It's something approaching a tragedy that no Nintendo platform has ever played host to one of Valve's two Portal games. All platform allegiances aside, these are two of the finest first-person physics puzzlers ever committed to ones and zeros. Fortunately, they're also two of the most influential.
Nintendo fans were able to reap the benefits of Portal's considerable cultural impact with Q.U.B.E: Director's Cut, which had clearly learned an awful lot from Valve's masterpieces. Now the sequel is here for Switch, and it's an even richer, more accomplished affair that manages to get a little closer to Portal's magic.
You play the role of Amelia Cross, an archaeologist who awakes in a vast alien structure with no memory of how she got there. If that wasn't sufficiently disconcerting, she (that is, you) finds that she's wearing a power suit that enables her to interact with arcane machinery. Most notably, she can imprint square pads dotted around each cavernous room with colour-coded attributes.
Blue squares become bounce pads, red squares extend as platforms, and green squares spawn their own solid cubes. By combining these skills, you can solve the game's many room-sized puzzles. For example, you might drop a green cube onto an angled blue bounce pad to land on top of a red platform, thus forming a makeshift staircase. You may even need to follow said green cube through the air in a feat of first-person gymnastics that's very reminiscent of – you guessed it – Portal.
You'll also encounter a bunch of additional gadgets that enable you to modify these cubes and the rooms they're in. These include pressure-sensitive switch pads, movable wall and floor panels, vast floor fans and oil slick shooters. Figuring out the delicate interplay between all of these different systems is crucial to success in Q.U.B.E. 2, alongside a hefty dose of good old lateral thinking.
Fortunately, developer Toxic Games has paced the reveal of these systems and the ramping up of their complexity to nigh-on perfection. Experiences will vary depending on your aptitude, of course, but we made steady, gently taxing progress deep into the game's six hour-or-so running time before we hit our first stop-dead snag. And even then, it turned out to be a fairly simple solution that we'd only overlooked through initial absent-mindedness.
Q.U.B.E. 2 works largely because its mechanics are so solid. Everything behaves as it should, and we only encountered one or two occasions where we had to attempt something a second time because a block didn't behave quite like it should have done. We did much prefer playing using the Pro Controller over the default Joy-Con, though. You'll be doing a lot of fine aiming at distant, barely-exposed panels using the right analogue stick, and the right-hand Joy-Con simply felt too imprecise for the job. You can adjust the sensitivity in the menus, though, which should mitigate your woes if you're struggling.
Control quirks aside, Q.U.B.E. 2's world feels pleasingly coherent. Credit should go to Toxic Games for creating an atmospheric, believable fiction out of fairly simple building blocks. The stark, sterile environments of the early game are convincingly alien, while moving to a more lush and naturalistic palette later in the game proves no less wondrous.
There's even space for a compellingly mysterious story, delivered over your suit's comms system. It's nothing particularly original, and at times it's quite apparent that it's merely stitching together a series of self-contained physics puzzles in a rudimentary fashion. But there's nothing wrong with economy or restraint in video game storytelling, and Q.U.B.E. 2 turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts on this front.
Generally speaking, the game looks and sounds superb. Again, there's a degree of economical thinking on display here, with the developer leaning into and owning the whole blocky aesthetic. But there are also moments of stark beauty, typically executed through the application of smart lighting and the sparing use of otherworldly music. Incongruous elements like a great tree or a creepy statue also prove evocative.
We did notice that the frame rate would sometimes struggle during our playthrough, and there was one occasion where the fallen leaves from one of those aforementioned trees would flicker in and out of existence depending on our viewing angle. But the game's sedate pace (we occasionally wished for a run button) and vaguely hallucinatory premise lessened the impact of these technical hitches.
Q.U.B.E. 2 is an accomplished first-person physics puzzler that learns a number of wise lessons from Portal in terms of mechanics and world building. The puzzles are smartly executed with a well-judged learning curve, while the story adds a welcome dose of context and intrigue to proceedings. Well-travelled gamers will instantly recognise its influences, but there's nothing else quite like Q.U.B.E. 2 on Switch.