Oh! Cube. I didn’t see you there.
When I first started playing Oh! Cube, I hated it. I wasn’t prepared for its brand of grid-based number logic, and certainly not in 3D. With a lot of help from my math–loving girlfriend (and a little kicking and screaming), however, I was soon bursting blocks like a pro. It’s for that reason that I can’t recommend this game enough: it creeps up on you, teaches you its ways, then makes you forget there was ever a time when you didn’t know them.
Owing its existence to Picross 3D, Oh! Cube is a game of excavation. Specifically, your job is to dig out 3D objects (like dogs, strawberries, and coke bottles) from a larger grid. To do so, you use numbers strewn along each puzzle’s surface as an indicator of how many keepable cubes there are in a given row or column, and you destroy the rest. As time goes on, the game becomes much more than a simple exercise in counting, asking you to cross-reference numbers and consider the bigger picture to calculate what goes and what stays. Think of it as Minesweeper meets Sudoku by way of a children’s coloring book.
Things in Oh! Cube start off easily enough: clear off blocks from grids that are 2×2, or 2×4, getting used to the idea of marking off safe squares and isolating those that the odd ones out. By about the third or fourth puzzle, the game ramps things up in a way some may consider to be unfair. At the heart of the matter, however, is an unavoidable truth: unlike games that mask their internal logic in an aesthetic goal (Trainyard, Aqueduct), Oh! Cube wears the math on its sleeve. Crunching numbers is your goal, and a collection of vibrant items is your reward.
That’s not to say that the experience feels like math class. Quite to the contrary, once you wrap your brain around the game’s particularities, Oh! Cube provides some of the best zen I’ve experienced in a puzzle game since… well, Picross 3D. For me, it was about making the leap in logic needed to treat each block as its own entity, so that I wasn’t losing blocks already highlighted in the fray, and misunderstanding the numbers in front of me.
The only major sticking point throughout were the semi-regular moments when solving a puzzle game down to making an assumption about what the most logical shape was, rather than trusting the numbers – which sometimes give you but so many clues before leaving it up to you to decide. For a game that works so hard at training you to understand its mystical ways, so to speak, I found this very interruptive of the flow, and especially frustrating for a high-score hound like myself for whom missing a block (and losing a “star” point) meant restarting a level.
With that said, whatever – if any – hurdles exist for you, trust me when I say they’re worth getting over. Once you get into a rhythm, Oh! Cube has a real sense of mental “crescendo.” Like the puzzle equivalent of Neo eventually realizing the Matrix is made of 1s and 0s, and learning how to manipulate the numbers. In addition, my girlfriend and I discovered a bemusingly awesome (and perhaps unintentional?) mini-game: trying to guess what hyper-specific images would be spawned from the completely vague set of blocks left over. Watching massive blobs turn into “South Western Kung-Fu” or oblong rectangles morph into “Semi-Automatic Shotguns” is a hilarious and cathartic end to some often brain-bending puzzles… of which there are a generous 100+ for the game’s budget one dollar price tag.
Like I said at the start,however, Oh! Cube isn’t instantly accessible. While the tutorial does a good job at ushering you through the basics, this is a game rooted in a certain type of numerical-spatial reasoning that just doesn’t come easily to everyone. If you’re the type of person for whom the types of games mentioned above are torture, Oh! Cube isn’t for you. If you’re a fan of puzzle titles, though, with even a little bit of interest in gridlocked brain-bending, give (puzzle) piece a chance.
After all, it’s the next best thing until Nintendo’s investors just force them to go mobile!