So far, 56 games and six months into the GameCube’s lifecycle, there had really only been one puzzle game: Super Monkey Ball. And even then, that wasn’t a traditional puzzle experience, so fans of the genre were hankering for some sort of game to scratch that itch. Thankfully, this small drought wouldn’t last long as the folks over at PuzzleKings were about to drop ZooCube on the unsuspecting masses.
The basic premise is incredibly bizarre: many years before, Dr. Buc Ooze performed controversial animal shaping experiments, which resulted in unnatural shapes. As the species he worked on became extinct, the ZooCube was created, a machine used to reverse Ooze’s work and return the animals to normal. Unfortunately, Ooze was captured after construction began and progress on the ZooCube was postponed for thirteen years. The doctor has now escaped and it is up to the player to use the ZooCube to save the animals.
Now, in the game, the aforementioned Cube floats in midair on the middle of the screen as animal-themed shapes inch in forward towards the different sides. Players rotate the Cube around to match pairs of shapes with each other to free the animal and score points. Everything starts out slow and simple and eventually becomes faster and harder to handle. Well, actually, scratch that. It gets faster sure, but it’s not very hard to handle.
While reminiscent of classic puzzle titles like Tetris, ZooCube absolutely feels like a title you would have rented but never purchased. It can be challenging, but it’s not in a satisfying way that leaves you wanting to continue and better yourself. Instead, the low-key gameplay and even lower-grade art direction made ZooCube feel like a game that you would find in a doctor’s office waiting room.
PuzzleKings, and their development partner Coyote, shouldn’t be faulted for their game design aspirations. It was a great idea in theory for a new sort of puzzle title, but unfortunately it was the execution that left the whole package feeling empty. Beyond the Story Mode, there was little to no variety in the ways that the game plays, which made it tougher to jump in and made gameplay feel limited.
Multiplayer, as it often does, did enhance things, turning it into a shared experience that you can mostly enjoy. But it didn’t bring enough to the table to make ZooCube become a classic hit that stayed with players for ages. Instead, ZooCube was ported to the Game Boy Advance, where it didn’t do very well, and was eventually ported to the PS2, where it did about as well as it did on the GameCube. There was never a sequel, and PuzzleKings would go on to become a developer for iPhone games. They seem to have made a game based on Fantastic Mr. Fox.
ZooCube would prove to be little more than a drop in the ocean for puzzle titles, and fans of the genre would get some sweet satisfaction a few months later when Tetris made its way to the console. It’s unfortunate that ZooCube ended up being as mediocre as it was, as the premise and idea was solid. It just goes to show that great ideas need great execution to back them up.
Did you ever play ZooCube? What did you think of it? What did you like or hate about the game?
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