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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: October 28, 1998
Long forgotten in the recent flood of action and strategy games is the old-fashioned action puzzle game. Sure, there are a few 1998 releases in this genre, like GT Interactive’s Lode Runner 2 and Ambertec’s Pharaoh’s Ascent, but generally in the world of retail game releases puzzlers are nowhere to be found. Even excellent action-puzzle games from the last couple of years, such as Magnet Interactive’s Icebreaker and SegaSoft’s Lose Your Marbles, would have trouble seeing the light of day in retail outlets these days. Part of the explanation here is that they rarely need the fancy audio/visual bells-and-whistles that sell games in today’s competitive environment, and many do not even need the space a CD-ROM provides. They are by nature largely intellectual exercises, and although there are action elements, mental agility generally appears to be at least as important as quick reflexes.
In late 1996 Actual Entertainment, a small game company based in Sunnyvale, California, bucked that trend by releasing (through RandomSoft) a game called Gubble. Described as “the ultimate arcade action maze game,” you guided the basic character, the cute Gubble D. Gleep, around in a little space capsule through a series of intricate mazes picking up tools and removing screws, rivets, nuts, and nails. With a simple concept and colorful and challenging gameplay, the game was quite successful in terms of both reviews and sales. Many analysts were as surprised back then at its popularity as analysts more recently have been confounded by the success of Deer Hunter (not that the two games attracted similar audiences).
Quickly afterwards Gubble II began to take shape, with the primary innovation being to give the hero Gubble the opportunity to leave its pod and walk, run, jump, and fly using its own legs (the official explanation here is that it grew up to become a teenager). When I first heard about this innovation, I must admit that my first reaction was to scoff at it and say to myself “Oh no, this is just a gimmick that will not improve the gameplay very much at all.” Even after seeing an initial beta, I was still highly skeptical that this sequel would be anything more than a tired retread of the same ideas with little fresh excitement.
As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised; playing the full version has shown me that the new ambulatory abilities of the charismatic creature really do add a lot to the game. Moreover, I did not realize that Actual Entertainment was in the process of changing something else about the game that is perhaps even more significant: now many levels do not involve tools or items to remove as the primary objective, and instead provide more wide-ranging brain teasers that you have to resolve with your wits and dexterity. Gubble II has much more innovation and creativity then the original and requires much more ingenuity to succeed.
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