Cubism is an addicting game, that’s for sure. I found myself coming back to it over and over again just for one last go. While the premise is simple enough, don’t be fooled into thinking this game is easy. Most of its 30 levels are tough as nails, with some so difficult they will have you pulling your hair out. And to make things worse, there aren’t any difficulty settings or anything like that – it’s just straight-up hard all the way through. The difficulty does spike rather suddenly at times though, which can result in a number of reloads before you complete a level (and even then sometimes).
Unlike most puzzle games though, Cubism doesn’t rely on simple trial-and-error tactics. While you do need to try different combinations, it’s not just about seeing which one works and moving on. You also have to think carefully about the layout of the pieces in relation to the shape at hand, figuring out whether some parts can be placed inside or on top of others without sticking out (and of course making sure everything fits). If you end up trying every single combination available, you won’t get very far.
On top of that though, there are sometimes bits that don’t need to be used (but they will if their space is covered), pieces that look like they might fit but actually can’t, and blocks with piece(s) missing – a real puzzle connoisseur’s nightmare! You also have to deal with gaps that stop you from placing blocks inside – do you need to make the gap smaller, or is there a way around it?
Cubism’s demo might have been fun but it certainly didn’t prepare me for how tough this full game turned out to be. In one level I had fewer than 10 pieces left and no obvious way of completing the shape. There was almost something cathartic about finally finishing that level after what felt like an hour of trying different combinations (and watching my patience slowly ebb away). This is the first game in years that has made me want to throw my headset on more than one occasion.
The frustration is made worse by the game’s complete lack of content. The demo had 12 different levels but there are only 30 here – and they’re not even all that long (a quick count reveals they average around 5 to 10 minutes). On top of that, each level is randomly generated, so you can never expect an easy ride once you reach level 7 or 8 – every new shape will require a fresh start. There are three different types of shapes, but after playing for some time I found myself getting stuck on many of them as well. By the end, I was really struggling to find things to do with my time in Cubism, let alone enjoy it.
Cubism’s concept is great and it’s always fun to try out new puzzles, but the complete lack of content is a real problem. I understand that this is some sort of indie game and budgets aren’t infinite, but there has to be a better way than just giving players so little. Length and difficulty don’t necessarily go hand in hand – something like Portal makes for a great length with its challenging gameplay (and if you really hate one level then you can skip it), while games like The Witness includes hundreds of puzzles at once (also difficult as hell, but much more rewarding). And then there are those that offer an immense amount of levels without making them too hard; something like The Talos Principle comes to mind. Cubism should have gone for a similar approach.
What’s perhaps most frustrating is that there are actually a few mechanics I really wanted to see more of – this could have been so much better with just a bit more content and some tweaks here and there! Some levels feature smaller shapes (and several times I thought they were going to play like different sized pieces), while others include big gaps that made me think about how you might move around the space using several small blocks. I hate talking about potential, but Cubism really has it.
I’ll end my review by saying this: Cubism isn’t bad, and its concept is great – but there simply isn’t enough of it. Quality over quantity anyone?