The Wheel of Reviewers’ Fortune has landed this week on a PS2 game released in 2001: Kuri Kuri Mix. I stumbled upon this game when looking for cheap deals on eBay; the enticing PAL cover reeled me in, and before I knew it, I was a 23 year old woman holding a game about cartoon wabbits. Oh well, cuteness never ages.
I’m coming to this review as a puzzle fiend (in the sense that I used to avoid doing exam revision in favour of completing logic puzzles/nonograms), and Kuri Kuri Mix at least attempts to be a head-scratcher. I’m also a connoisseur of all things saccharine sweet – I’m sure if you tested my blood, it would be 20% organic matter and 80% ground-down packets of Sherbet Dib Dabs. Hence, you might think I’d be raving about Kuri Kuri Mix (or, as it’s known across the Atlantic, The Adventures of Cookie & Cream).
Alas, no. On the day of this blog being published, it will be 8th December, i.e. Skirmish Frogs’ Review an Average Game Day. While I’m not going to necessarily insist that Kuri Kuri Mix is a mediocre game – and indeed, the Metacritic score will tell you otherwise – my experiences of the game were not entirely positive. I’m going to restrict my review to the single player mode, since I currently live with someone who’d rather sprinkle shards of broken glass over her breakfast cereal than ever touch a video game. However, local multiplayer is nowadays a bit of an oddity, so it’s fair to expect there to be a solid single-player campaign at the heart of every non-online game, if you’re coming to the game afresh in the present day.
Booting up Kuri Kuri Mix is (to pardon the pun) a bit of a mixed bag. The opening cartoon tells an adorable little tale of bunnies on a quest to find the moon. I’m fairly sure that if the moon just disappeared, the tidal motions of the world’s major oceans would be so disturbed that we would all be under water, but then this is perhaps empty academics when we’re playing as a rabbit who can fly with his ears. Getting past the cute little cut-scene gives rise to one of the most hellish misfires for an opening song I’ve heard in recent times.
It works quite well once it kicks in, but that opening noise is ghoulish. Granted, the Jungle World song is rather pleasant. Though the heavy-handedness with dissonant tones even in the level music makes it become not all that pleasant to listen to on a loop.
Quite famously, there was a widespread rumour that the composer of the soundtrack to Resident Evil: Director’s Cut (Dual Shock Version) was deaf; this was later debunked, as the score was actually ghost-written, but the fact still remains that the actual composer was no Beethoven. I would say the score for Kuri Kuri Mix suffers from problems similar to RE:DC (DSV), in that it doe not quite know what mood to create. For a couple of rabbits trying to bring back the moon so that they can celebrate a festival together with their fellow bunnies, the score is far too madcap and manic. You’d instead expect something closer to a Yoshi game score. Those scores can be pretty quirky and bounce all over the place, but they’re never too harsh and remain quite fluffy.
Moving past this flinch-inducing start to the game, you’re faced with picking your controller set-up. There are three different modes (since single-player and multiplayer consist of the same levels, just controlled differently): one person controlling both rabbits on one controller, two people controlling one rabbit each on the same controller (one person with the directional keys and the other with the symbol keys), and two people controlling one rabbit each on separate controllers. While option B is pretty neat for those of us who don’t have the loose change rattling in our pockets to buy an extra controller (just in case I can beg the pizza delivery guy to play a few rounds with me), it seems a pretty cumbersome way to play/sure-fire way to end up thwacking your co-op partner round the chops. I went for option A, since I am approaching this as a single-player campaign.
The first set of levels are from Jungle World, and are fairly well-rendered and colourful. The assets and the puzzles dropped before you don’t vary that much from individual level to level, but I actually sort of like this, as it gives dunces like me the time to figure out what on Earth we are supposed to do with that length of rope sticking out of the ground. If you do happen to get stuck, there are hint signposts littered throughout the levels (i.e. next to each new puzzle element) demarcated by a crow.
This leads us to how on Earth you actually play the game. As a single player, you control the movements of Cookie (or Chestnut in the PAL version – why do you make such stupid variations from region to region, game developers?! I know localisation is a fine art, but I really could not care less whether Chestnut is actually called Cookie, or even Cthulhu, for that matter) with the left analogue stick, and the movements of Cream with the right analogue stick. Jumping is done with L1/R1 respectively; interaction with objects is context-sensitive and triggered through the L2/R2 bumpers. Pressing square re-centres the camera (with some success, but I felt like it took a while to correct itself from zooming in too far).
