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ZooCube

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  PuzzleKings
Publisher:  Acclaim
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Puzzle
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  8-27-02

If nothing else credit must be given to developer PuzzleKings for creating a wholly unique puzzle game, which is quite a rarity in this day and age of countless Tetris clones. They had a great idea for a different kind of puzzle game, and created it. Unfortunately, the actual finished product doesn't quite measure up to the promise of the unique concept.

Gameplay is simple: in the center of the screen is a cube (six sides), and it’s the player’s job to control it. Random animal shapes will fall towards the cube from all sides with the objective being to match up two of the same kind of animal on a side. Get two of the same animal in a row and they’ll disappear, but stack up one side of the cube higher than five animals and it’s game over. The cube can be rotated with both analog sticks, which once adjusted to allows the skilled player to rotate the cube to any side they please almost instantly. Like Tetris the pieces can be sped up for additional points, and once they’re "locked in" they’ll move with that side no matter where it’s turned to. The result is a frantic gaming experience that requires the player to be mindful of all six sides at once.

That’s the core of it really, but it’s a bit deeper than that. A number of power-ups can be gained both by balancing all six sides of the cube (ex: two animals on each side) and accelerating the descent of different animal shapes. These range from things that simply award more points to items that help clear animals off the cube. Also, the different animals stacked up on one side of your cube can be switched out with others below. So if an alligator is falling towards a side with another alligator two places down, the player can rotate the alligator up to make a match.

In the end the gameplay in ZooCube is a nice change of pace from the hundreds of Tetris clones out there and a welcome bit of variety in the genre, but it lacks the addictive quality every puzzle game so desperately needs. It’s too complex to be a mindless pick up and play title, but not really deep enough to challenge and reward advanced players.

The graphics are a disappointment. While the different animal pieces are animated nicely and the game features some very rich colors, the backgrounds are a disappointment. Only the basic of graphic features (a little light-sourcing here, some reflection there, etc.) are featured in the backgrounds, and they're extremely static with only some basic animation. The movie clips that tell the story look good enough, but they're pretty generic and don’t really give ZooCube a distinct "personality". Given that there's not a lot going on here as it is, the overall bland look of this game is a disappointment.

Soundwise, everything is just average. There's music here and it sounds OK, but it doesn't stand out. Just good accompaniment to the gameplay and nothing more. The different animals all sound just as they should, but it's not going to impress the player or anything.

Highs:

  • Unique take on the puzzle genre.
  • The animal animations and FMVs are clearly aimed at younger gamers, and do a good job at appealing to that demographic.

Lows:

  • Just doesn't have that special "something" that makes it as addictive as Tetris.
  • The graphics could've been so much better.

Final Verdict:

Thanks to the horribleness of Tetris Worlds, ZooCube is currently the best pure puzzle game on the GameCube (unless you count Super Monkey Ball). It doesn't set a new standard in the genre or anything, but hopefully it'll push more puzzle game developers to try new ideas.  Worth a shot if you're a big fan of the genre.

Overall Score: 6.3

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