Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love started out as a true passion project – creator Joshua McGrath wanted to make a game for his fiancée that he knew she would love. The result is a unique little sandbox game, one part Petit Prince, one part Katamari Damacy, where you play as a cube who explores a desolate planet and brings it back to life (and then burn it all down to start again, if you so choose). While it’s not a bad game, for me Cube & Star suffers a pretty common pitfall for sandbox games: what you can do is just not explained enough to keep the player interested.
If I had to pick two words to describe Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love, I’d go with “adorably nihilistic.” When you start the game as a little cube, the planet you’re on is colourless and bleak, and pretty much every other creature you encounter is devoid of hope. Your job is to go around the planet waking up creatures, uncovering relics, raising buildings, and inspiring the uninspired. It’s a pretty simple concept, and the main goal of the game is exploration. It’s a pretty relaxing game, at least up until a point.
My problem with the game didn’t occur until I got to about 90% completion. I’d explored every inch of the world (at least from what I could tell on the map), found most of the relics, and unlocked maybe half of the achievements. But many of them I couldn’t figure out how to achieve, and the game doesn’t really give you hints. Part of the game includes decoding the language of the creatures on the planet, and even doing that didn’t really help me. You just get to a point where all you can do is wander aimlessly over landscapes you’ve already found, scouring it for things you missed, and it completely kills immersion. It just gets boring. A hint system really would have gone a long way to making this game just a tad more accessible. Sometimes I feel that indie developers, especially, feel like their games have to be inaccessible in order to be taken “seriously”, or to be perceived as “smart”, and I really do not agree with this. Accessible is not a bad word! Players don’t necessarily need a road map, but you do have to consider how someone who didn’t make the game might perceive the gameplay.
Another thing that Cube & Star had me really thinking about while playing is medium. It’s currently a PC game. But this type of exploration game on the PC is…a bit of a slog. I played about seven hours of the game, and it felt like much, much longer. I couldn’t help but feel that this game would be better served as a mobile or handheld game. It would be particularly great on Vita or iPad, because just the nature of the game — rolling around as a cube — is something I would play while doing something else. It’s the type of game you pick up for an hour or two here and there, which makes it perfect for a more mobile platform. Definitely, if the developers get the opportunity to do this, I would highly recommend it.
Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love is a pretty good game, but it lacks the ingredients to be truly great, and to really grab the player. If you really love sandbox games, you might like it more than I did, but overall the most emotion I can muster about this one is “it’s fine.” You can buy Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love DRM-free from their website, or on Steam for $6.99 USD.
Disclosure: This review was written using a press copy of the game provided for free by the developer. However, the views within reflect solely those of the author.
//All images via Doppler Interactive.