Ports, ports and ports. If there is one thing that has cheesed me off with the release of the GameCube it is the amount of ports that have arrived on the machine. Quite a large percentage of the games that were available at launch were already released on the Playstation 2 or XBOX. Of course if you didn't own another console then this isn't a bad thing but for those who already had another 'modern' console, and owned some of these ported titles, then it seriously cut down the choice of games. Out of the original titles that were available, and indeed still are available, the choice or indeed variation was not great. Luigi's Mansion stood out because it wasn't a Mario title and although it was a good game it was far too short. One genre that wasn't even represented was the puzzle genre. Finally thanks to PuzzleKings that is about to be put right.
Puzzle games have to get the balance right more so than most of the other genres. They have to play in the same manner as you would learn to juggle. When learning to juggle you start off with one item, let's say a ball, this is all too easy so you then add a second ball, which is still not too bad. Initially three balls seem too hard to juggle but after a while you manage it and so on. Puzzle games have to start very easy and carefully ramp up the difficulty. If the difficulty increases too quickly the game will fail. If the difficulty increase is too slow it gets boring but just right and you have one heck of an addictive experience like Tetris etc. Anyway enough waffle let's look at the game.
The basic objective of ZooCube is to save the animals. Dr. Buc Ooze has conducted some evil experiments on the world's animals and transformed them into misshapen forms. To reverse Ooze's hideous experiments, the ZooCube was created. A carrier ship, the Ark, was created to transport the animals to safety. You have been assigned to fly the Ark and use the ZooCube to reverse these atrocities and bring the animals back safely to rehabilitate.
The game's action takes part over seven seas and each of the seas has a different difficulty setting. There's the China Sea (novice), Indian Ocean (easy), Arabian Sea (Medium), Mediterranean Sea (Hard, Arctic Ocean (Wild), Atlantic Ocean (Crazy), Pacific Ocean (Mad). All the game asks of you is to control a cube, which is fully rotational, and capture the animal shapes, which come from different directions but always head toward the cube, onto the face of the cube. When you pair up two of the same shapes the animal will be saved and the shapes will disappear off your cube. Initially, on the China Sea level, this is straight forward as the shapes only come at you one at a time but as the difficulty progresses you can have animal shapes coming at you from all directions. Once you get a stack of five animal shapes on one face of the cube, it's game over.
Of course this doesn't sound too brilliant and it's the little, additional things that you can do which gives the game its addictiveness. There are smart bombs that can destroy all the shapes on the face of the cube, it doesn't save the animals but it can help clear an unwanted stack of animal shapes should things get too hectic. You can also rotate your stack of animal shapes both up and down. If two of the same shapes touch whilst stacking then that animal is saved. The trick with rotating your stack is that all stacks rotate at the same time and as the difficulty increases this becomes fiendishly difficult and relies on quick thinking to make sure you don't harm multiple stacks by easing the congestion on one of them. You gain points by saving animals (points are the ultimate measure of your success in ZooCube) and the point totals can be increased in a couple of ways. As a shape floats toward the cube you can accelerate the movement by pressing the A button and this will double the points earned. Another way to increase points is to balance the cube. If you get an animal shape on each face of the cube you are told the cube is balanced and you get an extra 1,000 points for doing so. There are many, many more ways to increase points as well as bonus items, bomb varieties and additional power ups and other game modifiers that serve to give ZooCube its indescribable appeal.
There are four basic gameplay modes. There is classic mode in which you attempt to collect the animals from the seven seas. Excellent performance in classic mode will allow access to very lucrative bonus point rounds. To begin with there are only the first three seas available and you have to beat these before more are unlocked. Blind mode sees all the animal shapes turn grey instead of their telltale markings that help you identify them. Knock Out sees you with a pre-stacked cube and you have to clear a certain percentage of the animals in order to progress. Knock Out Blind is the same as Knock Out but all the shapes are greyed out as in the Blind game mode.
Graphically everything is OK. Puzzle games are not known for their graphical splendour but ZooCube looks good which is important. You can have 1-4 players but this is going to be impractical for all apart from those with TV screens the size of kitchen table top as on 'normal' size TVs it all looks a bit too small.
ZooCube is wonderfully accessible for deaf gamers. It couldn't really fail could it? There is a tutorial included, not interactive mind you but one of those rolling things where you have to watch and learn. It only lasts for about a minute and thankfully is fully subtitled. In fact there is no verbal comment in the game unless you count the animal noises that are made, upon the completion of an animal.
ZooCube is a must for all puzzle owning GameCube fans. The game is also coming out on GBA, we haven't see that yet but if it is anything like the GameCube version then puzzle fans will also love that version too. If you never liked Tetris or games that require the 'little grey cells' to be stretched then you may not take to ZooCube but for everyone else this is a must have.
Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10 An innovative and refreshing puzzle game that will please puzzle loving GameCube owners.
Deaf Gamers comment: Absolutely fine. There are no problems at all for deaf gamers.