The game is a timed game – you are tasked with getting from the start of the level to the end in a set period. Each bunny will take it in turns to activate switches/pull levers etc. to allow the other to pass – the bunnies stay on their own separate split screens, rather than boosting each other or throwing each other (a mechanic adopted in that quintessential co-op game, Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Get a Clue!). While the puzzles themselves are not too taxing, by the time you’ve figured out what the hell you’re supposed to be doing, time may have run out on our intrepid bunny heroes. It’s not helped by the fact that if you stand still long enough, a mystical voodoo mask-toting individual (in the Jungle World) will peck at your character’s head, causing them to cry in an irritating fashion and draining your “time remaining” meter at an accelerated pace. I haven’t been able to figure out how to fight this “time vulture” off – no level of semi-educated button mashing would unleash me from its clutches. Time is also slashed every time you miss a platform.
This would work well on multiplayer, but on single player you simply cannot move both characters fast enough to ward off the pecking beast. Steering both characters simultaneously leads to irritating collisions and also nausea. Truthfully, I found that steering both characters through twisty-turny parts of the stage at the same time made me feel a bit ill. It certainly wasn’t just on the “use one character to advance the other” sections of the levels when I neglected moving Chestnut in favour of Cream, and vice versa; I paid the price in terms of having my brains pecked in, and hence getting through the levels without running out of time became a bit of a nightmare.
How I would restructure this to be a good single player game is, perhaps quite blandly, to make it resemble more of a traditional platformer – not in terms of the co-operative mechanic, but rather in terms of the timed element. Instead of making the main campaign a timed one, I would make the jumping and puzzle sections a bit more developed (and not simply frustrating because of the inability to accurately gauge jumping, which is a definite issue that Kuri Kuri Mix, as a top-down game, suffered from), and drop the timed element (or even just be more generous with time). If the game were to keep the timed element, the perspective needs to shift from top-down to something more eye-friendly, such as the side-scrolling seen in games such as Crash Bandicoot and Rayman; I can envision controlling two separate characters on a split screen from this dimension, with the added bonus of not wanting to puke up last night’s takeaway all over my shiny new rug.
All of these criticisms really only apply to the single player mode, since all of my bug-bears aren’t really relevant if you have an extra set of eyes on the screen (except for the mis-steps regarding the soundtrack). If you watch the Game Grumps‘ travails with the game, they move a LOT faster than I could, therefore dodging the skull-pecking and annoying baby-crying that ensued. I simply couldn’t move that fast because attempting to do so (i.e. to train my eyes on two sides to the screen) was sending me dizzy. Furthermore, the under-developed nature of the puzzling (pull this switch, move this door) probably works much better when you have two people with their eyes trained on separate screens, poking and prodding each other (literally) into attention and action. I can see it being one of those games where you end up yelling obscenities at your partner and questioning their IQ, yet a jolly good time is still had by all; thus, it falls squarely into the New Super Mario Bros Wii category of relationship litmus-test gaming. If you can’t recover from a spat over cartoon rabbits, then your relationship probably wasn’t all that strong in the first place.
Thus, my impression of Kuri Kuri Mix is pretty much that it’s a mediocre game. However, I can see definite ways to build in a full and competent single-player mode. If you’re playing on your own, it needs to be more visual-friendly and the puzzles can stand to be amped up, since you don’t have another person to shout instructions at (unless there’s a concrete wall hiked up between the two halves of your brain, in which case ignore my post by all means). Some of the problems I have with single player plunge far below the depths of mere mediocrity; a game that makes you feel queasy or disoriented, if you don’t have any underlying condition, is one with at least a couple of serious design faults.
However, I still wouldn’t recommend you wedge any copies of Kuri Kuri Mix inherited from elderly relatives firmly in the bin, just as I said there was a captive market for UmJammer Lammy, despite its myriad flaws. It definitely looks like a fine game to give a go, if you have someone to play offline co-op with; furthermore, if you’re into a sort of puzzle game that’s less about the puzzles themselves and more about coping under time pressure, and have a strong stomach, this might just be right for you. However, you probably need to have a word with yourself if you are considering buying this purely for the single player.
(Every week, I hold a mini-quiz on Twitter to see who can guess in advance which game I’m going to review. This week, Del guessed it first!)