The NES certainly had its share of unusual games, and it seems that every time I turn around, I find another one. Such is the case with Kickle Cubicle, a little known action/puzzle game from Irem. In this game, you play as a chubby little snowman named "Kickle" who is trying to save the Fantasy Kingdom from the frozen clutches of an evil Wizard King. It has Lolo-style puzzles to solve on four huge islands.
There's nothing overly exciting or flashy about Kickle Cubicle's graphics, except maybe the cinema scenes where you're shown a big colorful picture of one of the palaces. However, what's important in this kind of game is that everything is clear and easily understood. You should be able to tell what you're looking at, and Kickle Cubicle doesn't disappoint there. The enemies, which include turtles, penguins, chickens, owls, cannons, clowns, spiked balls, and blue blobs, are drawn in a colorful and cartoon-like fashion. The backgrounds consist of islands made up of ice blocks which only vary in color slightly from world to world. Kickle, who is best described as a fat snowman wearing earmuffs and overalls, is animated very well (especially when he dies). The objects are small, but not so small that you can't tell what they are. Overall, the graphics aren't bad, but they don't change much from world to world.
Kickle Cubicle's sound is very average. There is only one theme that plays for every level, and it only changes when you fight a boss. It's not a particularly annoying song, but this game has four huge worlds, and it would've been nice if they had made the music different in each world. The boss music is actually very good, though. The sound effects are average, too. Some of them are really loud. When Kickle dies, you're really gonna know it. I didn't find any of the music or sound effects to be particularly annoying, which is a good thing considering the length of the game.
The play control for this game is actually quite good! Kickle easily moves around the playing field. Pressing B makes him spit out a breath of cold air, which freezes enemies. You can then walk up to the enemy and press B again to either destroy it or push the ice block (depending on what kind of enemy it is.) The A button makes Kickle create an immovable block of ice on some surfaces. Pressing A again will make him destroy it. Kickle cannot jump, but that's not necessary in this game. But perhaps the best thing about the play control is Kickle's ability to turn and face in another direction without moving forward a step. For example, if Kickle is standing on one block facing down, and you want him to face up, tapping up once will make him face up without moving off the block. A similar system was used in the NES game, Star Tropics, but Kickle Cubicle's control is much, much improved compared to that game. It's very quick and precise. The only minor flaw with the controls is that sometimes, if you aren't standing exactly right on a block when you try to create an ice cube with the A button, you won't be able to create it. That's sometimes annoying, but it's not a real big deal.
Story is not really all that important for a game like this. However, if the programmers even bother at all to put some dialogue and cinemas into the game, they could at least come up with something more original than another "save the princess" plot, which is basically what Kickle Cubicle's story is. An evil Wizard King has captured the four palaces of the Fantasy Kingdom and imprisoned all its inhabitants in ice. It's Kickle's job to find the palaces, rescue the citizens and princesses, and defeat the Wizard King. Now, I don't normally mind "cutesy" games, but I think Kickle goes a little overboard with it. It's kind of embarrassing to sink an island and find yourself answering to the pleas of a sobbing strawberry shortcake. I do kind of like how the bosses act like bad-asses, even though they all look ridiculous. Kickle is cartoony, lighthearted and fun, but a bit too sugary sweet at times.
Unfortunately, I didn't find Kickle Cubicle to be all that challenging. I solved almost every puzzle within 1-10 tries, and far too many of them I solved on my first try. There was only one in particular that had me baffled, and I really don't even know what I did to finally complete it. I just started doing things at random until something worked. The bosses aren't all that difficult, either. I think part of the problem is that the levels are timed, and you're given the same amount of time to complete every one of them. On the one hand, this means you have to think and move quickly and keep on your toes, but on the other hand, because of the time restrictions, they really couldn't set up more elaborate and difficult puzzles in the later rounds. However, once you complete the game, you get to play a "bonus" round of sorts that consists of 30 new super-hard puzzles. One might argue that this is where the "real" game begins, but I don't know why they just didn't incorporate them into the main game, somehow.
Kickle Cubicle is one of the most fun and addictive games I've played in awhile. I haven't played too many Lolo-style puzzle games, so I wasn't sure if I'd like this or not, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Each level is an island made of ice. The object is to collect all the red bags that are scattered around on the island. But you can't always get to them all right away. There are many obstacles and enemies that will hinder your progress. In many cases, the magic bags will be separated from the rest of the island, and you'll have to build a bridge to them. You do this by freezing enemies and pushing them into the water, where the frozen creature becomes a new piece of the island. This is often easier said than done. A lot of times you'll have to work that ice block through various contraptions and cause chain reactions that would make Rube Goldberg jealous. And in many levels, you'll have to do this while avoiding enemies, too! There's a good variety of enemies, such as spiked balls, turtles that ram you with their shells, things that freeze you, chickens that kick ice blocks, and exploding bombs. The levels get progressively more difficult the farther you advance in the game, but they don't get exceptionally hard until you reach the bonus levels upon defeating the final boss. It's addicting to play and solve all the puzzles. Even if one really stumped me, I wanted to keep playing it, because I knew I could eventually figure it out.
Overall, Kickle Cubicle is a unique and fun puzzle game. If you've never played an action/puzzle game before and want to try one, or if you're a fan of the genre, then I strongly recommend giving this game a try. Even though the average gamer will probably finish the normal game within a few hours, remember that the bonus puzzles are where the real challenge is.
SCORE (not an average): 6.5/10
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