Review: Art Style: KUBOS (DSiWare)

Another fiendishly addictive Art Style puzzler joins the DSiWare library.

Art Style: KUBOS is the fifth game in the popular Art Style series to hit the DSiWare service. Series developers SKIP Tokyo have once again built a game around a creative and abstract puzzle concept; they really seem to have a knack of making simple games that are fiendishly addictive, and KUBOS is no exception to this winning streak. The hero of KUBOS is an anonymous-looking stickman, and it's your job to help him climb to the floor above while avoiding the falling blocks and stopping him falling to his doom.

When you first begin playing KUBOS you are only given the option of playing ‘Ten Floors Mode’ which does what it says on the tin: in order to win the game you have to get your little fella up ten levels of falling blocks. It isn’t as easy as it sounds though: the game is quite fiendish and there are several ways you can end your game before completion. One of the easiest ways to die at first is by getting squished by falling blocks, and although your energy bar might let you absorb one such mistake it's curtains for you if you get squashed again, although you can stave off an early death by getting a top-up from walking over a special coloured block. After a few minutes of play you’ll learn to spot the shadows that warn you of falling blocks, helping your little stickman live a bit longer.

The other way to die is by falling off the stage, which starts out as an easy fate to avoid, but before long the stage becomes very fragmented and you have to keep your wits about you to find your way to higher ground. As time passes the old blocks will drop away naturally, but there are also special bomb cubes which will take out a 3x3 area of cubes if you don’t walk over it to defuse it quickly enough. As the stage is built around an area the size of 5x5 cubes sometimes the best tactic is just to get away from it to the other side to be safe. If you are quick enough to defuse the bomb then you will gain a ‘bomb blast’ which can be triggered at will by pressing the ‘Y’ button , perfect for destroying meddlesome blocks that get in your path.

The controls in KUBOS are refreshingly simple. The little stickman is controlled with the D-pad: if you push him towards a block which is one level higher he will climb to the next level. He can also jump to lower blocks if needed. The blocks are presented in an isometric style so it’s really easy to see what’s going on, although you can use the L&R triggers to rotate the playing field, which can help from time to time. In addition to this you can use the ‘B’ button to push or pull a loose cube in front of you, which is useful for bridging gaps in the landscape so you can run over and defuse a bomb, or just clearing a path so you can build up your bonus.

One problem you will quickly come up against is the ever-depleting life meter; even if you avoid getting flattened by falling blocks your stickman loses energy over time. To top this up you’ll need to keep your eyes open for coloured energy cubes, then quickly run over it to give your life meter a temporary boost. Once your life meter is fully depleted then your stickman will get exhausted and hobble around like a old man - if things get to this stage then you are on a losing streak as it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid falling blocks and the Game Over screen that inevitably follows.

With a bit of practice and concentration it isn’t too hard to reach the magical tenth floor which signals the end of the game. You're then rewarded with one of nine different stickmen animations depending on the line bonuses you achieved during play. If you just muddled your way through the game you will get a very lethargic animation to shame you into doing better next time.

The way to ensure success in KUBOS is by walking over and lighting up five cubes in a row on the same floor. If you can consistently do this then you will raise your multiplier and start clocking up lots more points. Just keep an eye on the bonus rank meter at the bottom of the screen to see how well you are doing. Those who approach KUBOS with the intention of getting the highest rank will have the most fun as to do so you will be forced to think quickly on your feet and push blocks off the screen, pull them into place and bomb blast them in order to keep getting lines of five. As the structure becomes more and more fractured this task gets almost impossible.

Once you have completed the Ten Floors Mode then you can try your hand at the Tower Mode which is a lot more intense. The playing field is confined to a much more restrictive grid of just 3x3 cubes. The aim in Tower Mode is simply to climb as high as you can before falling off or getting crushed. It’s very addictive and presents a stern challenge. As you climb you’ll quickly find your energy meter getting low which makes your stickman very unresponsive. In this mode you simply need to light up all nine cubes on the same level to activate a floor flash which will completely restore your life meter. When you eventually die you’ll be shown the equivalent distance in metres that you climbed up the Eiffel Tower. This is a fun alternative to the regular Ten Floors Mode and it will take a lot of practice to adapt your playing style to the more confined space.

Last but not least is Relax Mode which is also unlocked after completing Ten Floors Mode for the first time. This is basically a gallery showing off your achievements. If you ever want to go back and watch an animation in order to ‘relax’ then this is the place to do it. Watching these subdued animations and listening to the cutesy sound effects might even help lower your blood pressure!

As with all the Art Style games the graphical style is minimalist and simple, a blessing really as it does not distract from the gameplay. The isometric style for presenting the cube structure works superbly and rotating the landscape is a treat whenever you need to look at things from a different angle. The ambient electronic style music and sound effects fit the game perfectly too, being very catchy but also non-intrusive.

Conclusion

Art Style: KUBOS is another worthy addition to the DSiWare library, and succeeds in maintaining the overall quality of the series. Developers SKIP Tokyo have executed another simple puzzle concept flawlessly, with both main game modes proving highly addictive and enough to keep you coming back to beat your previous high score. KUBOS is perhaps the most accessible of the Art Style series to date, as completing the game isn’t really that hard, but the true challenge lies in perfecting your multiplier-building skills, which is much easier said than done. Puzzle fans should download KUBOS without hesitation - this is 500 DSi points well spent.

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