In the hazy days of 2010, we described Laughing Jackal's debut PlayStation Mini, Cubixx, as a "surprisingly brilliant reworking of 80's classic Qix". Fast-forward to 2011 and not an enormous amount has changed. Make no mistake, Laughing Jackal's full-blown remake of Cubixx for the PlayStation 3 is every inch the superior product when compared to its portable counter-part, but its foundations remain rock-solid.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, Cubixx sees you slicing sections off a pulsating hexahedron with the aim of minimising its surface area to a denoted percentage. On its own the action is firm and familiar, but Laughing Jackal has implemented a variety of mechanics that make the game an exercise in risk / reward, tempting you to extract from multiple faces of the cube's surface with one clean stroke to enhance your score. As the action intensifies, this becomes a much more fidgety affair than it sounds on paper, as you quickly calculate the risks associated with continuing your streak as opposed to seeking respite on the side-lines.
See, while simplistic in premise, Cubixx HD is actually devilish. The game starts tamely, with small orange beings known as 'Cubixx' being your only cause for concern. But as you progress through the game's roster of 50 stages, you'll quickly find your performance hampered by Homers — astute clouds that latch onto your beam and decrease your acceleration — asteroid showers and more. Even the safety of the side-lines fail to provide comfort for long, as the introduction of Chasers transform the once safe havens into an ever-approaching death-trap.
With danger lingering at almost every corner, Laughing Jackal's decision to restrict progress to blocks of five stages can be a frustrating one. During our play-through we got stuck on Stage 25 for some time, meaning we had to repeat the four previous stages multiple times before getting the opportunity to progress. Naturally, there was some cursing involved.
The decision to structure the progress in this way was probably derived from the game's scoring system, which accumulates the more you progress in a single play session. In essence Cubixx HD can be played from start-to-finish in one stressful sitting, but we don't fancy your chances. Trophy addicts will be 'thrilled' learn that there's a single piece of tantalising digital silverware on offer for those able to complete such a feat.
But there's much more to Cubixx HD than the standard Arcade mode. A separate Challenge mode dares you to complete each of the game's 50 stages in a variety of unique ways — varying from simple score attack missions through to more challenging timed affairs. The addition of score, line and time attack objectives bolster the long term appeal of the package, though in essence provide more of the same. Thankfully Cubixx HD's leaderboard system keeps comprehensive track of your performance across each of the modes, making it tempting to adopt the 'one more go' mentality until you've dominated each of the game's individual scoreboards.
Sociable players will also find a lot to like about Cubixx HD, with competitive and co-operative game modes implemented for up to seven players — the maximum number of DualShock controllers the PlayStation 3 can support at any given time. While we weren't able to test the game in seven-player, we did enjoy watching the action scale in four-player split-screen and found the performance to be adequate and smooth.
Speaking of which, Cubixx HD is far from pushing the PlayStation 3 to its upper visual boundaries. Despite some impressive particle effects and a silky-smooth frame-rate, the game can look a little bit plain. While the minimalistic style suited its PlayStation Minis predecessor, we'd have liked a bit more oomph in Cubixx HD's visuals. That said, cutting into a cube and watching its innards pulse to the beat of the game's four-to-the-floor electro soundtrack rarely loses its appeal, and at least adds some visual flair to what is otherwise a rather plain looking downloadable title.
Cubixx HD wears its old-school mentality with pride. It's the core gameplay mechanics that ultimately make the game a treat, and its versatility is emphasised by the impressive range of gameplay options on offer. The game's challenging, sometimes to the point of frustration, but neat leaderboard implementation and a cracking core mechanic make it surprisingly moreish in spite of its occasional assault against your sanity.