Let’s… Sorta… Talk About Kurushi/Intelligent Qube

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Those of you out there who are fans of watching blank TV screens and pieces of black cardboard are going to have an absolute field day today because this game is brought to you today by the letters I and Q and by the colour black. And if you’re really into it in a non-kinkshaming-but-actually-sort-of-judging-you-on-this sexual way, then you’re going to orgasm throughout this game because the most prevalent colour in this game is jet black. AND A LOT OF IT.

Welcome to the mind-numbingly understated world of randomly generated puzzle games on the Playstation 1 because instead of keeping things simple with clones of Bust-A-Move or Tetris, we instead got the weird shit like Swing and Kula World and this, known to me as Kurushi in Europe, but known to Americans as Intelligent Qube. Because why not?

And gentlepeople of the interwebs, let me frank here and reiterate a point that I usually make about games. I like a bit of charm. I like a charming game that just has something unique and special about it. I like it when characters included have a personality that just makes me smile. I also quite like puzzle games.

It’s for that reason that I like Bust-A-Move because there’s bucketloads of charm to it.

This… does not have any charm at all.

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And this is essentially why.

A black void of nothingness holding aloft some sort of cuboid playing arena covered in cubes rolling down it… and you have to capture them all and not capture them and set some off… and… all of that. I’m really not selling this one very well.

BUT NEITHER DID THE GAME HO HO HO HO HO and indeed HO.

Although it did actually get a sequel so… there is that.

Let’s begin by explaining the concept of this game without trying to go too deeply into the fact that it’s basically a game that likes to tell you how thick you are at the end of it all.

Oh yes. We’ll get there. Or maybe we won’t because apparently my IQ is so shit that I might forget what I was talking about it.

Fuck you game.

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Kurushi/Intelligent Qube is a puzzle game whereby your little character (called Eliot in this instance) watches on helplessly as rows of cubes roll towards him in the vain attempt at trying to crush him. Moving about the screen, your character can set up a capture square to capture a cube as it rolls over it. Pressing the X button sets the trap and sets it off as well. In order to complete the section, you have to catch all of the neutral coloured cubes – neutral because the colour of the stages changes as you get further into the game. You will also have to capture all of the green bomb cubes but you have to leave the black ones be.

Should you capture or blow up a black cube, you will slice off a portion of the stage at the end, making the gaming area smaller and thus making the game harder because the rows continue onwards until they fall off the end.

If too many of the neutral or bomb blocks fall off the end, then you will start to fill up the gauge in the bottom right of the screen. When it’s filled, another slice of the gameboard falls off.

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And that’s it.

I say that’s it… because that IS it… but I suppose it’s a little more nuanced than that… I guess. It’s just a shame that the game doesn’t really do anything suitably exciting to make it feel like it’s actually more than it is. Or fun to play.

But that said, it’s not an awful puzzle game. It’s actually quite a clever little idea and it’s executed reasonably well. It’s simple enough and challenging enough to keep you interested… but just not for very long.

It is, unfortunately, insanely repetitive because all it is is catching cubes.

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The art of the good puzzle game is to make it feel as though not matter, try not to make your repetitive game mechanic feel as though it actually IS repetitive. Tetris is a perfect example because although essentially you’re doing the same thing over and over again, it’s so simple to get into and so easy to lose two hours just making lines. It’s not frustrating or unenjoyable. That’s what made that game the game it is and why this game is barely even remembered in the niche circles of PS1-era gaming. Even something like Bust-A-Move, which is cute and fun and charming but also the same thing over and over again, like most puzzle games are, but it’s not a chore. It feels like fun from the word go and really slams you in the face with its acres of fun.

And then we have Kurushi/Intelligent Qube.

Fuck it. It’s called Kurushi. I’m British. It’s called Kurushi. Fuck it.

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The game suffers from a multitude of problems in that as good an idea as it is, it’s made worse by the fact that it feels empty and joyless.

The graphical style in itself is neat and polished and does its job… but that’s actually part of the problem. It’s so lacking in anything that it has no spark, no personality. It leaves the player cold in that everything is just… cubes. And it’s in this empty space of blackness like the void is coming closer all of the time. It feels as though the core presentation is lacking somewhat. And it is a grand achievement to leave a player feeling cold playing a puzzle game. The whole nature of the style does not lend itself to a fun experience.

Granted… having any other backgrounds might take away your focus from the core game mechanics and that might have been a clever design choice all in all… but I’ve never left a puzzle game feeling as though everything was robotic and mechanical. The presentation has a futuristic feel to it, don’t get me wrong, and in some instances, that might work. Here, in a game trying to engage… it really, really doesn’t.

