Ah, the Rubik’s Cube. That innocent little puzzle that almost every kid has owned, and subsequently gone crazy trying to solve. The twisting, turning 3X3
cube made of cubes can be more maddening to solve for the inexperienced than the perverse “spilled milk” all-white jigsaw puzzle. The Cube has inspired competitions between professional solvers, insane time record videos on Youtube, and the popular Kobayashi Maru solution of disassembling the Cube and putting the pieces back in order. The Rubik’s Cube has been a national phenomenon for several decades, so publisher Game Factory thought it would be a good idea to make a game based on the puzzle, and set developer Two Tribes to work making the games. Two Tribes developed two titles based on the Cube, one for Wii and DS, and I tried out the DS one first.
The first impression I had was that the game was a little hard to get into. The opening sequence, music and overall presentation make it look like a kid game, but the actual interface and gameplay are pretty counter-intuitive. The game starts off talking about “cubies,” the little individual cubes that make up the larger Rubik’s Cube. At every opportunity the game makes it sound like these cubies are little animated creatures, but throughout the gameplay they are just inanimate colored cubes. There are a few puzzles where they move around, but they aren’t the cute little characters the game makes them out to be.
If you can get past the initial false advertising of the game’s theme you’ll find some decent puzzles. I tried “switch” first, which is a play on Tetris. A grid of colored cubes is displayed, with you holding a single cube. You must swap your cube into the grid, and if you connect it to four of the same color, all five will disappear. The grid is constantly filling up with more cubes and goes faster as you eliminate sets. If the grid fills completely, you lose the game.
In “color” you must tap different sides of a cubie to paint them different colors, so that the cubie can navigate a maze and reach the exit. Cubies will get stuck on a tile that is their own color, so it is necessary to keep cubies from getting stranded, or strand other cubies to make bridges for the one heading to the exit.
“Roll” is similar to “color,” except that in this game you can only dictate the cubies’ direction. Most of these puzzles have you rolling cubies into L-shaped structures to alter their path.
In “fit” you must gather cubies into small groups so that they fit into cutout shapes in a moving board. This puzzle was particularly obscure and I failed a number of times before I even knew what to do. It didn’t help that after a few levels a time limit was added.
“Calculate” was even more confusing. The puzzle would display two basic arithmetic equations, which I was somehow supposed to translate to a Cartesian coordinate grid. I can understand what they’re trying to do in theory, but the actual puzzle (again made worse with a time limit) is very difficult to figure out, even in the tutorial level.
Rubik’s World adds a few free-form modes for you to flex your creativity. “Compose” asks you to arrange simple tunes out of notes and several styles of
music: percussion, synth, organ, piano, etc. In “Create” you must stack cubies into roughly recognizable shapes, based on a prompt the game gives you like “build a tree” or “build a cloud.” An interesting side effect of these modes is that your creations will start to show up in the menu, the menu will be more colorful as more cubies “come out” to play, and the tunes you compose will start to replace some of the incidental jingles.
No Rubik’s Cube game would be complete without the original puzzle, and the DS title has three versions to solve. The Mini Cube (2x2x2), Standard (3x3x3) and Rubik’s Revenge (4x4x4) are all included, with a tutorial that takes you through the basic steps of solving them. The 3D cube displayed on the screen can be rotated with the D-pad, and the different sections can be slid and turned with stylus swipes. This concept, a portable, multi-difficulty version of the classic puzzle, sounds like a great idea, but the execution leaves something to be desired. Manipulating the on-screen cube with a stylus is awkward, especially when you have to drag it across the touch screen to rotate the camera, or switch to the D-pad. Whenever I played around with the actual Cube portion of the game, I found myself wishing I could pull the Cube out of the DS and hold it in my hands. The Rubik’s Cube is by nature a very tactile puzzle, and even the DS’s touch-screen controls aren’t adequate to convey that experience.
That might be a bigger problem than it seems, because Rubik’s World appeals to a very niche audience. It’s not for kids, unless they’re particularly talented in math and abstract math puzzles. The puzzles are difficult to grasp and get ruthlessly unforgiving within a few levels, so most kids will probably get frustrated and drop the game. Rubik’s World is also a very visual game, and all the tutorials are in text so they aren’t very helpful. Lots of trial and error is required, sometimes just to figure out how a puzzle is played, much less solved. Visual tutorials would have made it easier to get into the individual minigames.
This also isn’t a puzzle game you play to relax, unlike like Game Factory’s Zenses series. The obscure cubie games will frustrate most people of above-average intelligence, and only the Mensa crowd will really groove on them. There is a multiplayer option for 2-player download play, which offers “fit,” “switch” and the original Cube as competitive modes, but I can only see the last option as engendering much competition because the real Cube has attracted such a healthy professional following.
Basically, unless you love solving the original Rubik’s Cube, this game won’t do much for you except make you feel insecure about your intelligence. Even if you’re a Rubik’s Cube fanatic with a lot of experience, the disconnected controls might be annoying. At this point, I unfortunately must recommend one of those little pocket keychain Cubes over this game. They’re just as portable, a lot cheaper than 30 bucks and easier to play with.
Rubik’s World has the right idea, but counter-intuitive puzzles, less-than-helpful instructions and finicky controls make this game more aggravating than mind-bending.