Games 4/4: Kororinpa: Marble Mania, The Godfather: The Don's Edition, The Godfather: Blackhand Edition, Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits

Kororinpa: Marble Mania
For: Nintendo Wii
From: Hudson/Konami
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Anyone still aching for a sequel to the Game Boy’s brilliant “Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble” can put away the ice pack, at least for a while. “Kororinpa: Marble Mania’s” arcade-like levels set it apart from “Tumble’s” adventure-game stylings, but the fundamental resemblance is otherwise unmistakable.

The object of “Mania” is to guide a marble around a game board, collect a handful of gems, and reach the goal as quickly as possible without falling off the board and into marble oblivion. If that sounds exactly like “Super Monkey Ball,” here’s the difference: You control the board rather than the marble, tilting it any number of 360 degrees in any direction to roll the marble toward the goal. You can make the marble “jump” with a quick wrist flick, but that’s it.

“Tumble” did this with an embedded motion sensor attachment, but “Mania” merely requires the Wiimote. Hold it level, and the board stays put. Tilt forward, and the board nudges forward. And so on. Happily, precision never is an issue: The game registers everything from twitches to flips with remarkable accuracy.

But while “Tumble’s” technology severely limited your tilting power, “Mania” lets you go nuts and flip the entire board over if it befits you. Some optional but rewarding secondary gems crop up throughout the game, and you have to perform some fancy axis acrobatics to collect them. It’s never required, nor is achieving a gold-medal time a requisite for advancing to the next level. But the pursuit of such achievements, and what those achievements unlock, is what makes “Mania” such a fun game to play and replay. (If you disagree, you have a problem; “Mania” will end in a few hours for you.)

“Mania’s” themed areas are rich with personality and pretty pleasing to the eye, and the levels are smartly designed so as to engage players of different pedigrees. (Yes, two-player split-screen is available.) But the game’s most inspired feature may be its selection of unlockable marbles, which vary in theme (traditional, animal faces, sports and more) and attributes. The pig marble, for instance, is noisy but ideal for unsteady hands, while the basketball is faster but perilously bouncy. The football-shaped marble, meanwhile, speaks more to Hudson’s sense of humor than anything else.

—–

The Godfather: The Don’s Edition
For: Playstation 3
From: EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

The Godfather: Blackhand Edition
For: Nintendo Wii
From: EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

With “The Godfather: The Don’s Edition” and “The Godfather: Blackhand Edition,” EA has now farmed out its “Godfather” game to seven systems over the last year.

But who can complain, as long as a once-surprisingly good game keeps improving?

Content-wise, “The Don’s Edition” stands as the definitive version. The graphical improvements and feature additions found in last fall’s Xbox 360 edition make the move to the PS3, and “TDE” slathers on some gravy in the form of more rival families, more contract hits and the ability to take over rail yards and shipyards. The streets are noticeably livelier (and smarter, and more violent), and some subtle but welcome tweaks are evident in how the game thinks and controls.

“Blackhand” doesn’t boast quite the same feature set as “TDE”, and it’s distinctly (though not massively) less easy on the eyes. But playing “The Godfather” with Wii controls — the Wiimote as your right hand, the Nunchuk attachment as your left — reinvents all that racketeering and revenge as a cardiovascular good time.

“Blackhand” isn’t spot-on precise: It occasionally registers one motion as two punches, and it sometimes confuses jabs with hooks and vice versa. But these issues are more annoying than truly problematic, and they take little away from the joy of wailing away by actually wailing away. As compensation for its imperfections, the control scheme offers some inspired little touches. Swing both controllers simultaneously while your character holds a bat or similar object, for instance, and he’ll (usually) perform a two-handed swing in kind.

The Wii touch extends down the line, from execution maneuvers (hold A, follow the onscreen prompt) to grappling to firearms (with both lock-on and free-aim controls available on the fly). Everything takes more practice than any other “Godfather” game required, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Between “The Legend of Zelda” and now this, it’s clear the Wii is plenty capable of hosting — and arguably improving on — the kind of traditional games once feared impossible to enjoy with such a unusual controller setup.

—–

Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits
For: Nintendo DS
From: Konami
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild violence)

Briefly sidestep the issue of game selection, and you’re looking at one of the slickest retro compilations ever made. “Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits” delivers arcade-perfect emulations of all 15 games in its library, features multiple aspect ratios when applicable, and compliments each game with everything from cabinet artwork to jukeboxes to biographical history and tips. Support for wireless multiplayer and game sharing is everywhere, and you even can record and view replays of your gaming exploits (or watch successful walkthroughs Konami prepared in advance).

But wait, that’s not all! “Hits” goes so far as to craft a virtual, stylus-controlled replica of each game’s dip switch board, which you can fiddle with to adjust difficulty, number of lives/continues and other factors. It’s nothing a menu can’t accomplish, and Konami offers a simplified alternative for that reason. But the virtual dip switch is a brilliant collision of old and new technology that perfectly embodies the kind of geeky good time “Hits” is meant to inspire.

That said, a retro gaming collection lives or dies by the games it honors, and this is where “Hits” runs into trouble. Some games (“Contra,” “Gradius”) truly are classics, and others (“Track and Field”, “Circus Charlie”) hold up better than expected. There’s also a pair of unsung surprises in “Shao-Lin’s Road” (a cross between “Double Dragon” and “Mario Bros.” if ever there was one) and “Basketball,” which is strangely addicting despite its failure to even emulate a complete game of basketball.

The other nine selections? They range from games that haven’t aged well (“Time Pilot,” “Rush’n Attack”) to curiosities with little staying power (“Road Fighter,” “Pooyan”) to near-unplayable filler (“Yie Ar Kung-Fu,” “Horror Maze”). $30 gets you 15 games, but don’t expect to be playing all 15 for very long.

That’s true of most emulation collections; even Capcom’s sterling sets aren’t dud-proof. Konami has more than enough gems in the canon for a few more editions, and you’d best believe it’s spreading them out and filling in the blanks with whatever’s available.

Still, thanks to all the tinkering and bonus content “Hits” throws in, digging through those third-tier games is significantly more fun than usual. As long as future volumes follow suit, taking the good with the bad isn’t nearly the problem it otherwise would be.