Review: Sugar Cube: Bittersweet Factory
A lot of indie developers torpedo their platformer by making it too hard, but making a game too easy can ruin it as well. There’s nothing wrong with easy games on their own, they just need something more to keep players hooked since the challenge isn’t going to be carrying the weight. Sugar Cube definitely tries with its mix of clever puzzle mechanics, but never really puts forth anything to keep you playing. And considering you can clear the whole thing out in an hour, it’s really hard to suggest it for more than just an afternoon diversion.
You play a suspendered little sugar cube man intent on escaping the candy factory before being processed into something edible. This means platforming through 90 screens of blocks, traps, and switches to reach freedom. There’s a very standard assortment of spikes, springs, conveyors, and monsters to make your way around, split across five areas which keep mechanics compartmentalized. At the end of each area is a boss that you don’t fight, you just skirt past to get to the exit. It’s exactly what you do in every level, get to the exit, only with a bigger monster.
All of this is old hat for the puzzle platform genre, so to sweeten the deal the developers added a flipping mechanic. Every level is set against a grid of tiles which your cube guy flips as he passes. Flipping tiles can reveal new platforms, new switches, new spikes, or disappear any of them. This puts an extra layer of strategy over every move you make, because you might only get one shot at a platform before you flip it away. Levels take advantage of this with platforms to ascend with sequential flipping or mazes of solid blocks to flip paths through. Later into the game you’ll also find items that let you flip the entire level at once.
It’s a clever twist, but not one used to the fullest. A lot of levels simply come down to jumping on platforms in the right order or finding the one section of wall you can flip open to pass. Each screen is small enough that the solution is pretty obvious simply for lack of options in the space provided. There’s also a button you can hold to NOT flip tiles you pass, which shuts down a huge number of threats you could present via flipping. Honestly a lot of levels can be waltzed through in seconds if you just remember that button exists. There are no puzzles here that I would consider brain-bending at all, and even the special collectibles (few that there are) are trivial to pick up on your way to the solution.
I’m a sucker for cute games and Sugar Cube is definitely adorable, but the art style is basic in a way I don’t really appreciate. It’s all plain shapes with no details or shading which makes it look like a cheap Flash game, and the noticeable lack of animation frames on everything doesn’t help in the least. There are some pretty glaring technical issues as well, like cutscenes not playing in fullscreen and the game straight-up crashing if you alt-tab away. If you bother to stick with this one it’ll only last you an hour or so anyway, so between the lack of challenge and the rough edges, I don’t see much reason to sample this little morsel.