Kickle Cubicle Review

The hero in video games can take the form of many guises – they may appear as Italian-American mustachioed plumbers, or those dressed like Peter Pan sent hurtling back and forth through time and even animals such as Bear’s and Squirrels. But back in 1990, the makers of Kickle Cubicle thought differently and set aside a hero who wasn’t a plumber, or dressed all in green, no they decided the hero in this game would be a character wearing black dungarees and wearing red Dr Dre beat headphones – and whyever not? Developed by a company called IREM, makers of quality hits such as the video game adaptation of Hook and the more impressive R-Type, how does this game fare this days, could Kickle have been the hero this video game city deserves and needs?

In-game screen

Kickle Cubicle is classed as a puzzle game, but as well it can be seen as an arcade based game as well that wouldn’t look out of place in the arcade halls of the late Eighties early Nineties. You control Kickle, who according to the background story wakes up to discover his kingdom is covered in ice and that the King has imprisoned people in so called “dream bags” to which you have to rescue these people from each level to progress to the next level. How do you do that I hear you ask? Well, the levels are set in an overhead perspective, to which you see the red dream bags glowing that you need to collect. On the icy levels are spaces in the ground to which you need to freeze the enemies on screen with your icy breath, and push them towards the gaps in the ground, that gives you the ability to walk across the squares to collect the dream bags. Along the way you’ll find enemies that although can be frozen, they cannot be pushed as icy blocks, you can only destroy them.

Talking sweetcorn? Whatever next, mushrooms that make you grow?…

There are four lands in the game that you need to complete – Garden Land, Fruit Land, Cake Land and Toy Land, all of which at the end you need to defeat a boss to progress. Once this has been completed, you unlock the special game mode which has 30 challenging puzzles that need to be completed. So there is a lot here to keep the player going, getting your money’s worth (unlike Mario in which that can be completed in 5 minutes!). There is also a bonus stage that first is encountered on Garden Land, which takes the guise of a ring that appears on screen at a random time. This takes you to a level that’s full of flowers which give you extra points, so try to collect them as quickly as possible as they are only on the screen for a limited time.

The controls for the game are quite simple – the d-pad moves Kickle, the B button makes Kickle blow his icy breath that freezes the enemy whilst the A button creates an icy pillar on that particular square. The use of this is that if you need to guide an enemy to a certain location, then raising these pillars blocks the enemies path, which makes it easier for them to go in a direction you would like them to go in. So the controls are simple yet effective, you don’t need to press the d-pad in certain ways whilst holding the other buttons to do something that might be deemed crucial to the game. The music in game is quite upbeat and jolly, and on the first level of Garden Land it reminds me of the music from Simon’s Quest – no matter the faults of that game it had some decent music. There are differing sound effects such as when Kickle dies and when you freeze enemies and push the blocks into the sea, so again it’s a game that doesn’t require muting and sticking on the latest Culture Club record to drown out the noises. The graphics is one of the game’s strongest points – the colours are bright and vivid and makes a nice change to the game pallette rather than using pastel greens and browns that often look turgid. Even when you complete a level and are surrounded in a circle of vegetables, the contrasts between say the orange of the carrots and the blue of the sea are striking and is a fine game graphically for the console.

Never dismiss the flower power movement

Bearing in mind the length of the game, with 4 differing worlds with multiple levels in each world AND the fact there is a special stage with 30 additional levels, you certainly get your money’s worth with Kickle Cubicle. Seemingly having learned from other long games in the past that didn’t have any form of save system or passwords, there is a password system so you don’t have to play the game in one sitting and can go outside and smell the sea air, or nature at its finest giving your eyes a break. The password can be entered on the main menu, though for some reason they omit vowels from the codes, relying on the consonants instead like a really bad round of Countdown. The game will make you think, and at times will make you curse like a sailor and throw the controller on the floor, but in Kickle Cubicle’s case it is in a good way and not frustratingly bad like in Turtles or Silver Surfer both for the NES. The controls are basic yet responsive and the colours make it a more colourful title for the NES library. The one drawback is that it can seem quite repetitive in freezing enemies and pushing the icy blocks around to collect the dream bags however that is the one drawback in a solid title. Copies in the wild seem bountiful and a PAL copy isn’t that expensive – as well do check your good local retro game store (links to stores in the UK are on the top navigation bar), so if you do get the opportunity, do pick up a copy of the game. It’s certainly one to while away with in the wee hours, I mean who wouldn’t want to assist the hero who wears such funky Beat headphones?

