Q.U.B.E, or Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion, to give the game its full name, was first released on PC way back in 2011.
The new Director’s Cut of the game arrived on Xbox and PlayStation last month, and this week it finally makes its debut on Wii U.
The new edition of the game brings in some significant changes; the chief addition being a new story written by Crysis 2 and Alien: Isolation scribe Rob Yescombe, and voice acting from Rachel Robinson and Rupert Evans.
However, the core of the game remains fundamentally the same as the one released in 2011: A collection of block manipulation puzzles set within a mysterious facility.
The game starts simply enough. The player is tasked with progressing through a series of puzzle chambers by manipulating coloured blocks that are set within the walls of each room. Depending on its colour, each block has different properties. A blue block, for example, can be depressed and used as a spring to propel other objects across the room (including the player, with hilarious consequences) as it pops back out. A red block can be pulled outwards to create ledges and create barriers.
Over the course of the game the number of elements to interact with gradually increases. Before long you will be manipulating light lenses, switches, magnets and dangling electrical wires. And with each element introduced, the challenge increases.
During the first few hours of play I rejected the understandable comparisons to Portal. Yes, there are similarities, but a more appropriate lineage would include the 1997 movie Cube, or game shows such as The Krypton Factor and, well, The Cube.
As the narrative takes a stronger hold on the game however, the spectre of Valve’s masterpiece becomes harder to ignore. Some of the game’s design choices also directly invite such comparison. At one point the game goes as far as giving the player a
Companion Cube Companion Ball to negotiate through certain puzzles.
Ultimately, the comparison is a little unfair. Q.U.B.E. is its own beast, one that is more focused on intricate puzzles built around the cause and effect of its unique items, rather than creatively navigating complex challenges based on spatial awareness. Q.U.B.E. has one precise way to complete each puzzle and most of the time, so does Portal, but it also gives you a chance to go nuts with its physics and enjoy the consequences which Q.U.B.E. does not.
It probably doesn’t help that in screenshots the game can look a little basic. However, Q.U.B.E.’s simple looks are not an indication of a simple game, rather the use of a precise visual language that communicates the game’s challenges with clarity. Later levels do mix things up a little, with some striking imagery to be found as the game progresses. The pitch black puzzle rooms are, ironically, a highlight.
The mysterious Q.U.B.E. environments also feel more threatening than Portal’s test chambers. The disorienting manner in which rooms change shape emphasises the feelings of confinement and claustrophobia. And progression through the game has the strangely unnerving effect of making you feel like you are moving further from safety, rather than closer.
The newly applied narrative treatment also plays a part here. As you venture onwards the characters played by Robinson and Evans make occasional contact, each giving vague and contradictory advice. It’s well acted – if a little predictable – and plays out to an interesting conclusion; one that can make the Director’s Cut worth revisiting, even if you played the original version.
The game’s twin-stick controls work well considering how precise the player’s interactions need to be, although there are a few moments where quick reflexes are required and aiming for distant targets becomes infuriating. Likewise, jumping in three-dimensional space – never the easiest trick for a game to perfect – takes a little time to master, and that’s not an issue which is unique to Q.U.B.E.
But these are minor quibbles for a game that takes a genre typically suited to two-dimensions – BoxBoy! anyone? – then adds the difficult extra depth and breadth with confidence and aplomb.
Q.U.B.E. also benefits from a well-judged learning curve. Tricky challenges are interspersed with easier puzzles, ensuring that frustration never sets in. And – just like the best Legend of Zelda dungeons – when a solution clicks into place there’s an well-earned sense of reward. Thankfully the game never dwells for too long on one particular puzzle type either, shifting the goal posts with refreshing regularity.