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Review by: Matthew Dujnic
Published: June 19, 2002
Ever since Tetris, the world has been besieged by falling blocks, and only our dedicated puzzle game addicts have been able to keep us safe. Along those lines, Acclaim proudly brings us PuzzleKings’ ZooCube, the first puzzler for the GameCube. The gameplay features a three-dimensional playfield and a literal menagerie of colorful cascading geometry. ZooCube was created exclusively for Nintendo hardware, so cubists are getting a puzzle title to call their own. Sure enough, it is a console exclusive, but is it something that cubists will be proud to play?
Unlike most puzzle games, ZooCube has a story, and it’s a noggin-scratcher. A mad scientist named Dr. Buc Ooze has hatched an evil plot. The doctor is using his research to twist the world’s animals into unnatural shapes. You read that right: There apparently isn’t any larger purpose to this mass animal contortion; it’s being done for its own sake. Very Zen, as evil plots go. Of course, word is out about Ooze’s hideous hobby, and with many of the world’s animals on the brink of extinction, a plan was hatched to save them. Work begins on the ZooCube, a machine designed to reverse Ooze’s shaping process by matching pairs of animals together and transporting them to safety.
While the plot is off the wall, the gameplay is actually very straightforward. The ZooCube floats in the center of the screen and animal shapes fall toward the cube from different directions. If you have a matching shape already attached to one side of the cube, you use the two analog sticks to rotate the cube, aligning it with the falling one. Matched shapes free the contorted animal, removing it from the playfield. In addition to cube rotation, you can also shuffle the shapes you have stacked up. This is useful to “bubble” a matching piece to the edge. By stacking animals on purpose, you can prepare high-scoring combos, but don’t let the stacks get too tall, or it’s all over. On early levels, it is very easy to keep up with the stream of shapes. They only appear from three directions, so performing the catch and match gameplay is a calm process. As the level numbers increase, the pieces fall faster, there are more types of animals to deal with, and eventually shapes approach your cube from all six sides.
It might sound complicated, but after a quick swing through the tutorial, everything is clear. That’s the hook for any great puzzle game — rope them in with a simple concept and then get them addicted to the details. As you chug through animal shapes two-by-two, enjoying the sights and sounds resulting from each match, you’ll start to notice other things. Every shape brings with it a small item. When you catch the shape, the item is suspended above your cube for a few seconds. Maneuvering a stack into the item will collect it. Such items include point bonuses, power-ups for faster cube movement, and many different types of bombs. Some bombs destroy one piece, some two, three, four, or five. Some blast the piece below, others the piece above. Beginners will ignore these extras, settling on acquiring them by chance, but an expert eye will learn how to plan for their precise use.
Foiling Dr. Ooze’s plan need not be a lonely affair. ZooCube also offers simultaneity for two to four players, with either a competitive or cooperative mode. Cooperative mode has you handle the usual crop of animals, but there are also certain pieces that you must deliver to your partners so that they can clear their cubes. Pieces are passed by shuffling them out of your own stack. If head-to-head is your bag, then you can send bombs, blockers, and other hazards to your opponent to stymie their animal-saving efforts. Regardless of the number of players, the scoring system, item awards, and the obligatory “next piece” views offer an immense, overwhelming amount of in-game information. On top of that, you can play normally, or blind. In blind mode, all of the shapes are devoid of color, making them much harder to tell apart. Beginners will focus on matching the shapes in the slow, early levels. Experts will dive into the 30-animal, six-way chaos of the Pacific Ocean, calculating shape order, setting up combos, using smart bombs, and grabbing items. As in any puzzle game, cool hands, sharp organizational skills, and quick eyes are rewarded at the highest levels, but ZooCube was designed to satisfy players of every ability.
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