October 5, 2011

Live on the laser’s edge in Cubixx HD

Cubixx HD

Several weeks ago, I had never even heard of Cubixx HD, only learning of it a few days before its release on the PlayStation Network. Things have changed since then. I’m now all too familiar with it: When I close my eyes, I can see its neon-lit, geometric enemies patrolling the six-sided playing field. I can still feel the controller in my hands as I guide my cutting laser across one of the cube’s surfaces. And, most of all, I can hear the electronic KA-CLANG that announces I’ve died and it’s time to try again. There’s a good chance that if you spend any time with Cubixx HD, you’ll find yourself in a similar situation. But let’s go back a bit first.

Did you ever play Qix? It was an old arcade game whose primary villain was a marauding swarm of lines (the titular Qix). Your player’s avatar traveled around the edge of a square that fenced in the Qix, and your job was to draw lines from one side to another to section off parts of the field while avoiding the Qix and various other hazards. After covering enough area this way, you beat the level and moved onto the next one.

Cubixx HD

In Cubixx HD, the basic gameplay is the same: You still want to cut away areas of a square playing field and box in a dangerous critter (this time, the Cubixx). Since this is 2011, though, you’re not just stuck in two dimensions; Cubixx HD’s playing field is actually a 3D cube, with each side home to its own Cubixx and a blank slate for you to slice with your laser. You earn more points by cutting out larger areas at a time, and your score multiplies with each cube face you traverse in a single cut. One collision with a Cubixx, though–whether you crash into him or he runs into a section of the line you’re cutting–you’ll lose a life and have to start your line from scratch. This simple risk/reward balance–longer lines generally earn you more points but take longer to complete and are more vulnerable to the Cubixx–is the simple mechanic that makes Cubixx HD so addictive. Sure, there are times when you’ll be satisfied with a few, quick cuts to seal in a Cubixx or escape a level that’s turned ugly, but there will be many times when you spend longer than you’d expect waiting for just the right moment to start cutting a record-breaking line. There are also powerups and bonus points that occasionally pop up to tempt you astray.

Of course, there’s more than just the Cubixx to worry about while you’re doing all this. The game is divided up into stages, which are each made up of five levels. Generally, you’re introduced to a new hazard at the beginning of a stage, like deadly Line Chasers that patrol the edges of the board, or Homers that latch onto you and reduce your speed to a crawl. You spend the next few levels becoming familiar with them as the difficulty ramps up. Once you clear the fifth level of a stage–which is usually quite difficult compared to the ones preceding it–you move to a brand new stage and the difficulty eases up a bit so you can meet the next new enemy. In the later stages, you’ll have to contend with three or four types of enemies at once, but at that point you’ve been trained to look out for each one and likely have developed strategies for dealing with them, so when you do lose a life it feels more like you made a mistake and less like a cheap death.

Cubixx HD

In addition to the 50 Arcade levels (which can all be played cooperatively with up to seven–yes, seven–players), there are various trials where you compete to finish stages in the least time, using the fewest lines, or just with the highest score. A special Challenge mode adds even more variety with objectives like cutting a certain number of lines of a specific length, or defeating specific enemies within a time limit. Online leaderboards let you compete with your friends for high scores in all of these modes, but if you’re up for a more direct confrontation, there’s a splitscreen Deathmatch mode that also supports up to seven players. Sadly–and this is probably my sole disappointment with Cubixx HD–both the competetive and cooperative modes are local multiplayer only and don’t support online play.

Cubixx HD’s visuals and audio are both very well done. The graphics are crisp, colorful and employ just the amount of glowy neon you’d expect in this type of game. It also remains surprisingly easy to follow the action at all times, even when the screen is filled with enemies and you’ve cut a bunch of horribly jagged lines all over your cube. The music is a mix of electronic and dance tracks, most of which are quite good and help add to the tension as you drag your laser across a cube face while keeping one eye on the nearest Cubixx. If you’d rather listen to something else, the game supports custom soundtracks so you can play your own music right off your PS3’s hard drive. It comes in handy in case you’re playing this late into the night and your neighbors don’t share your fondness for dubstep.

Aside from the lack of online play, there’s little to find fault with in Cubixx HD. It’s an inspired revisiting of an arcade classic, and the new twists add variety and depth without overwhelming the player. While the later levels can get tough, I’d be disappointed if I were able to breeze through everything in a few sittings. Even if that were the case, though, there’s enough to do in Cubixx HD to keep me coming back for a long time.


Score: 4 out of 5

4 out of 5

Recommended if you like:
* Addictive, coin-eating arcade gameplay
* Striving for a gold (or platinum) medal in time trials/challenge rooms
* Games where the central mechanic involves a laser beam

Highlights:
* Getting a level off to a good start by cutting out 80% of a cube face
* Custom soundtracks!
* Building an elaborate maze and watching the Cubixx get trapped inside

Random Discovery: Cubixx HD is actually Laughing Jackal’s follow-up to their 2009 PSP mini, Cubixx, which I’m now considering getting so I can cut up cubes on the go.

Title: Cubixx HD [PlayStation 3]
Developer: Laughing Jackal Ltd. (Twitter: @Laughing_Jackal)
Release Date: 8/17/11 (EU), 9/20/11 (US)

Cubixx HD was provided for review by Laughing Jackal. Played Arcade mode through Level 30 out of 50 and completed several levels of Time Attack, Line Attack and Score Attack. Would have done more Challenges but became obsessed with getting the platinum medal on Land Rush. For more info on how VGH approaches game reviews, please read our reviews philosophy.

Some HTML is OK