|This reminds me of a puzzle.|
In any case, these are two games that I recently picked up for absurdly low prices on the Wii U eShop. Both are puzzle platformers told in different perspective and with varying mechanics, but they both represent many of the elements that make indie games what they are. As you may recall, I had a bit of a fit about indie trends (found here), and while neither of these games hit all of those bases, they do manage to nail a few of them. While in many cases, the trends of indie games can be annoying, it's also very nice to be pleasantly surprised by those elements. Both of these games manage to pull off their mission effectively, but which inches out over the other as a better all-around title.
Q.U.B.E. Director's Cut
-Intuitive controls make handling puzzle elements easy, even when gravity is at play. Two hands allow you to expand and compress, and rarely will you deal with anything more complicated than that.
-The plot never gets in the way of the game, despite being ridiculous and overdramatic. Ultimately, Q.U.B.E. delivers on the idea of substance over style.
-The atmosphere and similarities to other games in its field give Q.U.B.E. an uneasy sense of familiarity as well as an unpredictable nature.
-The frequency of certain puzzle designs is a bit discouraging, but there's only so much you can do with physics
-It's too damn short.
-My goodness, that story...
-The Swapper's concept is perfectly simple and genius- a gun that makes clones that you can also swap your consciousness into. Yet the mechanic is taken to its extremes based on this single mechanic and it's amazing and clever each time.
-In order to obtain the game's ending, one must complete every puzzle room in the Swapper, but it allows you to progress pretty freely through a number of chambers thanks to the wonderful overworld level design.
-It's not easy to take a game mechanic and make it deep (on a philosophical level), but, yeah... The Swapper, both the game mechanic and the story itself, manage to tell a strange and very clean story, also boosted by its wonderful aesthetics.
-While the game looks beautiful, it lacks a bit of overall cohesion in certain areas.
I don't like to compare two things that I like, especially when one is good and the other is great. Q.U.B.E. Director's Cut is a bit of a by-the-numbers indie title, while The Swapper is, in my opinion, the cream of the crop. Neither is bad, but they represent odd parts of the independent market.
Where Q.U.B.E. originally did not have dialogue, I would argue if the addition was a good move, as it likens the entire experience to Portal with its ambiguity and basic plotline. Of course, it deviates in its own ways and I respect the choices it makes towards the end of its narrative, but the overall tone teases the player in a self-aware fashion that, as I've said before, grows tiresome. Some of the dialogue is a bit contrived, as well. But disregarding these elements, there's still a fair bit of clever puzzle solving to be found in Q.U.B.E.. The puzzle elements are distinct and straightforward, and though sometimes the game relies too much on physics and precise sequencing to challenge the player, there are many tests in which the answer is not straightforward. The most impressive part of Q.U.B.E.'s puzzle design is that the ending opens itself up to the player entirely, challenging them on how well they understand the designers' machinations rather than elongating the complexity or playtime of the puzzles. When it comes down to it, however, Q.U.B.E. is just a puzzle game- its visuals are stark, but direct and not up to interpretation. In fact, the way the dialogue progresses, despite its foreboding nature, ensures that the ending will either be a gut punch or a delightful reward. Luckily, Q.U.B.E., like its puzzles, has a simple answer that doesn't require much inner thought.
On the other hand, The Swapper is challenging from a number of angles. Not only is its strange name a bit off-putting, but the nature of its universe is, as well. You are someone that was on a ship working on a gun that allows people to clone themselves and swap their consciousness to said clones- but for what purpose would a device like this exist? To solve a buttload of puzzles, is, of course, a gamer's perspective, but the way The Swapper unravels its narrative draws the player in unlike any other story I've experienced in a puzzle game. I'm not sure if that's saying something or not.
The lovely thing about The Swapper is, of course, you don't have to experience any of its story. You can hop from place to place, solving puzzles of increasing difficulty and complexity without learning a thing about the world, though you will encounter a few strange text boxes. But the presentation of the game is superb at drawing the player in- its detailed environments are stunning and ask to be explored further, and the way its notes are scattered (as well as the intuitive lore screen to keep track of things you may want to skip) allow the player to add a bit more of a story to their puzzling.
Of course, the puzzles in both games are unique in their own ways, but in Q.U.B.E., it feels more like you're checking the proper steps off of a list of directions- with The Swapper, it's important to solve puzzles in the most unorthodox manner possible, seeing as the title ability is as absurd as it gets. Q.U.B.E. feels like a platformer, with a clear start and finish, but The Swapper is a playground of tests that test one's lack of adherence to the rules- and that's empowering. Typical impasses like a long vertical shaft are nothing to an accomplished Swapper, and once you realize just how that is possible (both the moral quandary of it and the execution), the game feels like a place to stretch your mind to the limit, and that's a wonderful thing.
This is not to say the Q.U.B.E. and its puzzles aren't as rewarding as The Swapper, but the latter gives a limited game mechanic and layers many other elements atop it, which is different from having your core mechanics fit into a handful of situations, many of which repeat themselves a bit. But I don't want to seem down on Q.U.B.E., as its linear format allows its challenges to be completed and the satisfaction of doing so to set in immediately. But a game that I picked up for half the price ended up being three times as long, with an incredible story and strangely cathartic ending. And that's why, despite their similarities, I would recommend picking up The Swapper much more strongly than Q.U.B.E.
Final Verdict: Both feature fantastic puzzles that tease the players abilities in more than just their critical thinking, oddly deep narratives, and support a growing indie industry. Q.U.B.E. hits all the right notes and doesn't miss a beat, but The Swapper allows you to take a moment and appreciate the silence between each sound, and that's an impressive thing for a puzzle game to do. Then again, I guess Layton has been doing that for a while. Even so, they're both quite good, but The Swapper is really damn good.