Ok, lets get one thing straight: Tetris is pretty much the best puzzle game of all time. Having said that, I dont want game developers everywhere to simply roll over and admit defeat. Theres certainly room for more than just Pajitnovs masterpiece in the genre. While its true that there are very few games that can match its instant addictiveness and pick-up-and-play simplicity, Ive just got to believe that someone somewhere will come up with a formula that gives Tetris a good run for its money. Unfortunately, that day has not yet come and the recently released ZooCube only reinforces this fact. (And just for fun, lets count and see how many times Ill have to say "cube" in this review.)

In ZooCube, the object is to match pairs of animal shapes by stacking them on the sides of a three-dimensional block. The eponymous cube floats in midair overlaid atop bland, non-interactive backdrops. Animal nuggets float towards your cube from the upper left, upper right and bottom sides of the screen. As they approach, you must rotate the cube and maneuver it in such a way as to make two of the same shape touch each other. After doing so, the pieces briefly form the animals head and then disappear after a roar, squawk or yowl. If the pieces dont match upon coming into contact with the cube or the other pieces, the bits will form stacks that you can shuffle through until the correct piece arrives. The game is over when you stack the pieces six high on any side, or when you complete all the stages.

Its a simple enough idea, which is a good thing. In my opinion, all of the best puzzle games are built on simple ideas. However, the end result of Puzzlekings effort is lacking the required playability and spark to elevate it into the top tiers of puzzledom.

I suppose the biggest problem I had with ZooCube is that it doesnt really feel like a puzzle game. Rotating the cube to merge chunks of fauna is all well and good, but I never felt like there was any strategy or forethought involved. It comes off more like a test of reflexes and how fast youre able to rotate the cube. The need to plan for big combos or trimming your stacks down just didnt exist. In Tetris, a large part of the game is how well you can plan ahead and keep your options open for the various types of shapes. Its also about risk management since you have to weigh the consequences of having an unmanageable stack if a crucial piece doesnt appear. In one of my other favorite puzzlers, Puyo Puyo, you need to furiously plan and arrange colored blobs in very specific ways in order to achieve the desired "domino effect" that will reward you with a mountain of points. ZooCube apparently doesnt contain these levels of depth and theres no strategy involved that I could see. As long as you can view the screen clearly and turn the little cube fast enough to avoid falling behind, youll be okay.

Strangely, with the simple nature of the game, youd think that every aspect of it would be polished to perfection, but this was not the case. I found the controls to be mildly problematic because your cube can only be rotated on two axes. The irritation point here was that you often have to turn it a few extra times to get the position you want. For example, imagine the face of a clock. Id ideally like to go towards three oclock, but instead would have to go through nine, six and then end up at three. In later stages, every fraction of a second counts and Im sure that there could have been some way to have the GameCubes controller handle truly free 3D rotation.

Besides the standard arcade mode, you can also choose to play "Blind" mode, which removes the colors from the pieces and makes you focus solely on the shapes. Its harder, but its not really any more fun. For fans of multiplayer, theres an option to have up to four players flipping cubes at the same time, but the splitscreen view made the pieces a little hard to see and didnt really strike me as adding much to the gameplay. Needless to say, the game as a whole didnt really grab me. I certainly didnt hate it, but the puzzle cells of my brain refused to engage and I sat feeling numbly removed for the duration of my playtime.

Im glad to see an original puzzle title hit the GameCube, but I just wish it was better or more addicting. Its far from being the next Bust-A-Move or Puyo Puyo, and even though it shares the animal theme its not even as good as the little-known BakuBaku on the Saturn. I have to say that its certainly not a terrible game, but the next Tetris, it aint. Rating 5 out of 10

Brad Gallaway
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