Gather round, folks, for a tale of love, loss, and failure: For never was a story of more woe, than this of Kate and her, er, GameCube controller.
Let's back up a little. 'Twas a Friday night after a long and tiring week, and my partner and I sat down for a game of Staxel, which is a sort of Minecraft-Animal Crossing-Harvest Moon hybrid launching on 23rd September that's entirely made out of voxels. Since it was the 20th anniversary week of the GameCube, we decided (or, well, I pitched to the editor) to try out the co-op aspect of the game by building a GameCube controller, in celebration of everyone's favourite game-shape that isn't already a cube.
My partner (who I'll call dicey, because that's what he calls himself) and I have played a fair bit of Minecraft, back when we were long-distance; our creations included an impressive Nether train system and an iceberg-themed polar bear enclosure. We're not exactly master architects, but hopefully that gives you an idea of how we're not total novices when it comes to building.
Our work in Staxel was a little trickier. It always takes a while to learn the ropes of a new game, but Staxel could be more user-friendly. As odd as it may sound, for a game that's heavily inspired by Mojang's game, it might have been nice to have some more similarities, specifically in how to play. In fact, it was the differences between Staxel and Minecraft that would eventually be our downfall.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
You see, where Minecraft is all about mining blocks, and smelting, crafting, and combining them into new blocks, Staxel is a little more granular. Minecraft has the one crafting table; Staxel has 12, with individual crafting benches all bearing verbs ranging from "assemble" and "carve" to "combine" and "construct". Cooking gets even more complicated, because you'll need separate three-tile benches for chopping, boiling, frying, mixing, and baking. Honestly, a lot of those seem like synonyms for the same darn thing, but all the recipes you have will at least tell you which one you need to use.
Luckily, you can just buy most of what you need. There are two shops in Staxel's town centre, one which sells lots of stuff, and one which sells... lots of other stuff. The demarcation between the two is admittedly blurry, but for the purposes of needing A Lot Of Stuff to build a GameCube controller, it worked in our favour.
If this were Minecraft, we'd head down into the depths of the Earth to find the right blocks to suit our purposes (probably some nice purple concrete, or amethyst if we're feeling fancy), but in Staxel, it's far, FAR easier to just buy everything. Everything, from tools to furniture, has already been made for you, and if you can brave having to browse the extremely tiny objects in the shops, you'll be kitted out in no time.
We bought everything purple in the shop, and none of it was quite the right purple. Luckily, there's another feature that Staxel offers that I've never seen before: the ability to rob people's houses. Not rob from people's houses, mind you — actually steal the houses themselves, brick by brick. You see, there was a chap in town whose roof was just exactly the right shade of GameCube purple, and so we stole his roof like common copper thieves pillaging a church.
Minecraft will let you destroy villagers' houses, sure, but it doesn't make you go into a menu to select the option to do so, giving you a warning that you should only mess with the game's buildings if you "know what you're doing". It feels much more like a crime that way.
Bricks obtained, it was time to build, and we decided to go for a vertical GameCube controller — all the better to see it from a distance. While I shopped, my partner cleared a little plot of land and started building a large, and very ugly, dirt backing onto which we could place the controller. So far, so good!
We began outlining a controller-like shape, and he kept complaining that we "should have built a GameCube instead" or "at least the GameCube logo", but I told him that he was a coward for wanting to take the easy way out by building something that already looks like a big voxel.
Then, it was time for the buttons and sticks. Unlike Minecraft, you can't just put things wherever you want, and I was disappointed to find out that a few of the in-game items, like a red food bowl, a red checkers token, and a little stool — all of which would have made a perfect little B button — couldn't be placed horizontally.
We were starting to lose momentum and morale, especially when the days rapidly turned into nights and it was hard to see anything, let alone which purple to use. Even in the daytime, all the lights, including in the shop, are this sort of dull, sickly orangey-yellow, making it really hard to judge colours and shapes. Then there was just small but bothersome details, like the fact that the characters can't walk through any gaps that aren't at least two blocks wide, or that the shops seemingly refresh their stock at random, making it hard to buy more of that one block we needed.
At this point, the game told us that "something" was happening in town — and that "something" turned out to be a bunch of magical portals that took us to a place called Fairy Island, where everything was pink. Pink is not purple, so we left, but it was nice to go somewhere that wasn't the same tiny island that we spawned on.
Back to the controller. It was at least by this point that we were starting to get extremely frustrated with the experience of playing, because inventory management in Staxel can be a pain in the axe.
Everything is tiny. There's no storage. Selling things is a painful process that requires placing single objects on a stand and selecting "sell", one-by-one, and because there are SO MANY different tools, all of which are monotaskers, your inventory is CONSTANTLY full of hoes, hammers, pickaxes, shovels, and the ten billion different crafting recipes and tables that you need. It felt like we were trying to build an IKEA bed with half the instructions missing and fifteen times more Allen keys than we needed, all while trying to hold a week's groceries in our arms.
But despite all of that, we managed it. We did it! We built a GameCube controller.
And then, tragedy struck.
I started destroying the dirt wall behind the controller that we put there for stability, and — unbeknownst to us both — this was the beginning of the end, because apparently it was a load-bearing dirt wall.
The controller exploded into voxel confetti, and just like that, our work — our hideous masterpiece — was gone. We got the blocks back, but the pad's time had passed. We built a wee grave for our fallen controller, which consisted of a large purple "RIP" that you can see from space. Given my experience with the game, I can't see myself going back to Staxel anytime soon. In fact, I'm not even sure that I can; the screen says it's been "closing the game" for about half an hour now.
I'd love to say that this was all somehow a fitting tribute to the GameCube on its 20th birthday, but I think I would have been better off just making a cake with purple icing. I wouldn't have had to steal a neighbour's roof for that.
Staxel is out on the Nintendo Switch eShop on the 23rd September.