Completionist Features Video Games

Completionist – Cubot: The Complexity of Simplicity

[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]

I know it hardly matters, but how complex can simplicity really be? Cubot’s subtitle seems to suggest the whole game is an answer to that question, but aren’t we talking about two extremes of the same spectrum here? Aren’t they mutually exclusive? If something’s simple then by definition in can’t be complex, can it? I know, I know – who cares? But Cubot gives off a weirdly pretentious vibe, and that subtitle’s a part of it. Another is the game’s fascination with quotes: every few levels it presents another puzzle-oriented little titbit as though it’s unfurling the Dead Sea Scrolls; like the very act of playing the game is somehow solving the great existential mysteries of life. I’m not convinced. It hardly helps that a handful of the quotes are attributed to Ernő Rubik. Is Rubik’s Cube really still being held aloft as a beacon of ingenuity? They come with instructions. A toddler could solve one.

So Cubot is a little full of itself, but it’s an independent game and that’s to be expected. Besides, a puzzler can get away with an awful lot as long as it’s puzzling enough, and Cubot manages to stretch its central premise across 80 quite compelling brainteasers. That premise is the rolling of coloured cubes onto the corresponding tiles of a free-floating white grid, the conceit being that the cubes can’t be moved individually – a nudge left, right, up or down affects every component of the puzzle at once. This is all fine and dandy when you only have to deal with one or two cubes, but it becomes a bigger ask as more varieties are introduced onto progressively more complex grids. At its most befuddling, Cubot tasks you with manipulating multiple cubes, each with varying behaviours, up and down elevators and through teleporters, all the while tracking your total number of moves – which, in a game like this, is essentially a numerical version of your self-worth.

Cubot is cheap, too, and I mean that literally. I can’t remember exactly how much I paid for it, but it was certainly less than a fiver, and on the Xbox One storefront that’s pretty much unheard of. It’s hard to argue with a price point so low, especially when you’re being offered almost a hundred puzzles for the price of a pint. It does, admittedly, take less time to get through them than you might think; it took me more than two hours but less than three, and many of the individual puzzles are only used to briefly introduce new varieties of cube or environmental wrinkles. Still, though. You can hardly complain about value for money.

That’s a point, actually. I suppose it depends on how you calculate “value”, especially considering this is ostensibly a series about meta-rewards. For many people who’re into that kind of thing, value is often interpreted as how quickly a game can be beaten, rather than the opposite. I often think that way myself, and I never know how to feel about it. As a critic, I know it’s dumb. As a player, one who knows how many potentially great games are out there that I haven’t had time to play yet? Seems smart enough. How much of a premium you place on your time will determine how you feel about Cubot’s length, but if you’re one of those shady types who isn’t above pulling up a text walkthrough and getting things done, you could get through the whole game in about an hour. So it seems complexity is simple enough after all.


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