The Kore Gang
Developer: Zoink Games/Unique Development Studios/SnapDragon Games
Publisher: Rombax Games/Atari
Release Date: 11/08/2011
Generally when a game spends an insane amount of time in development, the end product isn’t very good. Examples of this include Duke Nukem Forever and Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Sometimes however, there are exceptions to this rule. Case in point: Darkstar spent over a decade in development hell and the end result was a fun FMV point and click adventure game featuring the cast of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Darkstar took over TEN YEARS to come out, which is insane by any standard. However, there’s one last game that’s been waiting a decade to hit shelves and that’s The Kore Gang.
I’ve been following The Kore gang for well over a decade. You might not know this but it was originally intended to be an early Xbox release title. No, not the 360, but the original Xbox. Zoink games and Unique Development worked on it, but the game was eventually cancelled in 2004 due to the publisher’s financial problems. It came back to life in 2006 as it was turned into a game for the Nintendo Wii with the help of SnapDragon games. The game was FINALLY released in August of 2010 in Europe and it received incredibly high reviews – which again, is almost unheard of for a game that spent even half as much time in development as The Kore Gang did. It would take more than another year for the game to hit Stateside, but the tag team of Rombax Games and Atari (which brought us the very underrated Venetica earlier this year gave North American gamers the chance to discover The Kore Gang and with a budget price tag of only $19.99 to boot.
Now I’m by no means a platformer fan. In fact, I hate the genre and nearly everything about it. It is exceptionally rare that I can stand a platformer for any length of time, but there are exceptions that I love. Games like Psychonauts, the Wayforward A Boy and His Blob remake, The Haunted Mansion, Sonic: Generations and The Legendary Starfy are just a handful of platformers I’ve really loved over the years. Add in the fact I’ve been anxiously awaiting Zoink Games’ next release, WiiWaa and I knew I wanted to review The Kore Gang in spite of it being a platformer. The only question is if it would be one of the handful of platformers I liked, or it joined the other 99% in being detested.
The Kore Gang is downright insane – make no mistake about it. It’s one of the most bizarre and surreal games I’ve ever played and I loved every moment of it. The story is the key reason why. Basically it’s about an alien invasion, except instead of coming from outer space, it’s coming from inner space. That’s right, a legion from Inner Earth has come to conquer the surface world. Led by the three Krank Brothers – Hunter Bunter, Dr. Ooond and Tic Van Tac, the inner invasion has begun!
The only hope for humanity? Dr, Samuelson, inventor of the amazing Kore Suit! Unfortunately he’s slightly demented, extremely elderly and has been captured by the Kranks. So humanity is kind of doomed. Well, that wouldn’t make for much of a game, now would it? Luckily the Kore Suit is found by a woman named Pixie. She finds the Kore Suit by sheer accident and with the help of Dr. Samuelson via the suit’s radio, sets out to stop the invasion. Along the way she frees Madboy, an Inner Earth gladiator with more than a passing resemblance to Jim Davis’ Garfield and Rex the Chihuahua. Together, these three unexpected heroes go through many stages of Inner Earth as they try to stop the Krank brothers and protect the surface world.
Sounds pretty standard, but the game is far from it. I haven’t laughed this much from a video game unless it had the words Sam & Max in the title. I’d say this game was the spiritual successor to Psychonauts, but technically this was in development first. Everyone is the game is utterly insane, the dialog is often hilarious, characters break into musical numbers when you least suspect it and the cut scenes are just flat out fun. Did you like The Tick or Newsradio? Are you a fan of Blackadder? Then you’ll have a lot of fun with The Kore Gang it’s as witty as it is off the wall and the story is one of the most amusing I’ve played all year. It’s hard not to fall in love with the cast and characters of The Kore Gang, especially if you’re a fan of comedy or light hearted video games.
Story Rating: Great
I was actually dreading the visuals here. After all it started life as an early generation release for the XBOX, so part of me was expected the game to look like that. Thankfully that wasn’t the case at all and I found The Kore Gang to be one of the better looking games for the Wii this year. I played Skyward Sword right before it and was disappointed by the textures and amount of jaggies in that game. The Kore Gang actually looked a lot better to me than that game. Textures were smoother, the game was crisper, and character designs were more interesting. I never encountered any slowdown issues and the game was visually impressive, especially for a Wii game. I was thoroughly impressed with how good The Kore Gang looked. In fact, I thought it was the best looking Wii title I’ve played this year. Sure it’s no Nights or any of the other games for the Wii that could arguably go toe to toe with some HD console releases, but what’s here is extremely nice looking. The in-game graphics and cut scenes alike will amuse and impress most gamers that pick this up.
