Sugar Cube: Bittersweet Factory review
The puzzle platformer is a genre that has a lot of room for innovation, and over the years we've seen some great titles like Braid, Where Is My Heart?, and most recently, Thomas Was Alone. These are just three names that stand out in my mind when I think about awesome indie puzzle platformers. Sugar Cube: Bittersweet Factory from developer Turtle Cream will never be remembered as one of the all-time greatest puzzlers, but it's certainly not without a few merits of its own.
You play as a terrified little cube of sugar that wants nothing more than to escape the clutches of the factory that will turn him into a cookie, gum, soda, or other tasty treat. The little guy wants freedom, so he sets out on his journey to escape the factory. The plot in Sugar Cube isn't very deep or important; it's just there, and it's accompanied by some weird cutscenes with charmingly odd text.
Grids fill up the screen in each of the levels. It's up to you to guide the sugary protagonist from the start of a level to the far-off goal. Platforms, springs, and other elements are hidden within every level, and by passing by or around them, you can reveal the hidden path. In order to reach the goal, you have to flip tiles to open up platforms and other paths. Sugar Cube can get tricky, and it does a good job of providing an ample challenge.
You collect different abilities as you travel through the game's five worlds. These abilities are specific to certain levels, and they require you to approach the puzzles in different ways. For example, one power-up turns our cubed star into a superhero of sorts. While donning this costume, he can "flip" the level and reveal platforms and paths that weren't open before. There's also a pick-up that lets you flip tiles that are above, below, or in front of you. It can get a bit confusing, but with a little trial and error, you should be able to tackle the game's more confusing puzzles.
Speaking of trial and error, Sugar Cube is saturated in it just like a bag of obscenely sweet candy. Oftentimes, you don't know exactly how to progress through a level, and it's very easy to send the walking sugar cube into the abyss. If you pass through a platform you already opened up, you'll cover it up once more. It can get frustrating having to deal with the finicky tile-flipping mechanics because you end up failing often. You have the option to hold down the Shift key to refrain from flipping grids, but it's easy to forget about that when you're just trying to get to the goal.
I wish this setback was only a minor flaw, but it's not. It plagues a lot of the experience, and Sugar Cube suffers for it greatly. As you get further into the game, you'll discover more unpleasant quirks. Sometimes, having the ability to flip tiles below you ends up costing you because you flip all the platforms underneath you, which means you eventually have nothing to land on. Additionally, several levels require precise timing to get past an obstacle, enemy, or boss. This is especially annoying when levels require you to do that multiple times, because even if you get past that first baddie, you might accidentally touch another one afterward just because you mistimed a jump by one-tenth of second.
Sugar Cube's presentation is a mix of pleasant color and bland sound. The levels have a cutesy appeal to them that's kind of nice to look at. Nothing will blow you away, and the game could have definitely featured a bit more inherent charm, but it still looks pretty good. The music, however, is a miss for the most part. None of the themes in Sugar Cube are remotely memorable, and because there's one track per world, you can expect to hear the same songs for long periods of time.
If you're looking for a fun little puzzle platformer, Sugar Cube definitely has what it takes to satisfy your desire, all the while making you want to snack on some chocolate chip cookies. The game is priced at $5, so it's affordable, and it will last you an evening or two, depending on whether you get a bit bored of it. Ultimately, Sugar Cube provides a few hours of entertainment coupled with frustration. This isn't a game that people will talk about for years to come, but it does a good job of challenging, satisfying, and even annoying players.
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