Review: The Kore Gang (Wii)

The bore gang

The Kore Gang has been a long time in the making, a fact reflected in the final result. At its best, it’s colourfully innocuous and fun, while at its worst it can be frustrating and infuriating. It’s likely to be divisive as a result, so we’ll do our best to break it down.

You know what everyone likes, though? Good intentions, and boy does The Kore Gang have them. It tries ever so hard to recall the magic of 1990s Rare 3D platformers like Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Nickelodeon cartoons, and it succeeds in carrying over some of the charm. The full title of the game, with that in mind, is The Kore Gang: Outvasion from Inner Earth, and it opens up with a particularly funny scene in which subterranean aliens interrogate a scientist to get him to spill the beans on which way is ‘up’: it’s funny stuff. Throw in some truly inspired character art and it’s clear that the problem isn’t personality, but execution.

A platformer's success arguably hinges upon two things: controls and level design. In a platformer simply moving the character should be joyful. In Super Mario 64, for example, Mario's little legs shuffled like a hamster on a slick floor, and he had that great "WaHOO!"-shouting long-jump. Movement, after all, is what makes platforming really shine: a perfect, satisfying balance of rise and fall, and the level design should complement and highlight the protagonist's abilities. It seems that nobody told this to The Kore Gang, because you lumber around in a big, clunky robot suit. What's fun about platforming in a robot suit? Cool gadgets, you suggest? Well there really aren't any; instead you just run, jump and punch things, and each of these actions feels as heavy, clunky and emotionless as you would expect a robot suit to feel. This title began development way back in the early days of the original Xbox, but even by last-generation standards this robot suit would have felt rusty.

This is curious considering the game's interesting twist. Instead of merely controlling one character, you control three, and each of them can be toggled with the tap of a button. This isn't a new idea: the LEGO series has been doing it for years and, less notably, Alice in Wonderland on the Wii has done it, too. It’s an idea that hasn't been used often — one that wasn't done at all when the game began development, in fact — and in this sequel-heavy world we live in, that has to count for something. On a technical level this feature actually works well, but since the whole game is built around it you'd expect it to be more interesting. One character jumps better and can latch onto grapple points, one can punch and one can let you run on all fours. And that's it.

So why aren't these things fun? It comes down to a distinct lack of finesse or, to put it one way, pizazz. Disney Epic Mickey had some camera issues, but jumping had a distinct energy to it. Mickey stretched and snapped like a real cartoon character, making every jump feel buoyant, and it looked great — not to mention that it captured the game's cartoon aesthetic and paint-based level design. Mario's spin attack in Super Mario Galaxy could have been a cumbersome action, but the vibrant rings of stars that swirled around him while he did it, coupled with his enthusiastic “Ha!” brought excitement with each shake of the Wii Remote. It’s that sense of energy that we feel is lacking in this title: it expects us to be enthused just by the idea of running, jumping, punching and swinging, but the developers simply haven't given us a reason to be.

In this respect The Kore Gang is constructed in a rather blasé manner. The levels simply don't seem like they make the most out of the character-swap concept and it all feels very repetitive. You'll run around in an enclosed level, collect lots of odds and ends, always find some orange circles to grapple and swing from, some enemies to fight and some projectiles to throw, but none of it's put together in a particularly inventive way. Combat boils down to furiously tapping the B button, while throwing a projectile requires an uncomfortable contortion of the wrist.

Completing these actions is made more difficult by the poor camera. It struggles to give the best view, a problem difficult to fix on the Wii Remote with so few buttons at the developer's disposal, but the problems could have been avoided with some clever Classic Controller implementation. The pointer functionality would be lost, but it's mostly non-essential.

Beyond these gameplay issues, the sound design is also poor, with headache-inducingly harsh and tinny music beats. The visuals are largely nice and colourful, though, with funny enemy design being the highlight. The art design is heavily inspired by Dr. Seuss, which can be appealing and easy on the eye.

Some older gamers may find some sort of charm in the game's rough, unpolished edges and 1990's-drenched nostalgia. If you, like many of us here, spent hours of your childhood playing some of the classic 3D platformers on the Nintendo 64, then you just might find some enjoyment in The Kore Gang. There's something resembling a good game here, but unfortunately it’s buried by a number of issues.

Conclusion

The Kore Gang: Outvasion from Inner Earth is occasionally a funny, loving tribute to those collect-a-thon games many of us grew up with. Unfortunately, though, most of the time it's struggling with problems left behind in previous console generations.