Kickle Cubicle (NES) review
"Suddenly, you run into an enemy and 'Game Over' plops onto the screen. Your carefully-groomed score is reset to nothing, and you continue to find yourself on the screen you just left. At this point, there are two potential reactions. The first is utter despair because all that hard work amounted to such a puny high score. The second is complete relief that you don't have to replay some of those earlier stages. Unfortunately, most every player is going to lean toward the latter."
Are you a bad enough dude to save the four palaces from the evil Wizard King? Somehow, that question doesn't pack the same punch as it would if the object being saved were, let's say... the President. But the question must be asked, and it must be answered. That answer comes in the form of Kickle Cubicle, a rather obscure game from Irem, the folks that brought us the R-Type series.
Before I talk directly about the game, though, I want you to imagine for a moment that you have the power to turn objects into blocks of ice. Let's say you're walking down the street and a flower looks at you funny, insults your mother. WHA-POW! You blow it and suddenly it's ice. Or maybe you're a girl, and your guy friend asks you to... nevermind. The important question is this: just what would you do with that magical power?
Well, a little guy named Kickle (dare we guess his father was a member of the prestigious Cubicle family?) has the special ability I mentioned above. And in Kickle Cubicle, he uses it to save the four palaces from the evil Wizard King, who has taken them all over just because he's that kind of guy. Of course, the quest to rid the palaces of their unwanted tenants is the stuff of legends. But is it fun?
Unfortunately, it's not.
When I first played Kickle Cubicle, I started grinning. Mostly, it was because the cartridge arrived with a bunch of others, and most of those really sucked. In comparison, Kicle Cubicle was a breath of fresh air. It has sharply drawn sprites that move around screens loaded with color and action while merry little tunes pipe out of the television's speakers. I played it for several hours, kept moving onto one level after another, and I told myself it was a great game. But then I turned it off and hadn't looked back to it until tonight. Now, with the intent of reviewing it, I decided to play through it again, but to pay attention to things. The first thing I realized is that I was bored stiff.
That's mostly because of the way the game plays. Its concept is both charmingly simple and mind-numbingly dull. As Kickle, you'll have to clear somewhere around twenty levels per world (of which there are a total of five), at which point you fight a boss before moving onto the next palace. Wash, rinse, repeat. While this may not seem so bad on paper, it turns out to make a rather crappy game after prolonged exposure. It's kind of like going to the beach for a tan, falling asleep, then waking to find you look like the lobster from The Little Mermaid. A little bit of anything is fine, but the gameplay here is far too repetitious for its own good.
Part of the problem is that each screen remains static for the entire time you scamper around it. Aside from boss battles, you'll be playing on tiny little islands, also inhabited by your enemies. These foes are spewed from little capsules, and you can never defeat them all because they just keep coming. And coming, and coming. Bumping into any of them will instantly cost our wimpy hero one of his lives, and if he loses all of them, his score resets!
I'll give you a moment to consider the horrific implications of this. Imagine that you've just racked up 150,000 points through the previous stages. Suddenly, you run into an enemy and 'Game Over' plops onto the screen. Your carefully-groomed score is reset to nothing, and you continue to find yourself on the screen you just left. At this point, there are two potential reactions. The first is utter despair because all that hard work amounted to such a puny high score. The second is complete relief that you don't have to replay some of those earlier stages. Unfortunately, most every player is going to lean toward the latter. High score means nothing, because all you're doing is going through the motions hoping you'll reach the next boss, or the game's closing credits.
Speaking of closing credits, you'll be hard-pressed to make it that far in the game. Let's assume that you don't tire of how tedious the game is. The early levels (which you can skip by way of magical password, if you sneak a peak at an Internet site that contains cheats and codes) eventually give way to truly irritating puzzles. Those puzzles are really the only reason to play, so let's take a look at how they work.
In this game, as you already know, there are numerous capsules that send out an endless stream of enemies. Since bumping them is bad, what do you do? Why, you use your icy breath, of course! Kickle moves quickly around the screen (much more quickly than his opponents), and when he nears one you can press the 'B' button to send out a wave of ice. Weaker enemies will turn to blocks of ice. You can then have Kickle walk up to the ice and kick it (also with the 'B' button). The block will then slide until it hits an obstacle. If that obstacle is water, it'll drop into the liquid and form a ledge Kickle and his enemies can cross. If it's a wall, it'll stay there and Kickle can then kick it in a different direction.
Often, the block slides completely off the screen and vanishes from sight. To avoid this, you'll need to have placed circular walls of ice by tapping the 'A' button. Stages are consistently designed in a fashion that forces you to run about placing walls and blowing enemies, so that you can grab the treasure bags. A level is cleared when you've grabbed every bag in sight, while your score receives a boost if you stop to pick up other things like popsicles. By now, my choice of words has hopefully made apparent the fact that I'm a pervert, and also that the game is very redundant. Though the developers do throw new obstacles at you as you proceed, things like springs (they bounce the blocks around and allow them to wipe you out on their rebound) and exploding enemies and such, none of these really make the game feel like it has variety. Instead, they up the challenge without making things any more fun.
Puzzle games are quite unique. For a title in the genre to succeed, it must be instantly engaging. Kickle Cubicle does succeed in that respect. However, think of those puzzle games you still play now, years later. Tetris. Dr. Mario. Klax. They are games that get any gamer's hands twitching for 'just one more round' because something deep lies beneath the shiny surface. Alas, Kickle Cubicle is no such game. It's the kind of title you don't 'play.' You survive it, the way you might a nasty bout with diarrhea. For a game that stars a hero with icy breath, Kickle Cubicle just isn't cool enough. Not by half.
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 28, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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