Man, we get to play through a hell of a lot of puzzlers these days. Indie developers have done a great job of taking up the mantle as kings of the brain-busting puzzlers, with an abundance of them hitting digital game markets on a regular basis. We’re genuinely spoilt for choice, but it comes at the price of some potential hits slipping under the radar.
It nearly happened to me with KYUB, Ninja Egg’s cube based puzzler. It could have easily escaped my attention if it wasn’t for me catching a glimpse at its bright colours and intriguing gameplay on one of its trailers. I’m glad I got to try it out – KYUB is a delightful, albeit challenging, puzzler.
In many ways, KYUB reminded me of Kula World on the original Playstation. Sure, you’re guiding a cube as opposed to a beach ball and KYUB has more intricate gameplay mechanics, but the familiarity between the two certainly drew me to the game.
The main objective of KYUB is to guide a small cube from point A to point B. Of course, it isn’t as simple of that – there are a plethora of hazards and tricky puzzles blocking your progress.
Your cube moves exactly how you’d expect it to – it rolls in all four directions, controlled simply with the d-pad (which I’d recommend) or the left analogue stick. You can then control camera movement with the right stick, though the camera controls can actually feel a little clumsy thanks to the isometric viewpoint. Sure, looking from above does let you see exactly what’s ahead of you and from multiple angles too, but the way that each direction changes its corresponding button on the d-pad with camera movement could feel incredibly awkward. KYUB depends heavily on quick reactions and given the hazardous nature of each level you’ll often end up accidently manoeuvring into a laser or off the edge of the map each time you move the camera.
You’ll work through a wide range of levels in varying shapes and sizes. I was constantly impressed with how long levels would go on for; you’d think that you’d be close to reaching your goal only to have to work down a few more tiers of a level and into a whole new crash-course of cubic destruction. There’s so much working against you in each level too with a ton of hazards, puzzles and pitfalls blocking your path. Thankfully, everything is a treat to work through.
You’ll certainly die a lot though. KYUB isn’t easy with your cube’s life at constant risk thanks to all the bombs, lasers, spikes and deadly falls that’ll keep you on your toes. Nothing ever feels unfair though with the game clearly showing everything ahead of you, and even when something does come as a surprise you always have enough time to quickly react to each danger.
KYUB’s difficulty isn’t overbearing, with each hazard or puzzle easily worked through with a bit of calculated thought. There’s nothing outright frustrating, even if you do find yourself wanting to launch your controller at the wall with each failure. It’s always your own fault… well, except for the camera controls… so you’ll never find yourself hating on KYUB’s difficulty.
Thankfully, the checkpoint system of the game is really generous with numerous locations to revert to when you die. There’s certainly a lot of trial and error to be found in KYUB, so the fact you’re never sent too far back in a level keeps the gameplay from feeling daunting.
Whenever you finish a level you’ll get a rating based upon your performance – it factors in moves taken, time taken, the amount of deaths you suffered, as well as how many collectables you found. Whilst it’s tricky to get the highest rankings on a first attempt, I couldn’t help but to constantly retry levels in order to get those high scores. Naturally levels are easier on your second (or third… or fourth… or fifth…) attempt, so you’ll have the confidence and knowledge to do better than before. It’s actually really satisfying to hit those high marks though and certainly added a lot of replay value to the game.
Still, the further you get through the game the more brutal each level becomes. KYUB certainly has some incredibly difficult levels towards the back end of the game, so you’ll typically be satisfied with simply beating a stage and settling for whatever score you receive. It’s not a bad thing by any means, and beating the more difficult challenges is certainly incredibly satisfying. You’ll just lose the will to hit those high scores, unless you’re a sadist and a sucker for punishment.
Visually KYUB looks fantastic, with a block-like world made up of a plethora of bright and vibrant colours. Whilst the game does keep things simple, it’s absolutely oozing to the brim with charm – it really is a pleasant world to venture through.
Backgrounds aren’t sparse for detail either, with a wide assortment of colours, small islands and busy NPCs making sure that the world feels alive. It really looks great, adding a somewhat happy feel to the often arduous levels.
Speaking of levels, it’ll take you a long time to work through everything KYUB has to offer, with over eighty levels to conquer throughout the game. They’re spread across four worlds which are each represented by a different season, offering a different aesthetic style to keep things look varied.
It’s easy for indie puzzlers to get lost in the over-populated crowd, but KYUB manages to stand out with its vibrant style and simple yet clever gameplay dynamics. It never felt like a chore to play the game and despite the tricky difficulty, moments of frustration were typically aimed at my own wrong doings as opposed to the games.
The dodgy camera controls can be a pain and I’m sure some gamers won’t enjoy the tricky difficulty spikes, but puzzle fans that enjoy a decent challenge will get a lot of joy out of KYUB.
Developer: Ninja Egg
Publisher: Ninja Egg
Release Date: 13/07/2016
Format(s): Xbox One