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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Impressions: Cubello (Wii Ware)

posted by on October 14 at 13:18 PM

Remember Tetrisphere? They called it 3D Tetris, because the word “Tetris” will sell anything, but this N64 game played more like a jigsaw puzzle on a sphere. Instead of fitting every piece together perfectly, you connected like-shaped pieces to make them vanish, eventually clearing off the game board.

I’m a puzzle-game freak, so I enjoyed it, but like most Tetris retreads, it never approached the original in mass popularity. The biggest reason I lost interest was that it didn’t make the most of its 3D aspects. You played on top of a sphere, but control was limited to a 2D plane.


I can’t help but think of Tetrisphere when I find myself enjoying Cubello, the second in Nintendo’s new Art Style series on the Wii. A few weeks ago, this downloadable series debuted with a re-release of an obscure Japanese game, but it looks like the series will also host new, experimental titles like this one.

The screen displays a tower of colored cubes, and you’re told to clear them all out. Instead of knocking them down a la Boom Blox, you aim with the Wii remote and shoot colors at the stack to create four-of-a-kind chunks, which then vanish.

The catch, and what distinguishes this from other “match-the-color” puzzle games that have been around for decades, is that this tower rotates in 3D. What’s more, you cannot push a joystick to move the tower around; instead, your shots make the tower spin.

At the beginning, this spin-and-wait is an enjoyable sensation as you wait for the next shot to show itself in the busy playfield. Doesn’t hurt that aiming shots with the Wii pointer is more precise than should probably be expected. Then as the game gets harder, you’re not just aiming to clear the stack; you’re also aiming to line up your next shot as quickly as possible. It’s a welcome, er, twist.

The rotational effect reminds me of why Tetrisphere seemed so cool in the mid-90s. This time, there’s an engaging 3D puzzle experience embedded in the effect, as maneuvering through a 3D tower and lining up perfect shots—and eventually combos—is a rare breath of new in an ancient genre.

Perhaps the game’s most compelling fact is that Nintendo doesn’t ease players into Cubello. The music and sounds are grating, future-synth stuff, complete with a creepy robo-voice announcing the action. The challenge ramps up immediately after a brief tutorial. And the bombardment of visual elements can be confusing even after learning the game’s rules. Compared to Nintendo’s recent roster of safe, Mario-loaded games, Cubello feels decidedly experimental. Like an indie garage game.

And at the price of $6, Nintendo can afford to put out bizarre, experimental titles. It probably costs them peanuts to have a small team develop something like Cubello; they don’t have to pay for advertising or publishing, either. Just toss it up on Wii Ware, price it at $6, and see if lightning strikes.

It may not strike with this game, genius as its concept is. There’s no two-player mode, which Cubello’s begging for; I dream of a battle mode where you attack your opponent by freezing his tower-spin for a few seconds. Brutal. Also, like Snood, you can get stuck at a puzzle’s end with garbage colors that no longer have a match since you’ve cleared the board. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t tend to reduce its timer like crazy when you reach this point. It feels cheap.

Nintendo could fix these issues with a patch. They could even release a retail version, complete with extra modes and an option to turn off the robo-voice (oh, Jesus, please do this). But even if not, Nintendo’s on to something with these Art Style games. Keep giving your developers an outlet to try crazy shit. I’d much rather pay for eight of these, gems and bombs alike, than another Metroid game.

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Tetrisphere was pretty good, and there was the 3D element in the way you had to consider the layers beneath the top one. It was a hard game to learn, though, and it still breaks my mind trying to understand how they tiled the sphere with squares.

Did you ever play Wetrix? That was another of those bizarre, Tetris-like puzzle games for the 64.

Of course, nothing could beat The New Tetris. 4-player mode owned the shit out of all past and future incarnations of that block game.

Posted by Greg | October 14, 2008 1:29 PM

Looks fun. I gotta get that game. Metroid Prime Corruption is a great game I might add...

Posted by ZWBush | October 14, 2008 1:58 PM

This makes me want to play tetris attack.

That's solid gaming right thur

Posted by Joh | October 14, 2008 2:26 PM

Thought of getting this, but would rather spend the money on Tetris Party (please come out next week) and World of Goo. Have you also played Goo and if so what did you think?

Posted by stinkbug | October 14, 2008 6:59 PM

@4: My Rock Band 2 review has been interrupted by WoG, actually. I'll have something to say about it very soon.

Posted by Sam M. | October 14, 2008 7:02 PM

It's not Animal Crossing City for the Wii, that's for sure.

November can't come soon enough!

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 15, 2008 1:22 AM

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