Graphics Rating: Good
I really enjoyed the soundtrack to The Kore Gang, especially the insane musical numbers that popped up every now and then. Occasionally I’d be laughing from them and not be prepared for the actual game to start up again. I died in a boss fight because of that! The voice acting cast alone is top notch, but unfortunately the English cast doesn’t get specific credit in the game (while the German, Spanish and French casts all do! What the heck?) I’ll admit, I’ve never heard of some of these people. The most recognizable name is Jen Taylor, who is Zoey from Left 4 Dead and plays both Peach and Toad is assorted Mario based games. David Scully previous played Sgt. Johnson in all the Halo games. Gary Schwartz is another voice actor who I recognized as Bravo Fox from Zoobilee Zoo…although younger gamers will probably known him as The Heavy from Team Fortress. All and all, The Kore Gang was blessed with an incredible voice cast and they really made the game come alive.
Besides the voice cast, the music in The Kore Gang is a lot of fun too, although it is at its best when singing accompanies it. None of the songs stick in your held when there is just a melody on its own, but each track is well done and adds a lot of flavor to the overall experience of the game. Sound effects are equally fun, although they are more mundane than the other aural aspects of the game.
Honestly, the story plus the voice acting makes me want a Kore Gang cartoon. Both combine to make an extremely entertaining experience and much like how I preferred the Earthworm Jim cartoon to the game (which the head of Zoink games helped make before this one – and it shows!), I think The Kore Gang would benefit greatly from the same thing.
Damn it…now the Zoobilee Zoo song is in my head.
Sound Rating: Great
4. Control and Gameplay
Because The Kore Gang is a platformer, you’re probably not surprised to hear that much of the game is based around jumping exercises and timing. However, how the suit is used changes based on which character has it equipped at the time. Changing characters requires pressing the C button and it’s instantaneous. We’re talking a few frames at the most, which is impressive. This is good as some enemies and our puzzles require changing characters quickly. Pixie lets you grapple, climb and double jump, Madboy lets you attack enemies and Rex is for puzzle solving, such as eavesdropping, lockpicking and sniffing things out. You’ll start off with Pixie, gain Madboy a few levels in and Rex even further down the road. The Kore Gang is a pretty long title for a platformer and I got through the first few boss fights without even the slightest glimpse of Rex, so you don’t have to wonder if you missed him somewhere along the line after you’re a dozen or so levels in. You just haven’t got to him yet.
You’ll have to use both the Wiimote and Numchuk to control your characters. The A button lets you jump and the B button has different effects based on which character is controlling the suit at the time. Each character has his or her own special moves and abilities and everything responds exceptionally well. The only problem I had with the controls at any time involved the camera rather than any issues jumping or missing a platform by a few pixels. It’d an extremely well made game and it uses the Wiimote nicely. You’ll be aiming it to shoot down propaganda, aim your grappling arms and more. It’s hard to believe this game was originally meant for the Xbox by the way it plays. Color me impressed.
Controls are fun for what they are but the camera has some issues. I had the camera get stuck once or twice at angles that were all but impossible to see what was going on and several other times, the camera wouldn’t adjust to an angle that I could use. The Z button centers the camera. It’s also supposed to give you full manual control if you hold the Z button and then aim with the Wiimote, but unfortunately this doesn’t work all the time. All in all, controlling the camera can be a very awkward and frustrating experience at times, especially in fast paced situations, but you’ll get used to it.
The game saves your location often with is great, especially as each level is rather big and you’ll spend time exploring and collecting all the Zeeks (electric creatures) on a level. Collecting all the Zeeks on a level nets you unlockable art, biographies, music and more.
Overall, The Kore Gang is a solid experience. The camera will dry you batty at times, but I had a lot of fun with the game, and that’s something I rarely ever say about platformers.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable
The Kore Gang is a very linear affair unlike a lot of platformers. You can’t go back to previous levels. Instead it’s straight on to the next. This might bother some gamers, especially if they were unable to get all the Zeeks on a level. After all, missing even one means you don’t get to unlock that level’s bonus. Even weirder, the gallery is tied to a specific saved game, which means that if you start a new game, you’re back to square one there as well.
The story is awesome enough that you’ll definitely want to keep this game in your collection and it plays well enough that you’ll have fun repeating this little adventure, but it is missing some of the aspects that other platformers offer, such as that ability to replay previous levels at any time. Because of this, The Kore Gang might disappoint gamers who are used to a more “open world” platforming experience.
Replayability Rating: Below Average
I found The Kore Gang to be nicely balanced. Some boss fights were both tough and tricky until you figured out exactly what you should be doing. After that, they could still be challenging, but not insanely so. I loved the level designs too. They were sprawling, and each one was distinctly unique. I also enjoyed how some levels were straightforward in how to get through them, while others had a few different options to reach your goal. Generally if there is a jumping option, there is also a climbing option, so for people like myself who hate platforming bits, this was a breath of fresh air.