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And the fact that the game doesn’t really stretch itself with it’s graphics, graphical effects included because they are essentially light effect and nothing more than that, you would imagine the game has a great deal to offer you.

You would be very wrong. In fact, if you thought after reading the description of the gameplay that there was any other way of playing this game… like time attack or… mission modes… or… actually all of the other ways you could play any puzzle game, then… actually why AREN’T there any other modes in this game?

Seriously, the game itself features a total of eight stages, split into four sections. Working your way through the game itself, you gradually accrue a score and this, along with the number of blocks you capture, etc, contributes to your IQ score at the end of the game. If you lose early, your IQ score is woefully low. Like… 37 if you lose at the start of round 2 because you forget that the square button speeds everything up and you crush your character accidentally and ruin your game in one accidental press of it instead of the button X BUTTON WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU PUT IN THAT BUTTON, DEVELOPERS? YOU THINK YOU’RE HELPING AND YET, INSTEAD OF GETTING A PERFECT ROUND IF I’D HAVE PRESSED THE X BUTTON, I GET CRUSHED AND THE WHOLE GAME CRAPS ALL OVER ME BECAUSE I ACCIDENTALLY PRESSED A BUTTON.

“That totally sounds like your fault.”

FUCK YOU. THIS BUTTON SHOULD NOT EXIST.

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Getting to the end of a stage gives you extra points based on how many rows you have of the game field.

HOORAY.

POINTS.

BECAUSE I WANT POINTS.

Losing at any points brings you this dramatic scene…

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…of your character falling to his death into the void because there is NO WAY he is surviving that fall like that. Imagine the scene from the movie Cube – pun not intended – where one of the characters is basically dropped into nothingness.

That’s this moment.

Only… not. Because nothing happens here except the cold image of GAME OVER appearing and the VOID.

I failed with this analogy, OK. It isn’t terrifying. It’s just the non-dramatic end to a game that is actually made slightly more dramatic by the piercing scream of your character as they fall from their perch into nothingness…

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THERE HE GOES. Poor Eliot.

DEAD.

Possibly.

The one thing that gets me about Kurushi itself is on an atmospheric level… it is actually quite tense. There’s a definite feeling of fear as the game progresses through the levels. The sound in the game fits it perfectly to give it an eerie feel about it. There’s not much sound actually happening at all, which sorta… works. The sound effects fit perfectly, the way the cubes crunch across the field are spot on, whenever you pass a section without losing a block, you’re greeted with this cry of PERFECT and an angelic noises as a new row is added to your field… it just works. It doesn’t need any silly out of place music.

AND I AM LOOKING SQUARELY AT YOU, INTELLIGENT QUBE.

Oh yes. I have played both versions of this game and the music in the US version of this game sounds absolutely ridiculous. It’s not BAD MUSIC. It’s just out of place music. It is the type of non-atmospheric music this game DOESN’T need. It adds nothing to the game and if anything, it detracts rather inanely from the atmosphere. It turns a game that kept its form into something that felt like it wanted to be fun and jolly when it clearly wasn’t.

Kurushi did it better. Well done Kurushi.

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Not that any of this really matters in the grand scheme of things because the gameplay itself is where the game is supposed to shine. And unfortunately… this doesn’t really. It feels very wrong.

But it’s not a BAD game. If it was, I’d have slapped a NOT subtitle instead of a SORTA one. I suppose what makes it more of a SORTA title is that it actually does have something to it. It’s not as bad as perhaps I’ve made it sound. The one thing truly keeping it in that category is that it’s original. It’s such an unusual title and one that sorta springs a bit of a surprise on you initially, that you are taken aback by it. You are drawn into it to try and get your head around it. It’s not uninviting from the very off. Yes, the stylised menus and the cold, robotic feel to it do get on your nerves but on first impression, you’re getting an atmospheric feel, one that’s actually a little bit hypnotic. As you get deeper into it, that’s when things start to get a little bit lost. There are moments when you realise that it’s not actually… much of an experience.

But the initial feeling, if it lasts, is actually quite interesting and intriguing. You sort of wonder if there’s more to it.

Modern puzzle games do this “THROW EVERYTHING AT YOU GRADUALLY” thing where you’re told how to play and then they throw in a dozen different mechanics to try and lengthen the game out when in reality… it’s just as dull as all of the other clones of it *cough cough match 3 cough cough*

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So props for making something original.

And props for keeping it all reasonably simple.

But no props for not being able to make your game fun.

Maybe I ought to Kurushi your dreams a little bit mo- I’m sorry. I can’t even finish that.

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