Sony has told us to keep an eye on the PlayStation Network during the first few months of 2009 (just wait for that Killzone 2 downloadable content), and some new game additions are now taking the limelight. Although we’re still expecting the hotly anticipated God of War III and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves trailers on January 22, we very much enjoy checking out the original puzzlers that come to life on the PSN for very agreeable prices. The best part is that, generally, these games are typically worth every penny, as they’re often enjoyable and even addictive. Take, for example, Lumines Supernova, which released just in time for Christmas and is easily one of the best puzzle titles of the new generation. Now, we have Cuboid, another unique brain-buster that should appeal to most any fan of the genre, and for only $9.99, this quick 102MB download is a fantastic option when the snow keeps you away from the stores. And besides, what $60 game currently on store shelves do you really want?
Cuboid is one of those games that may surprise you with its visual clarity and diversity. Too many people assume that simply because they’re downloadable titles, they look like PS2 games, and the lacking graphics will be an automatic crutch. But such naysayers need to actually download a few of these titles to get the real picture: Cuboid is a very pretty production, even though there isn’t much in the way of environmental variety. Really, you’ve just got that tumblin’ block and a few little details in each puzzle (switches and wooden platforms, for instance), and graphics are never a focal point of any puzzle game. But there are zero glitches or hitches, and while the simple and straightforward presentation doesn’t exactly shine, it’s still more than effective. The bottom line is that Creat Studio didn’t skimp on the visuals simply because it’s a puzzle game, and the player will appreciate that attention to sharpness and professionalism. We would’ve liked some different backdrops for the puzzles, but other than that, there really isn’t much to complain about.
The sound is an interesting combination of fantastic sound effects and a curiously lacking soundtrack. The good news is that even though the music doesn’t take center stage, it doesn’t need to, and it’s not of poor quality. It’s just a little repetitive and doesn’t help to enhance the experience in any way, which is in stark contrast to the inspired and unique soundtrack we had in Lumines Supernova. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare the two, as Cuboid often requires a little more in the way of patience and thinking, whereas Lumines is more about fast action and reflexes. Therefore, one needs a little more in the way of a musical boost, but even so, our minor complaint remains. The sound effects are crystal clear and nicely implemented, though, and they’re a high point of this particular puzzler. You wouldn’t expect the simple movement of a rolling block column to have much of an impact, but if you factor in the creaking of the fragile wooden boards, the crispness of the switches, and the pleasant effect that accompanies the block splitting apart and teleporting (explained below), you get a great set of effects.
As always, the gameplay reigns supreme in any game, but it’s doubly true when it comes to the puzzle genre. In Cuboid, you control a block column, and your goal is to drop in cleanly into the glowing blue hole in every puzzle. You can roll the column end over end, or tip it over and roll it lengthwise, which means there’s both a vertical and horizontal element to the game. This requires that you see the action from two distinct perspectives and that right there is the crux of the gameplay. See, the puzzle grid (that hovers in mid-air, which is an unimportant but cool effect) consists of a bunch of little squares, and this column is exactly two squares in height and one in width. This means the column can stand upright on one square and lays down on two; if you try to lay it down on only one, it’ll flip off the edge and you’ll have to start over. Sometimes, it’s a matter of maneuvering the column so you can get on the right track, and this will require a lot in the way of turning, rolling, and…well, looking. Even though each puzzle is timed, you’re often best served by taking a few moments to sit back and take a gander at your surroundings. Remember, everything gets more complex with time…
It’s always difficult to explain the gameplay of an original puzzler without making it sound either overly intricate or boring. But you should definitely check out the screenshots and the debut video, because that’s the best way of learning more about Cuboid. We can certainly continue to elaborate, though. At first, all the squares on the grid are the same and the only difference between the early puzzles are how they’re shaped and designed. But it isn’t long before you encounter all sorts of additions that throw a wrench into the works, and when you start combining them in the same puzzle, the entire experience becomes much more demanding. For example, the first alteration to the standard formula is the aforementioned wooden plank, which can’t support the full weight of the column. In other words, it can’t stand vertical on one plank, but it can lay flat across two. You must plan for this accordingly, and if you’re moving too quickly, it’s very easy to accidentally flip the column on its end and fall through, thereby forcing you to restart the puzzle. And just about the time you’re starting to wrap your head around this new wrinkle, they drop in a few more.
They come in the form of switches, which actually come in three different styles. One is a standard switch that can be pressed with any part of the column, and it will either open or close new pathways. The second is a hard switch that can only be activated if the column is standing vertical on top of it, and the third actually breaks the column into two equally sized squares and teleports them to new positions on the puzzle. Then you have to hit a few more switches and work your way back towards restoring the column, which happens when you simply roll one of the separated pieces to an adjacent square next to its mate. And if you think it ends there, you’re wrong. At the end of each set of stages, you’ll have to complete a special puzzle that tosses in the extra challenge of a limited number of moves. There are little plus symbols spread around that will add to your limit, but it typically takes a great deal of time to plan out the correct path and find your way to the goal. If you can complete these puzzles, though, you will receive a special reward which also equates to Trophies for your PlayStation 3. In other words, there’s plenty of diversity and you’ll always be thinking, which is the mark of a great puzzler.
There are a few downsides, however. It’s nowhere near as open-ended as other puzzlers that offer plenty of user-oriented features, as you’re basically forced along one set route through the game with almost no deviation allowed. Other puzzlers available on the Network provide gamers with the option to generate their own levels, create their own music, and try a variety of different game modes that put interesting twists and spins on the base formula. Cuboid doesn’t really offer any of this, so if you’re not entirely drawn in by the main single-player quest, that pretty much ends any entertainment potential. On the other hand, after spending several hours with this engaging and wonderfully constructed game, we find it difficult to believe that fans of the genre won’t gravitate towards this particular title’s originality. We mentioned at the start that these games need an addictive quality and in our estimation, this one has it. You always get that familiar sensation of accomplishment when finishing a particularly tricky puzzle, and when the next puzzle pops up, you really can’t put the controller down.
For only ten bucks, Cuboid is one of the best purchases you can make on the PlayStation Network, plain and simple. It’s bound to capture your interest immediately if you love games like this, and even if you don’t, it’s worth trying. The weather is terrible in many parts of the world and there isn’t much in the way of highly anticipated releases for another month or so, so now’s a great time to pick this one up. In only a few minutes time, you can be rolling and pondering your way to a very satisfying afternoon.
1/12/2009 Ben Dutka