Review: Aya and the Cubes of Light (WiiWare)

A game with gravity

If there's one system on the landscape of modern gaming that has an abundance of quality 2D platformers with a novel twist, it's the Wii. Kirby's Epic Yarn, And Yet It Moves, Donkey Kong Country Returns, New Super Mario Bros. Wii – all superb side-scrollers that mix the classic play mechanic of precision movement in an environment, with effects that subtly alter this fundamental platforming element. Aya and the Cubes of Light doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of the aforementioned titles due to some clumsy design choices, but it's really not far behind.

You play Aya, sent on a series of missions to restore power to the Cubes after their mechanical guardian Cseom has unexpectedly begun removing the Energy Packs that keep them functioning. This is a big problem, as these Cubes ensure the stars in the universe shine brightly. Aya must visit a total of three constellations, each with ten Cubes contained within them, returning each Energy Pack to open the gateway and travel between them. If you haven't guessed by now, the story is utter bobbins, existing only to explain a situation that doesn't need explaining.

Fundamentally Cubes of Light is a game about space and gravity. Aya moves within a 2D plane but can also walk up walls, so long as those surfaces are linked by a curve from the horizontal to the vertical. Gravity remains constant on Aya as an object but not on the area around her, so jumping while walking upside down returns her to the surface to which she first leapt from, e.g. if you jump on the ceiling, you land on the ceiling. You'll often use every inch of a level to complete it, reusing the same platforms from different angles to reach new areas and pick up the Energy Packs scattered across them. Thrown into the mix are more traditional elements such as enemies to avoid and switches to flip, as well as the ever-present threat of falling off the level completely.

Though the action itself is 2D, all of it is upon a 3D object, with many levels requiring use of all sides of the Cube to progress. Not only do players have to contend with an almost constant shifting of perspectives, they must also take into account how their movements on one plane will affect their movement upon the next. It's a daunting task and the title is appropriately difficult.

And by "difficult", we mean "rock hard". You'll spend much of your time stood still in Aya and the Cubes of Light, trying to wrap your mind around the oblique physics and planning several movements ahead to avoid dying for the umpteenth time in a row. Lives are thankfully infinite, the game restoring your progress to the last major action you performed, such as the last Energy Pack you returned. The satisfaction of finishing some of the later levels is immense: the 20 minutes spent working out the solution to the complex spatial puzzle, once figured out, is its own reward.

Where the game falters is everything outside of this core play idea. The presentation is plain weak, with basic character models, stiff animation and lacklustre visual design. Audio cues fare little better either, the same sound bites brought out time and time again.

However its biggest issue is without doubt its controls. Walking movement of Aya is fine — it's difficult for any developer to screw up moving left, right, up and down — but every other action is a chore, thanks largely to Object Vision Software's insistence on using gestures to perform the simplest of tasks. Inserting an Energy Pack into its designated slot requires a very specific combination of physical movements from the player: holding B, then thrusting forward, then turning the Wii Remote left. Not only is this an unnecessarily elaborate input for something that could just as easily be set to a single button press but the title often takes several attempts to recognise the action. Communicating how these movements should be made in the first place is also an issue thanks to a lack of written text during demonstrations.

What's unforgivable though is how Aya and the Cubes of Light handles the input for jumping. With the A button used for physically moving the camera perspective around to look at alternative sides of the Cube — as opposed to, say, holding C on the Nunchuk — the title instead requires the Wii Remote to be shaken to have our heroine perform the most basic function of a platform game. Since you'll be spending a lot of play time leaping from ledge to ledge, jumps often requiring split second timing, this fuzzy alternative to the digital precision of tapping a button is an especially poor choice by the developers.

Conclusion

If you can struggle through the unnecessarily complicated controls and don't mind the prospect of a massive challenge ahead of you, Aya and the Cubes of Light is a worthwhile investment of your cash. At around six or seven hours in length, depending on how quickly you crack the puzzles, the title represents good value for money too. It's a fairly unique play experience that will require dedication to see everything it has to offer, rewarding those that do put in the time with that sweeter than sweet feeling of smug satisfaction at beating its fiendishly complex stages.