Platform: PC, Mac, Linux | Available: Feb 14, 2014
“Fill your heart with joy; and leave the world a more colorful place than when you entered it”
Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love by two-person indie development team Doppler Interactive is a great many things. It is simple, mysterious, relaxing, thought-provoking, and compelling. However it is also quite difficult to describe and doesn’t easily fit into any established genre. I would even go so far as to say it defies many of the traditional definitions of a what a game should be. Perhaps a better description would be to call Cube & Star an ‘intriguing open world’—a sandbox to explore, interact with, and leave your mark upon.
At first glance Cube & Star is somewhat confusing. Where most games give you a clear set of obstacles and goals, here you are mostly free to work out the purpose of the game—if indeed there is one—for yourself. This ambiguity however, is arguably Cube & Star’s greatest strength. It is a game that urges you to explore and carefully consider your purpose and goals, both within—and outside of—the game.
Paint the World
You enter a grey world as a grey cube with nothing but the words of an older cube to guide you. “Fill your heart with joy; and leave the world a more colorful place than when you entered it”. They are certainly wise words, and as you’ll soon discover, they make up the core goal of Cube & Star.
After this brief introduction, you’ll start bouncing and rolling (can a cube roll?) your way across a large spherical world. As in the real world, if you head off in one direction for long enough you will eventually come back to your original spot. On your journey you will come across trees that can be bumped into, causing them to drop various colored fruit. After a few bumps the tree will be depleted and destroyed. By consuming the fruit, your cube changes color and everything you touch in turn becomes colorful. Eventually you will run out of color and need to replenish your energy by consuming more fruit. It is exciting and strangely addictive to roll around turning the once drab world into an increasingly more beautiful place.
Though you can make a big impact on the world of Cube & Star, you are certainly not alone in this ability. Other strange and wonderful creatures populate the world and go about their business of gathering fruit, coloring the world, and toiling to collect various items. There are even creatures that seem to ‘undo’ your work, turning colored areas grey. It is at this point that the player starts to consider their own place in the world. Does my own existence make the world a brighter place? Am I just a ‘grey cube’ rolling around making no impact? Or even worse, am I actively making the world a darker place, ruining others good deeds? The relaxed pace of Cube & Star allows for a lot of soul searching, and it is here that the game truly succeeds.
Pause and Reflect
The fact that the game causes players to question their motives and value is no mere coincidence. There are many carefully placed opportunities for reflection. One great example is the treatment of collectibles within the game. Players can collect stars, money, gems, and other various items, though as far as I could tell there was no way to spend them. Regardless, I would always go out of my way to collect them, just like the other creatures inhabiting the world. Collecting shiny—yet ultimately worthless—items encourages players to reflect on the similarities between the game world and our often mindless consumer culture. This is reinforced with clever writing. When you collect a coin you might get a message like “somehow your existence feels more… important. More… weighty”.
There is recurring theme of emergence in Cube & Star. On the surface the game seems very simple. Grass grows, rain falls, creatures go about their business. But it is the way that all of the small details interact with each other that gives the world a life of it’s own. Just by existing in this world the player will feel countless different emotions and no two players will have the same experience or find the same meaning. Sometimes I’d feel relaxed as I sat in the long grass watching the rain. Other times I’d feel jealous of creatures that stole an item before I could reach it. Often I’d even feel concerned about my environmental impact, questioning whether I really needed to destroy a whole tree when one piece of fruit was enough. There is no penalty for stomping grass and felling trees, though for some reason I didn’t want to—the polar opposite to games like The Legend of Zelda where you will cut every last blade of grass in order to get rich.
Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love has received a number of honors including the title of Intel LevelUp 2013’s Best “Other” Game and Indiecade 2013 Finalist. The game is available now on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux at a discounted price of just $7.99 (20% off) until February 22nd. To see a video of the game in action or for more information on Cube & Star visit the game’s website.
Cube & Star is a very different beast to Doppler Interactive’s excellent 2012 mobile game Ball of Woe. While both share a cute, colorful world that belie their deep philosophical themes, Ball of Woe felt much more ‘gamey’ for lack of a better word. It made you think, but it also had high scores to beat and items to purchase with in-game currency. Cube & Star feels more experimental and open, with loose objectives but no real rules. The greatest thing about Cube & Star is that it acts as a metaphor for life and the human condition. In so many games you simply slip into a role without questioning your motivations or actions. Call of Duty doesn’t make you ask yourself why you are shooting hundreds of enemy soldiers. Super Mario games don’t make you question the value of a goomba’s life. There are many games which are more ‘fun’ than Cube & Star, though very few are more thought-provoking. It is certainly not for everyone, but if you are looking for a deep experience, Cube & Star is a must-play title.
- Beautiful and thought-provoking
- Addictive once you get going
- A huge achievement for such a small indie developer
- Relaxed pace won’t be for everyone
- Structure and goals are mostly left up to the player