February 25th, 2012 | By Doug Walter
When I say that puzzles enliven any genre of game, I mean it. Although I will admit that there are a few exceptions. As a gameplay element, puzzles lend themselves very well to portions of other games due to the pre-frontal lobe stimulation they bring within the context of a greater challenge. For example, crossing a room is one of the simplest challenges that exists. Throw in, say, a series of sliding platforms that can be rearranged as an obstacle, and you have an additional difficulty that feels more rewarding for completing. By further analogy, the challenge of planning a series of actions out before executing every one in a crescendo of adrenaline and finger twitches is seldom experienced, and Turtle-Cream has managed to provide that uncommon pleasure.
Before you stands the svelte, cartoony sweetness of Sugar Cube: Bittersweet Factory, a puzzle platformer by Turtle-Cream, a Korean development team. At its core, Sugar Cube is a simple block-based platforming game, but each stage’s puzzle adds a new twist. The basic mechanic stems form the titular Sugar Cube’s aura, which, when passed over tiles will change their state from foreground to background, active to inactive etc. This creates the challenge of planning how your aura will move across the background, bringing blocks to the fore where you can stand on them or be squashed by them.
Each of the five worlds has a unique theme based on a kind of treat. Crunchy cookies, rich, smooth chocolate, crispy candy, and more are the worlds that the desperate Sugar Cube must traverse. Similarly, they each have a unique mechanic that they present in various combinations through about 16 levels. Sliding to gain momentum for jumps, portals to traverse, spikes to avoid, and seas of blocks to switch all at once are some of the challenges to be faced.
In its favor, Sugar Cube presents a meaty challenge but doesn’t cross the border to frustrating. If you fall off the screen, land on spikes or otherwise bite the dust, Cube utters a quick “oops” before instantly respawning at the start of the one-pane level. This works well since each level attempt flows naturally and quickly into the next. Plus, if you mess up your perfectly planned exit strategy, then you can simply press ‘r’ to reset the level and try again. I died hundreds of times myself, so don’t be afraid to die since it’s going to be part of the experience and not necessarily unpleasant at that.
The aesthetic of the candylands is cute in the sense of “kawaii”–an art style you’re going to have to look up to fully appreciate, since calling it “obsessively cute,” and “unerringly cuddly,” wouldn’t quite do it justice. Everything is in light pastel colors, expressions are simple and geometric, while the world is consistently blocky with occasional organic backgrounds. “Kawaii” is probably the only way to describe it, actually.
For those who haven’t gotten their platforming fix from Super Meat Boy yet, Sugar Cube presents a short, sweet, mind-working, challenge that is definitely worth the five dollar price point.