One day, an adventurous girl named Pixie climbs the side of a skyscraper. She almost reaches the top before a tremor causes her to lose her grip. Her climbing cord snaps and she falls hundreds of feet toward the concrete street. Luck is on her side, though, as she falls through a manhole cover and falls far below the surface, finally landing on the tiled floor of an underground research lab. She rises to her feet, completely unharmed, and walks over to a pedestal where a glowing console beckons. Curious, she presses a button, and a power suit appears. She equips that suit, of course, and thus begins The Kore Gang: Outvasion From Inner Earth, a cute and quirky platformer that overcomes its frustrations with plenty of surreal charm.
Security is tight when you infiltrate an underground laboratory.
Pixie's unlikely survival is only the first of many twists in this fantastical plot. The journey upon which Pixie embarks grows steadily stranger as she meets a boy named Madboy, and later his dog, Rex. The three heroes wind up sharing control of the same suit, which has a huge belly that improbably houses whichever two characters aren't in charge at a given moment. You can swap out characters at the press of a button, which you do frequently to complete each of 32 stages.
Pixie is the athlete. Her attempt to climb a skyscraper may have failed, but she finds more success as she navigates the fantastic world that the two humans and dog find beneath the earth's crust. She can double-jump, pirouette like a ballerina (useful if she needs to float over a field of poisonous vapors), swing from grappling points, and climb high ledges. Madboy, meanwhile, is the muscle. He's able to punch in either standard or charged forms, and he can also whirl like a cyclone to easily dispatch enemies that rush him from all sides at once. When the situation requires it, he can even deflect projectiles and throw items such as bombs and snowballs, though most of those abilities are put to only limited use. Typically, he's a melee kind of guy.
You won't gain control of Rex until you play through 10 levels or so. He is the puzzle solver, gifted with substantial speed and a nose for whatever. As Rex, you can sniff at purple vapors and find the recommended path to an objective or around danger (with the latter being put to particularly memorable use when you must negotiate a minefield). When Rex is controlling the suit, it's also possible to crack open safes and to eavesdrop on conversations that distant and otherwise inaccessible enemies may be having. You hear such discussions coming through the Wii Remote speaker, rather than your television screen, which is a nice touch.
Mmm--the sweet scent of purple.
The three characters serve as the quirk that sets The Kore Gang apart from other platformers. You start with access to only Pixie. As you pass over glowing wrenches along the way, you learn new moves. Then you find the other characters, and the same process holds true. Each time you learn a new ability, there's a handy place to test it close at hand. From that moment onward, you're expected to figure out how best to use your existing skillset. Levels are constructed in such a way that you're required to frequently switch characters. For instance, you might need to hop up a series of high ledges as Pixie and then clobber a few strong enemies as Madboy (and perhaps even use Pixie again to tug a dazed enemy out of his armor before switching back to Madboy to finish the job). Then it's entirely possible that you will find a safe that only Rex can open.
Unfortunately, the various abilities don't hide the fact that your overall objectives in most stages are quite generic. There's barely a level in the game that doesn't begin with a locked gate or two, for instance. You have to explore to find a way to open any gates, which may be as simple as finding a few trash-talking worms to use as keys, or as complex as fetching items for some of the inner earth's denizens so that they give you a ride to another area. There are also collectible items, known as zeeks. If you find all of them in a given stage, you receive a medal and unlock some concept art and character profiles.
While concept art might not sound like a good incentive, The Kore Gang has enough personality that you might actually want to fill out your collection. The heroes aren't especially interesting beyond the individual abilities they bring to the suit, but the supporting cast and the villains are humorously presented, with deformed bodies that wouldn't look out of place in a Saturday-morning cartoon. Character models and environments alike seem to have been fashioned out of clay and perhaps sharp pebbles, thanks in part to a dappled visual presentation that uses the Wii's limited hardware capabilities to pleasing effect. Some of the environments have surprising scope and beauty, such as one scene where the heroes scale towers while overlooking a city skyline covered in snow.
The intriguing characters and places sound the part, as well. The Kore Gang is a reference to three mad scientist types who sound a lot like Ren & Stimpy. When they unexpectedly burst into song, some of the musical numbers will possibly have you in stitches. The dim-witted members of the resistance movement have a personality of their own, as well, and the distinctive voice work is accompanied by a lively soundtrack that somehow manages to make even the dullest corridor come to life (though thankfully, there aren't many of those).
Time your moves carefully as you battle your foes on a giant clock.
The most disappointing aspect of The Kore Gang is the way that some of the redundant stages occasionally drag on because the controls don't always feel right. The first time you crack a safe, it's kind of interesting. Some stages require you to crack two or three safes, though, and that's less engaging (particularly if your hand slips off the nunchuk analog stick and you have to try again). Careful leaps also play a large role in the proceedings, so it can be frustrating when for reasons unknown your effort to double-jump along a series of ledges fails right as you near the top and you have to climb the whole tower again. The game addresses such flaws with a generous checkpoint system, but the final stage and boss battle are a frustrating exception that wraps things up on a sour note.
Despite its flaws, The Kore Gang: Outvasion From Inner Earth is an excellent option for children and even for adult gamers who crave a rousing adventure that makes the most of the Wii hardware. Though it occasionally lacks creativity in level design, the game nonetheless offers 8 to 10 hours of clever platforming action. Pixie's fall from that skyscraper wasn't a disaster after all!