It’s kind of surprising just how massive video games have become when you really stop and think about it. Grand Theft Auto V recently broke records for entertainment media, as have all the Call of Duty games since Modern Warfare 2. They’ve become a cultural phenomenon all over the world and many other countries are starting to contribute to the medium. Whether it’s the fantastic adventure game Papo & Yo by Brazilian independent developer Minority, Ace Team’s hilarious Rock of Ages and unique Zeno Clash series from Chile, or even Croatia’s own Serious Sam first person shooter series by developer Croteam, many developers from countries all over the world have been making a growing impact with their games. As such, I’ve done everything I can to seek out games from countries without any real prior game development and try to shine a little light on some gems that might slip under the radar.
So when I learned that Cubicity- a physics-puzzler by independent developer Brush and Code that features people from a few different countries like Egypt and the United States working on a game- was coming out soon on Desura and that I was able to acquire an early copy for review I pounced on that opportunity. I’m fascinated by cross-cultural media creations and I became quite excited to try the game out, maybe help give it a little exposure after the fact. So how did it fare?
Cubicity begins with the main character, a portly red-haired, schlubby man named Seamus, walking down a street past an open sewer marked with multiple warning signs. His curiosity gets the better of him and he dives into the sewer, wherein he finds a mad scientist named Dr. Shmeev Shmobs who builds elaborate tests in his underground lair and- yeah, the narrative is mostly just there to justify the gameplay and isn’t really of any consequence. Despite this, the set up is amusing enough to hold the game together and the mad scientist aspect allows for some fun and inventive puzzle gameplay through science fiction gadgets and gizmos. There’s a couple of points that I found what appeared to be translation problems- at one point I saw a sign that had “U” instead of “You” without any real justification for being that way- though none of them are major translation errors that ruin any dramatic moments so it’s excusable in context. It’s a competently presented game if nothing else, something I find admirable from a smaller developer.
Cubicity‘s main gameplay mechanic revolves around cubes as the title would suggest. Specifically, it involves using various tools at your disposal in order to bring a special black cube to a receptacle in order to reach the next level whilst being tied to a fixed-height harness on the ceiling. It starts off easy enough- the first puzzle is literally just picking up the cube with the magnet gun that Seamus starts off with and dropping it into a receptacle with no other obstacles- but swiftly grows more challenging throughout the game’s sixty levels spread across five “worlds”. The game’s difficulty progression is (mostly) fair and the core gameplay remains consistently engaging and varied throughout. After the first world’s fairly simple first twelve levels where it’s mostly just the cubes and the magnet gun, things start to pick up when you acquire more varied tools and face more complex puzzle situations. The game is reasonably well-paced for the first four worlds and rarely becomes repetitive, throwing enough curve balls and interesting combinations of mechanics that keep the game fun. I’m being a little vague here since I don’t want to spoil any gameplay surprises for anyone, but suffice to say that the first four worlds are quite fun and worth your time.
The last world, unfortunately, is a sharp spike upwards in difficulty and plagued with a lot of frustrating trial-and-error moments. I only barely managed to beat a couple of the puzzles in this area by abusing the physics engine- it’s pretty easy to break, sadly- and it’s capped off with an ill-advised final boss fight filled with extreme artificial difficulty due to the poorly-explained mechanics and dying in one hit if the boss so much as brushes against Seamus. It’s not an absolute deal-breaker and some of the last world’s areas are pretty fun, but it’s definitely a black mark on an otherwise well-made puzzle game. There were also some strange physics glitches, most of them involving the game’s own variation of the portal gun concept, and some of them would necessitate a reset of the level whenever the cube just vanished into thin air. It’s not a massive issue since the levels can be restarted and none of them are even remotely long, but it was definitely perplexing.
With that said, it’s still fun and while I can definitely see where the game took most of its gameplay influences from- primarily Valve Software’s Portal- I still found a lot to enjoy in the game’s core mechanics and how they come together.
