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Review: Cuboid

Susan Arendt | 21 Jan 2009 14:20
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Like all good puzzle games, the premise for Cuboid, available for download from the PlayStation Network, can be summed up in a single sentence: Guide a rectangle through an obstacle-filled course and drop it in a hole. But like all great puzzle games, that simple concept is just bait to lure you into a devilishly challenging experience that will alternately have you throwing your controller in frustration and pumping your fist in celebratory glee.

The challenge of Cuboid is entirely mental, as the controls are simple enough for anyone to master in seconds. You can only move your 3D Cuboid two ways - either flopping it longways, end over end, or laying it down and rolling it side to side. The courses you must navigate are narrow tracks suspended over a chasm. At least, I assume it's a chasm, as any Cuboid that falls off the track drops away into the distance, never to be heard from again. There could be an acre of soft cushions at the bottom, for all I know. I'll leave it up to you to decide what fate actually befalls the Cuboids that you send tumbling into oblivion by letting any part of them stick out over the edge of the track.

Navigating the narrow, twisting paths can be tricky, given the limited ways you can actually move, but after just a few levels you'll see the track not as a contiguous path, but as winding connection of Cuboid flops and rolls. Naturally, this is when the game ups the ante by throwing obstacles in your way. The Cuboid will break through wooden planks when it stands on end, so you must roll across them. Switches, which raise and lower bridges, can sometimes only be triggered by standing on end, though sometimes they'll flip no matter how you touch them - which can be a real pain when they're sprinkled across the playfield like croutons on a Caesar salad. Teleporters do what teleporters traditionally do: split your Cuboid in half and send the bits flying across the board. As if threading your way through veritable minefields of obstacles wasn't challenging enough, most levels of Cuboid contain at least one or two red herrings, like a switch that you don't actually need to hit, or a teleporter that serves no actual purpose.

After completing ten tracks, you can take a crack at a bonus level, which differs from a normal level in one small, but key way - you have a limited number of moves to make it to the goal. You can add moves to your bank by snagging powerups along the course, but completing a bonus level is more about careful planning and patience than randomly trying moves until something works. At least that's how it's supposed to work. I usually managed to visualize the perfect journey from start to finish and get halfway through it, only to realize that I'd completely screwed it up. Then I would fling my little Cuboid over the side as a sacrifice to the polyhedron gods, imagining a tiny scream as it fell, and start over with a fresh Cuboid, one that wouldn't disappoint me. What?

It's meant to be a single-player game, but Cuboid works well as a multiplayer title, too, especially for non-gamers. Levels that will completely confound one player will be a cakewalk for others, and vice versa, so if you find yourself stuck, ask a pal to look over your shoulder. There are no real gaming skills required to play Cuboid - no twitch timing or complicated controls to master - so anyone can join in and help, no matter what their experience level is.

Though at times it's such a danger to your blood pressure that it should carry a health warning, Cuboid is extremely satisfying and loads of fun, even when you're failing. It's one of those games where you can actually feel yourself getting smarter as you play; you begin to get into a groove and see the playfield with a different kind of consciousness and understanding. When you finally solve a puzzle that's been giving you trouble, you don't just feel victorious, you feel like the Smartest Person in the World.

My one disappointment with the game is that it's a bit on the short side. If you're particularly clever, you can tear through the 33 Beginner and 33 Expert levels in a single sitting; even if you take your time with the puzzles, replaying them to improve your score, your visit with Cuboid will not be a long one.

In either case, it's time well spent. Cuboid isn't particularly pretty, and there's no real story to speak of (unless you include the polyhedron gods I mentioned earlier) but it's a great brain workout that doesn't involve math or embarrass you by asking you to shout colors into a microphone. But if you want to shout something like "Why didn't you just go home? That's your home! Are you too good for your home?" when the Cuboid stubbornly refuses to line up with the hole, well, we won't blame you.

Susan Arendt thinks squares, rectangles, and spheres should stop hogging the limelight. Let the trapezoids have some fun for a change.

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