Art Style: CUBELLO

Art Style: CUBELLO
Art Style: CUBELLO Cover
Platforms WiiWare
Genre Shooty cubes
Score 7  Clock score of 7

It's understandable that a hardware manufacturer like Nintendo would condemn app gaming. The company makes its fortune on dedicated video game machines and the traditional $30+ software pricing; the $1 mobile alternative is a serious threat to the viability of that strategy, especially in the handheld market. You won't see the House of Mario endorsing Angry Birds and its ilk any time soon (until it comes to 3DS, anyway).

It's a shame that a Nintendo-branded smartphone is so unlikely, because gaming's biggest name already has a series perfectly suited for the bite-size mobile market. The little known Art Style franchise on WiiWare and DSiWare emphasizes "elegant design, polished graphics, and pick-up-and-play controls." Having played the gravity-manipulating Orbient on WiiWare and cardboard-factory simulator Boxlife on DSiWare, I can definitely see the Art Style brand as a viable and profitable iPhone series.

Last month I picked up Cubello, one of the earlier Art Style games on WiiWare, from the Club Nintendo rewards program. It looks like the offspring of Tetrisphere and a Rubik's Cube got caught in a light gun game. I like it better than either of those things, though.

The easiest way to learn Cubello is to watch the tutorial (above). But for the video impaired, the object of the game is to strip the rotating mass of colored cubes (the "cubello") down to its core before your inventory of projectile cubes (the "magazine") runs out. You remove cubes from the cubello by connecting four or more cubes of the same color: shooting a blue cube at a chain of three blue cubes will drop all four cubes from the cubello and add three new cubes to your magazine. Remove all of the colored cubes from the single-cube core and you'll finish the stage. Deplete your magazine and you'll have to start over.

A few extra dice rolls are added to complicate things. Every dropped foursome of cubes triggers a random chance of entering "bonus time," in which your magazine is stocked with an endless supply of a specific cube color. Bonus time is a chance to eradicate a certain color from the cubello, which takes that color out of play: as certain colors are eliminated from the cubello, your magazine will stop generating cubes of that color in order to help you finish off the rest. Also, at certain time intervals, the cubello will spawn a handful of random cubes, often in inconvenient color combinations that will bring colors back into play, pushing back the finish line a few steps. Each of these little surprises can drastically reverse your luck, especially if triggered while the cubello is nearly empty.

True to Art Style's mission for intuitive controls, Cubello is played only with the Wii remote's infrared pointer and the A button. The point-and-click shooting is simple enough, but hitting your mark is easier said than done. The most beneficial target is often clustered in an awkward corner of the mass, meaning the difference between a hit and a miss is a millimeter of wrist movement. That and the constantly-rotating cubello means careful planning and concentration are crucial to make the most of every shot. A magazine maximum of ten cubes means reckless shooting will pile up your problems quickly. Conversely, the marksman who can sneak a cube into a rotating nook will be shedding cubes with every shot.

Planning and precision are more important than the twitch reflexes required of a Tetris or a Puyo Puyo, and the result is a puzzle game that's more welcoming than the frantic rotation and escalation common to the genre. The minimalist visual design, low key chip-tech background audio, and lack of multiplayer further contribute to Cubello's relaxed aura. As someone who dreads the intensity of a Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine or a Tetris Attack, I feel more at ease with the steady paced cube-shooting of Cubello.

Cubello isn't the most content-rich game, but that's not exactly robbery for six bucks. It took me six hours to finish all thirty-six stages in the game, plus a quick run with the obligatory Endless Mode. I'm not sure a competitive multiplayer mode would have fit Cubello's groove, but a cooperative mode could have been a great addition.

I suppose the essence of the Art Style series is one of deliberate solo play, however. If Tetris Attack is a flashy swordfight, Cubello is surgery. The clock is generous, but every move is critical.