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NDS Review - 'Trioncube'

by Erik "NekoIncardine" Ottosen on April 6, 2007 @ 2:15 a.m. PDT

Namco Bandai Games America's Trioncube is a new NDS-exclusive addictive and challenging puzzler that requires attention, patience and skill to rescue the kidnapped princess from the protagonist’s arch-enemy, Hell Metal.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Namco-Bandai
Developer: Namco-Bandai
Release Date: February 20, 2007

In a word, Trioncube is an anomaly. It's an attempt at a unique puzzle game that is simultaneously boring and addicting, sickeningly cute yet still managing to come across as having some of that Katamari quirk, and wholeheartedly average on every level. Between this and Meteos: Disney Magic, there seem to be quite a few kid-friendly puzzlers coming out. Although it has some strong game design aspects, Trioncube isn't going to attract a strong adult following, despite a premise that seems perfect for casual players who prefer cute and quirky offerings.

The basic play of Trioncube is reminiscent of a freakish amalgam of Tetris and Lumines. Pieces drop in groupings of three, which fall and spin at the player's command in typical puzzle fashion. The goal is to get pieces into a 3x3 group, which makes those pieces glow. Once this happens, you can quickly drop another piece. If this one lands to form another 3x3 group (which can use already-glowing tiles), you get an additional tile, and so on and so forth. In this way, the meat of the game becomes the building of an upward combo, and you get an exponentially increasing score with each group that forms.

The goal varies is effectively always "get 'x' points as fast as you can," in spite of thematic changes that don't significantly influence core play. Unfortunately, this doesn't work nearly as well as it sounds because it is almost guaranteed that if you've given Tetris or Lumines any real amount of play, you will fill most of the screen on your first or second try. Things don't get much more difficult from there, in spite of the few tricks the game offers in an attempt to add difficulty, so a majority of the time, Trioncube ends up being way too easy.

But at least the presentation's there ... sort of. The idea is that your combo-building generates power for your penguin-shaped spaceship, "Penko." This allows it to jet through space, ultimately going to plaid at top speeds, presented both as a distance meter to the right of the play area, and cute animations on the top screen. If this weren't cute enough, as you progress through the game, you gain the ability to change your ship interface's appearance, as well as choose the sound effect that plays when a 3x3 area is formed. Some of the later unlockable sounds only get worse, so I mostly stuck to the default options, no matter what neat sounds were presented as I progressed.

Trioncube's array of play options are pretty limited. There's Endless mode for pure scoring, Arcade mode for eight basically identical and generic stages that combine into a decent straightforward game, and the Story Mode. The Princess is on Mars, and you've got to save her, but then she gets kidnapped by the evil bullet-shaped ship piloted by the cutely Goth villain, Hellmetal. After you save her from him, you quite literally manage to drop her into a crowd of servants of the cutely emo villain, King Pluto, whose neediness is established whenever you save the game, at which point he groans something like, "No one loves me," "My car broke down," or some other complaint which sparks thunderous applause from his adoring audience. Save her from him, and they both show up again, leading into a strangely nihilistic ending which I won't spoil.

The 45 missions that comprise the story mostly end up being identical to one another: land combos to gain distance, land combos to deal damage, etc. Only two mission types change the rules significantly and represent any significant interest or challenge — one introduces "junk blocks," and the other reduces the time allowed between combos. (Toward the end, you will be repeating the exact same mission three times in a row!)

If the Story mode grows thin, there is also ad-hoc multiplayer options, including single-card play with relatively few limitations. These are pretty cut and dry; the central mode is a straight-up "race" mode, although you have a limited ability to drop junk blocks on your opponent to keep things interesting. It's a decent diversion, and allowing for full single-card play is very useful for showing the game to friends and getting extra play out of it. There's no Wi-Fi support, but this seems to be pretty par for the course, and it's questionable that this title would benefit from it.

Rather than conclude by saying you should or should not try Trioncube, I'm just going to suggest you try the online demo. It's enough to get the concept across, and if you like what you see, or think your kids will, Trioncube's a fine and interesting choice. If you can't get into the simple gameplay, no matter how cute, then Trioncube is not for you, although one cannot reasonably expect this title to last for much more than a few days of serious play.

Score: 5.0/10

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