Art Style: Cubello Review
Posted by Alex Knox
Is Nintendo's latest Art Style game a triumph of style over substance?
When it launched, WiiWare signalled a shift in Nintendo’s attitude toward developers and gamers. After Dr. Mario and My Pokémon Ranch hinted that it was really just another outlet for them to spawn pedestrian versions of their tremendously popular franchises, many gamers lost hope in Nintendo's plans for WiiWare. Then, suddenly, Art Style: Orbient appeared as if out of nowhere and although it was a remake of a Japan-only GBA release, it rejuvenated enthusiasm in the service by offering a glimpse into Nintendo’s intent to offer elegant gameplay at a reasonable price. With Art Style: Cubello they’ve upped the ante with a completely original 3D puzzle game that is unlike anything on WiiWare or practically anywhere else.
Cubello’s premise is a deceptively simple, three-dimensional take on classic puzzle gameplay. Each puzzle, or stage, is a structure made up of a number of cubes in various colours. The goal is to launch coloured cubes from your magazine (which holds up to ten) at the structure to match four or more cubes, which causes them to disappear and more cubes to be added to the magazine. As cubes vanish they cause any detached cubes to fall toward the core, effectively changing the structure and potentially triggering combos. The stage is finished when all that’s left is the core; however, run out of cubes in your magazine and you’ll fail. Compounding this simplistic design are equally straightforward controls that yield enthralling challenges.
While the basic controls consist entirely of highlighting an area with the pointer and pressing A or B to place a cube in that spot, Cubello is not as easy as it may sound. Each puzzle is in perpetual motion and placing a cube causes the structure to rotate in the opposite direction, leaving the player balancing careful thinking and patience with a quick-trigger and steady hands. The structure also moves steadily toward the screen until it collides and causes a few cubes to be removed from the magazine. Likewise, the closer it gets, the smaller the window is for launching cubes. To keep it at bay you must continually launch and match cubes, which will knock the structure back a bit.
Topping things off is a hint of luck in the form of randomly activated bonus rounds. Each matched series of cubes triggers a corresponding number of slots. Matching four slots activates either a normal (unlimited number of a specific colour) or super (unlimited number of all colours) bonus for a short period of time, leading to a frantic race to launch as many cubes in the proper places as possible to make some potentially serious headway -- conversely, careless placement will only add further clutter. This adds a welcome dynamic to the otherwise straightforward gameplay, but also means that high scores are occasionally subject to lucky breaks rather than effective, efficient thinking.
All told, Cubello offers countless hours of gameplay over two distinct modes. There are over 35 widely varied stages divided into six levels with each subsequent level introducing more colours than the last (the first has three while the last has eight). Beating a stage unlocks the next level as well as more stages in the current level, meaning the game thankfully never requires you to play a specific level over and over again to advance. However, the goal is to not simply complete each stage but to do so in the fewest number of turns and in the shortest time possible. Additionally, there is an unlockable ‘endless’ mode that challenges the player to complete successive randomly generated puzzles until getting stumped. Here high scores are tallied on a point system and then recorded on a local leaderboard. Points are scored for matching cubes, triggering combos, and for finishing a puzzle. In a nutshell, Cubello has plenty of challenges for even the strongest intellect.
Finally, Cubello’s presentation is based around modest aural and visual design that is entirely adequate and mostly pleasant. The cubes and colours are all easy to identify due to the minimalist graphics and the music changes from strictly ambient to upbeat based on your performance. There are, however, a few occasionally grating sounds and a mildly annoying voice that announces the launch of every cube in a computerized accent. The result is a game that maintains a proper, if unimpressive graphical and audio fidelity to achieve a desirable block size. It certainly could look and sound better, but as with any WiiWare game it’s a trade-off between size and style.
Despite its basic presentation and superficially simplistic gameplay, Cubello is the kind of game that delivers an engrossing experience every time you pick it up. A compelling blend of concepts makes for progressive gameplay that constantly evolves into fresh challenges even when repeatedly replaying the same stages; inspiring proclamations of “just one more level” well after you planned to put down the Wii Remote. That's the trademark of quality game design and a testament to Cubello’s value for a mere 600 points and 47 blocks. It’s one of the best puzzlers on WiiWare and a must have for any fan of the genre. Just be prepared for each play session to balloon into an extended diversion.