Demo Driver 8: Sugar Cube: Bittersweet Factory (#447)
The vast majority of games are mediocre. We all know this even as we don’t really think about it. Your game collection is, I’m sure, filled with games that you consider actively good rather than lackluster, and it’s easy to sort of extrapolate outward from that. Most of the games you can find aren’t bad, though, nor are they really all that good. They’re just… there. They work. They’re not worth feeling a great deal of joy or sorrow over. They’re mediocre. Filler. Likely impossible to have any strong emotions about either way, even.
Sugar Cube: Bittersweet Factory is a game that is mediocre in every way, shape, and form. It is yet another puzzle platformer in which you move from screen to screen and try to figure out how to bypass the game’s obstacles to get to the end. It is also another game that falls victim to the “demo cannot sustain half an hour of play” curse that I get all uppity about, but even with that being said I feel I have a relatively solid grasp of the game from my limited play time. It’s neither bad nor good. It’s just there.
I’ll say this for the title, though, it knows what it’s going for. The game wants to be sugary-sweet, and so it gives us a protagonist who is a literal cube of sugar. With arms and legs and sapience. No explanation is provided for this, nor is one revealed about how this cube of sugar is trying to escape from a cookie factory by jumping on and between cookies whilst evading other sentient desserts. Perhaps it would more accurately be considered a sugar brick, but let’s not get into an argument over terminology. The point is that it’s sugar trying to escape from a remarkably cookie-filled cookie factory.
How do you accomplish this goal? You reach the glowing door, which is almost always impossible to actually reach from the outset. But you have a trick – passing over squares on the level will “flip” tiles, often revealing new platforms or eliminating old ones. Passing back over them flips them back over, which means that the challenge comes down to flipping the right tiles and then holding down the button to prevent flips so that you can actually use your new route to the exit. Don’t touch spikes or you die. Don’t touch enemies or you’ll die. Don’t sneeze too hard or you’ll die. Death just kicks you back to the start of the current screen, though, and there are no lives to trouble yourself with.
Let me say, then, that all of this works. It’s perfectly functional. You can get some puzzles out of it, and the first portion of the game (it’s divided into five sections of 18 stages each, by all appearances) does milk the idea decently. It’s not horrid. It’s just also not particularly… well… anything else. It’s diverting while you’re playing it, but soon thereafter you find yourself being ready to be done with it.
And it’s not a matter of it being bad. I’ve played several demos that are outright not good for various reasons and have no problem saying as much; this, however, is a game that is not bad but kind of lacks anything to recommend it beyond the simple nature of its existence. If you absolutely must play another puzzle platformer, there are… several better options here, actually, and this one manages to remain functional but doesn’t exactly challenge the ol’ brainpower.
Part of me wonders if I’m down on the game in part because I don’t really care for puzzle platform games to begin with. I enjoy platformers, which is a good thing because in order to get into gaming when I started gaming I pretty much had to. I cut my teeth on the NES, and if you can find a console that had a higher percentage platformers in its gaming library you’ve found a dedicated Action 52 box. But the puzzle-based variety always strikes me as a little clunky, not quite sure of its roots.
Of course, then I look at this compared to a lot of other puzzle-based games about hopping from platform to platform and I don’t think it’s me. It’s that this is a genre stuffed to the brim with entrants, some of which I’ve covered here. It’s like fighting games in the early 90s, first-person shooters in the late 90s, or, well, platformers in the late 80s. This is no longer a genre that rewards you for mediocrity. There’s too much competition.
And let’s face it, this is mediocre with a rather bland gimmick and nothing else to recommend it. Reading other user reviews, the full game never truly moves beyond the basics, and rather than getting more clever it basically devolves into an endless stream of jumping around hoping to trip a platform over where you need one. There’s no innovation to be found, nothing to stretch your brain, nothing that really justifies that $7 price tag it’s sporting on Steam.
Which is sad, because this is a game that’s the result of several people working hard and I have no desire to kick their work. I’m sure that the people who made the game had an idea and wanted to see it brought to fruition. And it’s not bad. This game is not atrocious. It works. If you spend your money on it, you’re not getting a complete trainwreck. You’re just getting something that’s…
The problem is that there are lots of games that manage “functional.” Many even go the extra mile into fun, innovative, creative, clever, and weird. Doing the bare minimum needed for it to work is like listing your primary qualities on a dating site as being “nice” or selling a car on the basis of the fact that it may be driven. I expect more.