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PSP Review - 'Cube'

by Erik "NekoIncardine" Ottosen on June 25, 2007 @ 3:33 a.m. PDT

Cube is a highly addictive strategy/puzzle game that challenges players to make their way through suspended 3D worlds of platforms and mazes.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: D3Publisher of America
Developer: Metia Interactive
Release Date: April 30, 2007

Some games are made for downloadable content and are not meant to exist outside of the downloadable format. Lumped into this category are so-called "casual games," which are meant to be loaded for a bite-size dose of action, and then left for another time. Entire publishers exist solely for this market. However, it's vital for certain games - such as Cube - to load rapidly so that they can be played instantly; indeed, anyone who has used the Xbox Live Arcade Unplugged discs can attest to the annoyance of having a load time for such games.

At its core, Cube is a puzzle game in which you move around, push cubes, and reach the exit, with elements from Sokoban, Deadly Rooms of Death, and similar block-pushers. The primary differentiating factor between Cube and those games is that it has been taken to 3D, and not just in terms of pretty polygons that move on a 2D plane. Rather, 3Dcollections of, well, cubes are set up for your player-cube to traverse, face-to-face. (Not much for story, here, but that's a good thing, I think.) The interesting/strange thing is that you can freely go around any corner, and the stage will simply rotate to match. There is no true floor and no true ceiling, and the backgrounds of giant cubes are made to emphasize this. The end result is disorienting and requires immense levels of adjustment. Eventually, however, you'll get used to this and realize that Cube's primary source of difficulty lies elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the "elsewhere" isn't so much in challenging, well-developed puzzles, though admittedly there's no shortage of them. The primary source of difficulty is the limitations of the PSP for control in true 3D space. The controls are kept as simple as possible, with the d-pad moving your player-cube, and everything else controlling the camera. The problem is that these different controls don't really come together coherently. The camera angle has little, if anything, to do with how the d-pad makes you move, unless you limit yourself to the L and R buttons, which, in some cases, won't let you see everything you need to see. A player should consider himself lucky if he's able to reliably look around the next corner to check for bombs. The camera controls will frustrate you, aggravate you, disorient you, and in most cases, prevent you from truly getting into the game.

Worse still — and the reason Cube would be better off as a downloadable game — is that its load times are a joke on par with WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006. Admittedly, they aren't nearly as long, but they are far, far too common. It takes 10 seconds to start a stage, 15 seconds to end a stage, five seconds to pause a game, and three seconds to resume it. If you suspend your PSP, it takes 10 seconds for you to start back up, and then the additional time it'll take to resume the game from a paused state. The game is not graphically complex, so it would have been better if everything were pre-cached so that no visible load times would be required, except at startup. Instead, gameplay is broken up so often by load screens and utter freezes as to render the title painful to play.

If you can handle the load times, figure out the camera, and adjust to the innate disorientation of truly 3D space, however, Cube's litany of frustrations still isn't quite complete, as presentationally, things just don't impress. The graphics are almost nothing but squares and cubes — what I wouldn't do for at least some interesting boxes! — for a functional but severely unimpressive result, with an unstable framerate to make it seem worse. Further, the sound effects have little to no "oomph" behind them (a bomb emits a tiny "boom"), presumably so that the pulsing techno rhythms aren't obscured. If the music is the reason for the load times, I could seriously have done without them, as they would have significantly improved the game in more ways than one.

If a player were to get through all of this and not abandon the game alongside some of the lower-quality ports the PSP has seen, however, he would find that, like its 2D brethren, Cube has a decent amount of meat attached to it. Excluding the tutorial, there are an excellent 180 stages running across nine color-themed zones, all well-designed and interesting, There is also an unlockable set of bonus stages and a surprisingly intuitive level editor, and ad-hoc level sharing and racing play. Decent difficulty progression offers a suitable challenge without smacking you in the face unnecessarily, keeping things from getting boring, and meaning that if you get into this game, you will not be lacking for enjoyment.

All in all, Cube is a fine concept, and the stages themselves were well-designed, but from a graphical, audio, and programming standpoint, the game is a total mess. This is extremely unfortunate, since it's one of the more unique titles I have seen on the PSP, and these significant flaws prevent me from recommending it to most players. A lot of time was spent on creating the stages, and not enough time was spent on the other aspects, and it shows. I'm sincerely hoping that there will be an enhanced re-release over Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network, so we can see how the title improves with more intuitive camera controls and no load times.

Score: 5.2/10

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