While I may have had a couple major problems with the gameplay, Cubicity‘s visual style has no such problems for me. It’s a really charming little 2D art style reminiscent of a Saturday-morning cartoon and it looks extremely nice. It’s bright, it’s colorful, the character designs (what few there are) look nice, and while it’s definitely not the best art I’ve seen in a video game it’s ultimately this game’s high point. The animation isn’t quite as good, and I feel like the main gameplay contrivance of hanging from the ceiling was done so they wouldn’t have to keep animating frames of the main character walking beyond the introductory cut-scene, but it’s still charming and not limited to the point where it detracts from the game. Cubicity is by no means as visually stunning in either art or animation as, say Dust: An Elysian Tail, but the artists definitely put a lot of effort into it and I’d love to see what they do next.
I’m a bit more ambivalent about the game’s audio direction, though. On one hand, I generally like the sound effects for Seamus’s tools and moving the harness and even little actions like crates hitting the ground. They’re nothing spectacular but they’re distinct and they serve their purpose. On the other, the music is mostly forgettable drones and ambiance outside of the main theme and I feel puzzle games like this can really benefit from music that’s a little more dynamic and exciting. I do really like the World 4 and final boss themes a lot though. They’re really cool, very video game-y drum and bass type tracks that I remember well enough to hum out loud. It’s nothing particularly spectacular but I wish more of this game’s music had been like this; the game isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with different music tracks in the first place so having more dynamic and memorable tracks would have really helped break some of the aural monotony.
Finally, while it’s not a huge issue, the volume options consist of simply a binary on-off function for music and sound effect volume rather than sliders. It’s not important, but as someone who generally likes to adjust volumes separately in order to find a good balance it’s definitely something that I notice. Perhaps in your next game, Brush and Code?
Cubicity is a fairly simple game that manages to remain consistently entertaining all the way through. There isn’t much in the way of writing or explicit comedy, but a lighthearted tone and some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it silliness (check the signs in the very first screenshot) generate a couple periodic chuckles and the glitchy physics engine can provide a couple laughs of its own. The only real dampeners on this game’s entertainment value are the lack of any truly memorable tunes and a somewhat frustrating final world. There isn’t really much to say here that I haven’t already said, but I did enjoy it enough to see it through to the end. As someone whose attention span has deteriorated to the point where I can barely stick with a game for over eight hours at most, I can say with full impunity that it was an enjoyable experience for the time I’ve spent with it.
Brush and Code have created a good game in Cubicity, notably so when the fact that none of the development team have actually met each other in person.. It’s not spectacular, and I’m not sure I can even call it “great”, but it’s a solid and fun physics puzzle game that makes up for its various flaws with a lot of heart and passion. Ultimately, I think it’s worth the asking price of $4.99 on Desura and while I don’t think I’ll be playing through it more than twice at most it was worth experiencing at least once for the things I did enjoy. The art is charming, the gameplay is solid with the various mechanics working well together, and the bits of music that caught my ear were really enjoyable to listen to. I had a couple issues with it in the frustrating difficulty progression near the end, the sometimes glitchy physics, and the lack of any real depth, but these are by no means things that ruin the game. If anything, I’m a little surprised that the game ended up as solidly made as it did given the unusual development process.
The only suggestion I could make to Brush and Code from a subjective standpoint is that I’d love to see their next game touch more on the multi-cultural element that makes their development team fairly unique. Maybe something that sheds a little light on a culture or maybe even personal experiences that could be used to make a unique game in the vein of Papo & Yo. Something a little more significant and daring. It’s absolutely not a necessity and I would be more than happy to just play another game like Cubicity provided they improve and iterate on the formula in a meaningful way; I just feel there’s a lot of potential that could be tapped into to create something truly memorable.
Regardless, I admire Brush and Code for their effort and for being able to create a fun, engaging physics puzzle game. Wherever they choose to go from here, I will most certainly be following them closely.
Cubicity can be purchased on Desura for $4.99 here (you need the Desura client to play it, of course.) If you like it and wish to help Brush and Code reach a wider audience, you can vote for it to be greenlit on Steam here.
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