Gaming has a long tradition of titles involving blocks. On the Atari 2600, you broke blocks in Breakout. On the Nintendo Entertainment System, you punched them or jumped on them in Super Mario Bros. But most memorably, on the Game Boy, you rotated and arranged them in Tetris. And in 2016, we have what we’d like to declare as one of the next great block games in SUPERHYPERCUBE.
Developed by Kokoromi, a Montreal-based indie developer, and published by Polytron (of Fez fame,) the gameplay of SUPERHYPERCUBE is quite simple. You are floating through a space with a single cube. You come to a wall with a hole in the shape of that block. When you pass through the hole, additional cubes are added to the block, making the shape different. Can you turn and rotate the block into the proper configuration in the handful of seconds you have before you come to the next wall? If you don’t, the first time, you will just smash through the hole, pieces falling off your block. The second time this happens, game over. By the way, every 10 walls is a boss wall to finish out a stage.
These walls will rotate 90 or 180 degrees every now and then. Later stages, the boss walls will flip upside down or do other things that you might not expect.
A game like this becomes all about the points, with you accumulating bonuses if you rotate your block only a few times before it gets to the hole, or if you press the boost button and get your block to the hole in the wall quickly. As your block gets larger and larger, you score more and more points for each wall you pass through. When you hit 1000 points, you gain a heart, an additional time your block can smash through a hole in the wrong orientation and survive it. A second heart comes at 10,000 points.
Beyond extra hearts, you have powers to aid you, if you can survive long enough. As you pass through each wall, you have a little meter that fills up. After 10 walls, you gain the one-time use of a Focus, where you can slow down time, giving you additional seconds to get your block in the right orientation for the coming wall.
If you don’t use that Focus, not only will you get bonus points when you pass through a boss wall, but you will also start filling a second meter for Smash, which just instantly destroys the coming wall. If use Smash, both meters are emptied. If you use a Focus while both are full, only the Smash meter empties and you will have another Focus ready to go.
SUPERHYPERCUBE‘s graphics are simple, but luminous. You have line art that are thick, glowing lines, almost like the neon signs in bar windows. There is a glow about everything, light blooming effects, and a good sense of speed as you fly through space. The interface is made of orange light, the backgrounds of many hues, creating a psychedelic feel. With each stage of ten walls the background shifts, the thumping music changes, and the experience feels that much more frenetic.
The game’s use of virtual reality is a mixed bag. The sense of speed soaring through the three-dimensional space and the visceral feel of the 3D blocks and the wall rushing toward you all add to the kinetic feel of the game no doubt. But you only ever fly forward and you never need to look to your sides or behind you. More successful however is the use of the head-based positional tracking to change your position.
This is on display when your block is in the near center of your view and the coming hole in the wall is in the distant center, and so you have to lean to the side to actually see the hole. And after you look at the exact shape you need to pass through, you then glance at your block from that diagonal angle, granting you the chance to even swing to the other side to see the other diagonal angle, all in the precious few moments you have. It keeps you on your toes.
Playing this first-person puzzle block game is a simple one, but thrilling. And the drive to see the next stage, to score higher, to control ever larger blocks keeps you coming back. It’s a level of addiction-to-simplicity ratio that approaches the perfection of Tetris when at its best. And a game with fun and approachable gameplay is the kind that leaves a mark, or at the very least, helps cement to console players that virtual reality can bring new experiences to your home.
Yet SUPERHYPERCUBE is not a perfect game. It is fun to get farther, to look at Leaderboards to see how you compare to your friends playing the game or the rest of the world’s players dashing toward walls. But…that’s pretty much it. You do the same thing, over and over, in an attempt to get better and that frankly may not be enough for some people. But I can quickly see this evolving into the type of game I’d play once or twice a day or even just once a week to get a quick fix. There aren’t any modes beyond the basic game. There is no multiplayer component.
Nut maybe, just maybe, a game this elegant and simple can stand without these things. Your mileage may vary.