Rating – 4 out of 5

Clu Clu Land NES Review

When you think of games being under the sea, you may think of such timeless classics as Jaws or the underwater stages from Super Mario Bros, but one of the more unusual games that was released based underwater was Clu Clu Land. Although there isn’t a blue pixellated drop of water in sight, and no sailing boats full of tanned tourists, how does this game released 25 years ago fare up today? Is it ships ahoy to golden treasure or does it deserve to buried deep in Davy Jones’ locker?

Clu Clu Land, or Kuru Kuru Land as it could of been named in Japan (Kuru meaning to go “around”, so literally could have meant around-and-around Land but we won’t confuse matters here) is a game in which you control Bubbles who looks quite cute and adorable, as much as once can when you look like a tomato with a propeller at its rear. The aim of the game is to swim in a square-type level uncovering gold treasure by swimming over them, whilst running away and destroying the 2 enemies on the screen and not falling into the black hole that is ever present on the screen.. There is a certain target of coins to uncover, which is displayed on the top left of the screen. Collect the target and you move onto the next level, where the levels get faster and harder.

So how on earth do you move around? Well pressing the corresponding d-pad button moves Bubbles in the direction, and when she turns, she holds onto the fried eggs on the screen, I mean “poles”. If  you hold the button down, she will keep spinning around and around – hence Kuru Kuru ergo Clu Clu Land. It’s always nice knowing how titles of games come around isn’t it? Anyway, Bubbles will spin on these poles until you release the button so off she swims. Pressing the A or B button launches her sole attack – a sonic wave that turns the enemies into a ball that you can push off the screen for extra points. If you get touched by the enemies, or fall down the holes then you lose a life. You can also lose a life if you run out of time, with the time remaining being displayed on the top of the screen Like most of the black box games there isn’t an end game screen but getting a high score. Once again though a drawback is that when you turn the console off the high score doesn’t save, so take a photo as proof of your million point score. Extra points are on offer for collecting the various on screen bonuses similar to Pac-man to help bump up your score.

Pucker up and kiss the screen!

When you run over a part of the level to uncover a coin (in later levels you need to run over the same spot twice to uncover the gold) it remains on the screen, so it’s easy to see the patterns being displayed on the screen and see where you need to aim for to complete the pattern and complete the level. If you look carefully and know your Nintendo games, you may recognise the gold treasure as the rupee coins from The Legend of Zelda, which is a nice tip-of-the-hat to this game. However there are some negatives to the game, one of them being that Bubbles moves rather quickly, so when your spinning around and around a pole or whizzing along, you need to have fantastic reflexes, otherwise its somewhat easy to lose your life. You do get 5 lives but they do run down quickly with black holes and the enemies, and when you first start the game the controls do take some getting used to, its hard controlling Bubbles and making her go the direction you want.

In terms of graphics, the colours are bright and bold with rupees from Zelda and poles that look suspiciously like fried eggs and menacing looking sea urchins skulking their way across the screen. Each level the colours change, so it doesn’t feel like Urban Champion where the same pastel colours were regurgitated so it didn’t feel different between levels.  The music is jaunty and the sound effects do sound great, when you fire your sonic wave and uncovering the coins. Typically 8-bit in style the sounds are not annoying enough where you would play this game with the sound off. The controls, well they’re good, but not great. Although simple, the fact that Bubbles darts over the screen and when your turning you collide directly with the enemy, you need to get to grips with the controls quickly otherwise you won’t get far in this game.

Not as photogenic as Pikachu but beggars can’t be choosers

Overall, although Bubbles won’t go down in gaming history as the cutest video game character, Clu Clu Land is a cute game, and a black box game worthy of being in any collection. The game had somewhat of a legacy, with the sequel being an unlockable game on Animal Crossing, with the imaginatively titled Clu Clu Land D, a trophy of Bubbles appearing in Super Smash Brothers Melee, and being in a couple of WarioWare games. Admittedly the controls do take some getting used to, and even then when you master the controls, its not the easiest game and Bubbles is a somewhat fiery character. Copies are available in the wild, it isn’t cheap but when we’re black box games cheap, aside from Golf?  This was released on the Virtual Console for the Wii back in 2009 however the best way to play this as always is sticking the original NES cart into your machine, grabbing the controller and whatever beverage is close to hand (beer, Cherry Coke, peppermint tea) and playing it how Nintendo intended, so as autumn approaches, why don’t you imagine your under the sea collecting coins, I hear its wetter down where its better, take it from me…

Rating – 3 out of 5