It's a good job Nintendo released those protective sheaths for the Wii Remotes. While Nintendo have always maintained they were designed to protect the Remote, and anything it hits, from damage if you accidentally clonked something during a particularly vigorous game, in truth, however, we think there was a slightly different reason behind it. You see, Nintendo knew they were about to publish ThruSpace. And Nintendo knew how frustrating it can be.
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ThruSpace is possibly best described as an amalgamation between Tetris and the short lived Hole in the Wall, only with less Anton Du Beke. Instead of having to contort your own body into fantastical shapes, however, all you have to do is rotate a shape, that usually looks like a sort of Tetromino, to fit through a gap in a series of walls. Sounds simple, right? Don't they all.
You see, there's a lot more to ThruSpace than simply rotating a shape to fit through a wall. After all, with a fairly generous gap between most walls, it'd be fairly simple to rotate your shape until it's in its smallest form, and slot it through the gap - especially when they look like the one above. Instead, Nintendo have made things a bit more complex.
For starters, your piece (known as a Keydron), is constantly moving towards the wall, flying down a strange, shiny corridor. When you clear the one wall, it's on to the next one, and the next, and it's up to you to clear the entire level, which is made up of at least ten walls in one go. The problem is, you're racing against the clock, and the speed your Keydron happily saunters along at often isn't enough to complete the course before the time runs out, so you'll often find yourself having to line yourself up quickly, and boost.
The problem is, getting your head around rotating the shape in 3D takes quite some time - and in fact, despite having played it for hours on end, we still haven't got the hang of it. With a narrow hole approaching, and the time ticking down, it's enough to send us into a panic mode, and all semblance of logic flies out of the window, as we frantically rotate our shape to get it to fit - and because we're rushing, we make more mistakes, and try to rotate the shape in the wrong direction.
You can play the game using either the WIi Remote on its own, holding it sideways, or with any combination of a Wii Remote and Nunchuck, Classic Controller, and Classic Controller Pro. The recommended combo is the trusty Wii Remote and Nunchuck, although all of them take some getting used to. In this mode, you move your Keydron using the analogue stick, and rotate it clockwise, and anti-clockwise by using the A and B Buttons respectively. The +Control Pad, meanwhile, lets you spin your shape around in 3D, rotating it 90 degrees in the direction you push. Hard to explain? Yes. You try working out which way to push when you're a few inches away from a wall.
Things are complicated further by the fact you're not always sure which way round your Keydron is. Because it's a transparent shape, when you're using the Tetris T shaped piece, it's often hard to tell whether the sticky out block is poking towards you, or away from you, as the block doesn't cast shadows on itself (which would help you work out which way up it is), and its transparency means it looks pretty much the same, no matter which way it's facing.
Of course, if you have no interest in high scores, you'll probably find ThruSpace a lot easier than we did - and possibly even a bit boring. If you just want to barge through the levels, all you have to do is rotate your shape so that it's silhouette is the smallest shape possible, and you can pretty much breeze through every wall simply by rotating. The problem is, there's no fun in that, and you certainly won't get yourself a highscore. And in ThruSpace, the high scores are where most of the fun lies.
When you're approaching a wall, a silhouette of your shape will be projected onto it, helping you to see, at a glance, where your shape's going to pass through. By moving your silhouette over the entire shape, and covering every square, you can perform what's known as a trick, which will earn you bonus points. Perform a trick on every shape you pass through (i.e., move your shape around so your shadow covers the whole thing), and you'll build up a combo, which lets you rack up even more points.
You can boost your score even further by collecting jewels as you go through each wall. These jewels will usually positioned in such a way that they make it trickier for you to perform a trick, by often requiring you to cast the largest shadow you can over the wall - which is the exact opposite of what you want to do if you want to do the tricks easily. All of these point scoring opportunities then come together to create a pulse racing game, as you try to balance everything - your shape, your tricks, and your jewels, in a race against the clock.
Sadly, more often than not, ThruSpace lets itself down through cheap tactics. We've already mentioned that the controls take a lot of getting used to, and the clock is an ever waiting Sword of Damoclese over your score, but for ThruSpace, that isn't enough. Instead, the game often resorts to stupid ways of tricking you into doing things that destroy your Keydron. A case in point is the game's propensity to provide you with a wall that has a nice, easy shape on it, in the bottom corner of the wall, followed a few inches behind by a wall with an absolutely tiny shape, on the other side of the wall. As you approach the easy one, you'll more than likely find yourself boosting towards it, in an effort to maximise your time, only to almost immediately smash into a wall on the other side. Sigh.
The other problem with ThruSpace is its length. Although it's a downloadable game that only costs 800 Nintendo Points, there are only six Keydrons available to unlock, each of which has three levels, making a grand total of 18 levels in the game. That's pretty disappointing, especially when, if you don't give a damn about high scores, you can just rotate to cast the smallest shadow, and boost through most courses. And although there are a few extra modes to play through - Endless, where you have no time limit, and Trick Challenge, where you need perform a trick to slot through each gap, neither of them add any real lasting appeal.
For the masochist high score chasers amongst us, ThruSpace will be something of a dream game. Although the balance of risk and reward is skewed far too much on the side of risk, and the game has an overwhelming tendency to become very frustrating, very quickly, the game still has that "one more go appeal", even if it is through gritted teeth. If you've got the patience of a saint, an eye for 3D shapes, and the tolerance to memorise the control scheme, then you'll probably manage to take on the leaderboards and win. For the rest of us, though, and those who couldn't really care less about how well they're ranked in the world, there's sadly little lasting appeal to this.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii