The end result of an incredibly long development cycle usually falls into one of three camps.
First, the game in question could benefit greatly from the extra time invested -- like Nintendo's famous delayed titles that eventually release and are polished, near-perfect masterpieces.
Second, the game in question could flounder and flop its way into stores as a comedic disappointment -- see Duke Nukem Forever for an example there.
Third? Well, the game gets canned.
What's most interesting to me about the release of The Kore Gang on Wii is that it's in many ways defeating my pre-conceived notions about the fates of these kinds of projects. And that's because this is a game that was first announced nearly 10 years ago -- seriously, our first article on it
is dated March 2002 -- but after almost a decade of development time, it didn't get cancelled. It's not a masterpiece, either, nor is it a terrible game. It's a middle-of-the-road, "good" game that seems to be arguing the existence of a fourth camp -- perhaps the most surprising of them all, because after such a long time in the works you wouldn't think the end result could end up anywhere other than the absolute extremes.
The Kore Gang tells the tale of Pixie, Madboy and Rex, a trio of heroes who get swept up into saving the world from an invasion coming from inside the planet -- or an "Out-vasion from Inner Earth," as the box's subtitle explains. A race of subterranean monsters is burrowing its way up toward Earth's surface in a gigantic drilling machine, and the two kids with their one dog are tasked with infiltrating the huge mobile fortress to shut it down before it pops up topside in the middle of Manhattan.
Rather than present these three heroes as separate platforming characters on foot, though, The Kore Gang brings the trio together and has them all riding along inside one big mech suit -- the Kore Suit. It's an adaptable, shape-shifting robot armor that alters its abilities based on which character's in the main driver's seat at the moment.
When Pixie's piloting, the suit's hands shift into climbing claws and you're able to jump higher and shoot a grappling hook into distant target points. When Madboy's behind the wheel, combat takes precedence -- the suit's hands shift into enormous fists for enemy-punching action. And when Rex is in charge, things go animalistic. The suit gains paws and can run on all fours for extra traveling speed.
The "multiple characters in one character" concept reminds me a lot of Rare's Banjo-Kazooie games -- and the character progression here is similar to those old titles, too, as Pixie, Madboy and Rex all gain more maneuvers over time in the same way that Banjo and Kazooie did in their N64 adventures. The general art style and soundtrack are reminiscent of Rare's games from that era as well, and the level goals are absolutely drawn out of their old platformer playbook. (That should read as "you collect lots of stuff" to Nintendo fans old enough to remember that studio's signature design choice.)
There was one level in The Kore Gang that even had multiple layers of collecting tasks sitting on top of each other -- I had to gather three Metal Bananas to pay a taxi fee to a giant robot monkey, I had to destroy four propaganda-spouting loudspeakers, I had to locate two gun turrets to be able to shoot down flying anti-human posters and, on top of all that, I had to track down a huge cork to be able to save an NPC who'd gotten stuck using his body to dam up a hole in a reservoir.
So much collecting! Late '90s Rare would be proud.
I guess it shouldn't be too surprising that The Kore Gang's design feels like something over a decade old, though, since that's when it first went into production as a game originally meant for Microsoft's first Xbox. It makes the final product on Wii today a bit of a blend between new ideas and old problems I thought the industry had left behind in that past generation.
The implementation of the Wii Remote is on the good side of the equation, as its IR pointer functionality is used for mechanics like aiming Pixie's grappling hook shots and collecting floating fairy creatures in a way similar to sweeping the cursor over Star Bits in Super Mario Galaxy. It runs in to a bit of trouble with activating waggle-triggered whirlwind attacks, though, and when you have to twist it sideways while still pointing it at the screen to set up Madboy's throwing technique. (Like holding a gun sideways -- seems less about function and more about attitude.)
Other hiccups happen with the game's camera controls, as the re-centering Z Button seems sluggish to respond whenever you want to quickly get the viewpoint positioned behind your Suit and the default camera angles and sometimes-cramped level design seem to come into conflict just a little too often.
None of the technical troubles or aged design ideas end up defeating the fun of the game as a whole, though, and playing The Kore Gang ultimately feels like a welcome throwback to where gaming was near the turn of the millennium. Its budget-level pricetag should make it more appealing to platformer fans too -- at just 20 bucks, it's definitely an affordable trip back through time.
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