Cube and Star – What We Think:
From development studio Doppler Interactive, Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love can be best described as part sandbox, part collect-athon; a wildly unique experience that is also relaxing, enigmatic and yet surprisingly simple.
“Fill your heart with joy. Do no harm. And leave the world a more colorful place than when you entered it.” This advice is given to you when you start the game by an Ancient Cube. Playing as a Cube yourself, it’s the only direction you are given from the get-go.
Joy To The World
From then on the game opens up, giving you freedom to do what you will in the world. There is no hand-holding whatsoever and for this game it works in its favor. Though early on this sense of mystery may have you feeling a little lost, you’ll soon figure stuff out, learning about the world by using one of the medium’s most powerful aspects: exploration.
It’s refreshing to see a game rely on exploration more than step by step instructions on how to complete a certain task. Vague tasks will show up in the game’s menu, like “Bring a little color to the world,” which is purposefully vague, but you eventually figure out how to do it by exploring, thus learning the game’s mechanics.
With the exception of gems and special abilities, everything can be discovered by coloring the land, which is as easy as walking on it when you’ve acquired ink. Ink is exhaustible and can be picked up by destroying trees. Hidden objects will appear once the area of the land the hidden object was under is colored.
Hoarder: The Special Collector’s Edition
There are a whopping 466 collectibles to find in the game. Ranging from Journal Entries to gems, these collectibles are scattered everywhere in the game’s large map. The maps often felt too large, however, as there was not enough architecture to make areas feel distinct, or enough intrigue to make the world a compelling place to explore.
Cube & Star is a sandbox that can be colored in any way you please. It’s a neat concept, but it never really goes beyond coloring the land and finding collectibles. There are special abilities you find which are named Joy, Passion, Fire and Logic. Activating these – with the exception of Fire – help you color the world faster and with greater ease. These special abilities also add simple architecture based on the color.
Everyone A Grain of Sand in an Hourglass
And that’s really all you can do in the game – there are other cubes you can interact with, along with animals, but they never really have anything particularly interesting to say. I appreciated the fact that it was a slow-paced, relaxing game, but wished it could have been more expansive in terms of player agency.
The narrative in this game takes a back seat: You will find journal entries scattered around the world that detail the Ancient Cube’s back story and the history of the other inhabitants of the world known as the Tiny Things.
Epic, I Guess…
Learning about the Tiny Things is fairly uninteresting even with a language you must decipher in order to learn about their history. The Ancient Cube has a somewhat interesting origin story that I felt could have been expanded upon and better interwoven with the game, instead it’s completely optional, accessible via the game’s menus and only there should you be curious to engage it.
The design’s colors are vibrant and varied and the game looks great as it cycles through day and night. Areas will be dark and rainy when not colored and the music smoothly transitions to a sadder version of the main theme in kind. It’s a nice touch since it helps you discover uncolored locations when you hear the sadder version. Although only one song plays throughout the entire game, it’s a soothing, unobtrusive ambient treatment. I would often lose myself in the game, entranced by the gentle underscore, and coloring the world felt more seductive because of the music.
The controls are responsive and simplistic. It never feels frustrating or difficult to maneuver around the world. Although you move rather slowly, I feel it makes the game more contemplative. It’s not about coloring the world as quickly as possible, but rather tuned to mellow examination.
Fill Someone’s Bucket
Cube and Star: An Arbitrary Love feels like a metaphor for life; particularly in the manner in which you can spread things like Joy, Passion into the world, or destroy it. Coloring the world, bringing to life what was once dark and grey by touching the it, is a nice message that I think gets a little lost along the way, however. The world hardly reacts to you, which in a way can be seen as another metaphor, but it’s a shame to see the mechanics not strengthen or compliment the game’s predominant vibe.
Maybe it would have been too cliché and not so ambiguous, maybe it would have made the game feel too preachy; but what is here seems like a wasted opportunity which I felt could have been executed better. It’s definitely a strange game that leaves a lot for player interpretation.
Second Star to the Right
Those looking for a laidback experience with tons of collectibles and plenty of playtime may want to consider giving Cube & Star a shot. As the title suggests, your goals are often arbitrary – going around coloring the world the way you want to is enjoyable enough, and sometimes that’s all you want from a game – and though it is not ultimately as deep or particularly compelling an experience as I expected, it does offer a fairly novel gaming approach in which to lose yourself for a while.