Trying to nail down ZARVOT (A Game About Cubes, by the way) into a specific niche is, in an amusing way, a waste of time because it’s a perfect example of using a less by the book scholarly critical analysis and more of a “shut up and play it!” approach. While you can (and should) snap this up for the solid multiplayer modes, it’s worth the $19.99 alone for the brilliant Story mode and its blend of adventure and puzzle game elements, droll to laugh out loud humor and straight up surreal nature. It’s also a master class in game design as well as showing off the versatility of the Unity engine thanks to Sam Eng (@snowhydra), who put 4 years into making this great looking instant classic. Oh, and the soundtrack? yep, worth paying for as well.
In a nutshell, cube pals Mustard and Charcoal set out to put together the ultimate birthday present for their cube pal, Red, stuff goes wrong and needs to made right. There’s a lot of laser fire involved in this and saying anything more would ruin a hell of a lot of surprises. When you find yourself putting down a controller to either laugh at the absurdity of it all or pause to reflect on an emotional issue a character is facing (for cubes, insects and other assorted creatures, they’re quite… human, warts and all), you kind of get a better sense of game appreciation. I actually wish this were on a physical game card because it’s one of those keepers that might get lost in the well over 1200 games (and counting) filling up the eShop.
But I’m getting all scholarly and critical here, so let me stop that and dip into the fun stuff…
I love that the game doesn’t explain its controls at all other than a simple “pew pew” (the Y button) direction in the opening tutorial. You find out soon enough (sooner than you think) that the other buttons work and are indeed, very necessary to survive. B is jump (double jump on two taps), tapping A is a a dash move, pressing X is a close range spinning spike attack, holding X down charges up an area effect blast, and X+Y together shoots out a slow-moving shield. Later on, you get a skill that lets you bite off a bit of health from baddies, very handy when things get busy. The triggers emulate the face buttons, so if you prefer playing using those (or swapping between them), you’re well covered.
Enemies are somewhat (okay, extremely) persistent when they appear, certain attacks won’t work on certain enemies and there’s no difficulty setting, so you learn on the fly what works and what doesn’t. Eliminating enemies as quickly as possible not only nets you a better rating at a level’s end, it also keeps some of the tougher ones from pulling off powerful attacks that can have you replaying that last checkpoint or restarting a level should Charcoal get burned at the beginning of one. Maps average about 20 minutes each, but as with any game of this type if you’re more skilled, they’ll go by quicker, while if you’re less so, you’ll be playing longer.
There’s an arcade-like approach to the maps where you’ll enter an area, need to defeat whatever wants you caramelized and move onto either enclosed arenas or a boss battle. The story slides in between shooting stuff and again, it’s bizarre on many levels but remarkably well crafted and draws you in with how well it clicks. Of course, between fighting a giant banana to get a banana as a prize, an out of the blue but simple to play skateboard mini-game, Not so scary (but kinda scary) spiders and a digital metric ton of other goodness. That the game successfully balances all this and keeps you hooked in entirely through its dozen levels is somewhat spectacular.
Another reason to play Story mode is it’s the only way to locate the maps in the single player Arcade mode. The wave-based mode is pretty intense and a good way to practice up for multiplayer as well as improve your skills for Story mode’s tougher encounters. As for the Versus Mode, while online isn’t supported, if you’ve real-life friends and some extra Switch controllers (or Switch owning pals nearby), get together and have at it, please. I’m not a big MP guy, but wow, this was one of those times when it was easy to embrace the shooteminnaface style thanks to the cube characters and the game being so well balanced. Granted, you kind of have to give totally new players a crash course in the basics, but it works out well when someone who’s not a gamer picks up a controller and can rack up a few notches on that controller with a big grin plastered on their smug mug.
In short. if you haven’t already, drop what you’re doing unless you’re holding a cup of coffee (“JUST BREW IT INTO MY MOUTH!!!!”) and get this game. I’m actually sitting here listening to the soundtrack on my laptop as the game is paused on the final level because I kind of don’t want it to end. But it has to if only because I do need to get to other reviews and stuff like eating and napping (so important!). Still, I have to return because I’m missing some Arcade mode maps and want to see about getting better times and less deaths on some of the tougher levels. Good games do that, you know… the whole replay value thing?
Hey, at this point, I’d even go petition Nintendo to get Charcoal and/or Mustard into a Mario Kart or Smash Bros., but that’s kind of weird because I don’t really play either game these days. Nevertheless. more of these cubes and company would be a nice thing to see.
Score: A (95%)
-Review code provided by the publisher