There’s always enough health to get you through a level (if you can find it), and the Zeeks are never in such a bizarre spot that you can’t find them. I completely all but one or two levels with all the Zeeks collected and I actually went out of my way to find them, unlike with most platformers where I try to hurry up and be done. Enemies occasionally respawn, but there’s never a time you feel overwhelmed. Generally I’m swearing my ass off at 3D platformers due to camera angles where I can’t see the correct jump, or where the jump distance magically changes each time I press a button. Here I didn’t swear at all. It was almost relaxing because of how well the thing was designed. The Kore Gang always provides a degree of challenge, but without the usual control and camera issues that plague the platforming genre. Here it’s just camera issues. :-P
Balance Rating: Good
The game reminds me a lot of Earthworm Jim when I first played it, but also Psychonauts. I can understand the former as the head of Zoink worked on Earthworm Jim, but Psychonauts is such a different game from The Kore Gang that it must be the sense of humour and biting wit in both games that makes me link the two together. There isn’t enough comedy in video games these days with the average title featuring more Sturm und Drang than laugh out loud moments. This is odd considering games like Earthworm Jim, Psychonauts, Grim Fandango and Maniac Mansion are funny and “Game of the Year” winners to boot.
The Kore Gang plays like any platformer out there. You jump your way through various stages that are interspersed with the occasional boss fight. However, the story, level designs, characters, and the plain weirdness that is the Kore Suit itself really stand out from the pack of badly done shovelware titles that make up the bulk of platforming games in this day and age. It makes me wonder how different the genre would be if this game had made its original 2003-4 release date.
Originality Rating: Above Average
As you’ve no doubt gathered from this review – I don’t like platformers. I do really like The Kore Gang however. It’s silly and just plain fun. I had a really hard time putting the controller down for this – something I can’t say about any platformer since Psychonauts and that game is a little over six years old. I wanted to see what weird thing would happen next or if another musical dance number was just around the corner. The whole game was just so weird, I couldn’t help but be captivated by it. I loved the story and characters that it more than made up for the fact most of my time was spent jumping from one thing to the next. The fact I wanted to keep playing The Kore Gang is a testament to how good this game is. It’s a game that will be staying in my collection and that I know I’ll play several times in the years to come.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
If you honestly asked me what the best Wii game of 2011 was, I would say without hesitation that it’s The Kore Gang. Yes, even over Skyward Sword. It’s a finely made and utterly bizarre game that does nearly everything right save for the occasional camera issue. I also think it’s the best platformer of the year, narrowly beating out Sonic Generations, which was another game I was surprised I loved (I’m still scarred from a legion of terrible Sonic games out there). It’s that well made and considering its origins were roughly a decade ago.
If you’re a platformer fan, you’ll love this game. If you’re not a platformer fan, this is one of the rare games in the genre you’ll still enjoy. If you only own a Wii, this is one of the best titles for the system this year and with a price tag of only $19.99, it’s a game no Wii owner should miss out on. Sadly, due to a lack of advertising behind the game, The Kore Gang will be a cult favorite instead of the full on hit it should be (and that Atari needs). Honestly, unless you outright hate playing Wii games or dislike games that are primarily for laughs, you should really get a kick out of this. Much like how Psychonauts was critically acclaimed but didn’t get the respect it deserved until years later, don’t miss out The Kore Gang while you still can.
Appeal Factor: Good
The Kore Gang is one of those budget titles that shouldn’t be a budget game. It looks great, has a quality voice cast and it plays exceptionally well. It’s far from shovelware like Ninjabread Man and other terrible games that make up the bulk of budget platformers out there. Honestly, I’d happily pay more than the $19.99 pricetag on this game and that’s what makes The Kore Gang such a great deal. It’s proof that there are still high quality third party games for the system, regardless of what some might say. It’s proof that some budget games are better than full priced titles that spend millions of dollars on advertising. Most of all it’s proof that games made by small independent studios are worth just as much of your attention as the titles that are shoved down your throat by any publication that covers video games. Games like The Kore Gang will be all but ignored by most of the media because there is no money in it for them. That’s a damn shame. The purpose of any gaming site or magazine with the slightest bit of journalistic integrity should be about covering as many different games as is feasibly possible for them. Unfortunately very few of those exist anymore…
At $19.99, The Kore Gang is a game you shouldn’t miss out on if you own a Wii. It’s better than a lot of full priced $49.99 titles for the system and the fact it finally made it to store shelves after all these years is something to rejoice in – especially since it’s actually good. December is all but dead for new games, so if you don’t have a backlog and you’re looking for something new to play, you could do far worse than The Kore Gang.
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Below Average
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Don’t let the budget price tag or the lack of advertising fool you – The Kore Gang is one of the best games for the Nintendo Wii this year and one of the best platformers regardless of console. It’s been a long hard road for this game, but it’s finally seen the light of day. Unlike some other games that had a ten year development cycle and also came out this year, The Kore Gang is a fun title that you’ll have a lot of fun with even if you generally hate platformers. It’s insanely funny, looks quite good for a Wii game and has a top notch voice acting cast. The only real negative areas are the camera and the lack of replay value. With a MSRP of only $19.99, you’re getting an amazing deal here – don’t miss out on it.