App of the Day: Cubis Creatures

Heavenly creatures.

A recent block-pushing puzzle games I played was Catherine, which also happened to be a psychosexual horror drama about a man tempted by a lithe, young seductress. Curiously, it parsed its tutorial out over the duration of the game. You never gained new powers and the rules remained the same, yet plenty of techniques were so obtuse that a little guidance was appreciated for us lost little lambs.

Cubis Creatures is another game about shifting blocks, and though it's aimed at a much younger audience with fluffy characters that resemble cousins of the Viva Piņata cast, it offers less instruction than Catherine on how to best navigate its deceptively complicated systems. It starts off easy enough, but don't let that fool you. The challenge swiftly increases, and by the midpoint it becomes the equivalent of an abusive father pushing their offspring into a lake to teach them to swim.

The game opens with a cute little amateur magician accidentally lulling his animal friends to sleep. Your goal is to awaken them by solving block puzzles inside their mouths (naturally).

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It's like there's a party in my mouth.

Each puzzle transpires on a 7x7 grid shown from a fixed isometric perspective, ā la Q*bert. You're given one randomized block at a time that you must slide down a row of your choosing. The goal is to match three like-coloured pieces together, at which point they'll be converted into points and vanish. Completing a stage requires clearing a certain quota of blocks before the time runs out.

Higher scores are allotted for faster times and larger combos, but the more interesting goal is to vanquish a handful of hard to reach star blocks in every stage. These not only grant major score bonuses, but are used as currency to unlock more levels. Deciding whether to take your time arranging a way to access these or to launch a piece towards the first thing that matches its colour is never an easy decision.

Things get increasingly complicated when new block types are introduced. Cracked blocks get destroyed if you fire a piece into them, osmosis cubes change the colour of what they hit, and bombs rearrange the scenery. Understanding how each interaction will upset the puzzlescape can take a long time to learn, and an even longer time to master.

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Like Catherine, Cubis Creatures also involves what appear to be sheep. Coincidence? Probably.

Unfortunately, Cubis Creatures has one great flaw; much of the playing field can become obscured by stacks of blocks. This is unavoidable when pieces are surrounded on all sides, but it's frustrating that you can't rotate the camera to see the backside of the board. Some degree of luck comes with the territory in the genre -- like randomised pieces -- but this seems like something that could have been avoided.

Despite this foible, Cubis Creatures is still a lot of fun. Playing it, I felt a bit like the Sorcerer's Apprentice; in over my head and constantly making things worse. But unlike Mickey's misadventures with magic, I'd usually stumble into success, and maybe discover a new strategy along the way. For all its candy-coloured whimsy and saccharine sparkles, Cubis Creatures is a sadistic succubus. Maybe it's not so different than Catherine after all.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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