, the real advantage of being on a TV screen is that the field of vision is much wider, and the view isn't nearly as cramped as it was in the GBA games. Although it doesn't utilize true analog control (you still need to press B to speed up), the GameCube controller is much smoother than the GBA directional pad.
While the alternate paths from Kururin Paradise have been removed, each stage is now littered with coins. In order to get a perfect rating on a stage, you need to collect all coins in addition to reaching the exit without getting hit. Naturally, the stages can get pretty big, and you'll need to cover every precarious nook and cranny to get 100%. You can also use these coins to buy a variety of items. Like the original, there are lots of useless things, like different Helirin skins or the ability to customize your life meter, but you can also buy maps, extra hearts, and an item that lets you continue from a checkpoint if you lose. There are also tons of super play videos to purchase.
In addition to the standard Helirin, there are now several different kinds of ships. One Helirin has boxing gloves at each end to knock around foes. Another has a pair of lasers. One can twirl around and shoot out miniature hurricanes, which can be used to push objects or block flame jets. Another lets you dive underwater, challenging you to dodge objects both above and below the surface. Most of these play similarly to the regular stages, but there's also one where Helirin rides on a rail and can shoot flames out of its rotating blades. In addition to these new ships, there are still plenty of stages in the classic style. At the end of each world, you need to fight a boss battle using one of these new Helirins, challenging you at the skills you've learned throughout each zone. Including these boss levels, there are a total of forty stages in the Adventure mode of Kururin Squash. With the ability to use the items, most of these are quite easy, especially compared to Kururin Paradise. There are once again plenty of Challenge levels, but these are pretty short, as always. The multiplayer options are limited to a Race mode (similar to the first game) and a Battle mode, where up to four people beat each other up for coins. There's also a Game Boy Advance mini game that can be played with the GBA link cable, but it's a pretty crappy matching game.
Once again, Kururin Squash stayed in Japan, although it's quite cheap and easy to obtain. Just beware that playing on a non-Japanese GameCube with a Freeloader will cause most of the text to become garbled. Navigating menus is easy, but all of the plot scenes and item descriptions will be unreadable.