The more I delve into the fantastical world of indie gaming, the more I find myself running into titles that both stretch the boundary of games as a medium and which defy easy explanation in traditional gaming terms. So it is with Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love Story, which is ostensibly an exploration game, but also one about colour, choices, and finding meaning in tasks which may or may not have any meaning ascribed. There’s not much in the way of traditional mechanics, really, or any dressing of pointed objectives, scoring, or really any of the things that we elder statesmen of the gaming world typically expect, and yet there’s a unique charm to this strange little journey all the same.
The basic gameplay is both complicated and remarkably simple to grasp. You’re cast in the role of the titular Cube, a grey block left to roll and hop around a bleak landscape devoid of color, and told by an older, wiser cube to go forth and bring light and color to it. So, how is a young, grey geometric shape to accomplish this task? Why, by beating fruits from trees and eating those to take on their hue, of course! While this may sound a bit silly, it’s actually, well, quite silly, but it’s kind of fun anyway. Essentially, trees of all shapes and colors dot the landscape, and by smashing yourself against them, you can shake loose similarly-colored “fruits”, stars, and sometimes other goodies. Rolling over a fruit will imbue you with that color, and everywhere you travel, you’ll spread it around until it fades. You can change any time you wish simply by picking up a different fruit, and thereby spread a great variety of colors and shades.
Along your journey in Cube & Star, you’ll meet a variety of other cubes – and some other, stranger “creatures” – who will impart words of wisdom, baffling phrases, or speak in some strange unique glyph-tongue that I haven’t yet sorted out the relevance or meaning of. Many of these are typical pseudo-philosophical rambling with a bent towards existentialism, which is pretty par for the course as far as life-exploring games dialogue goes, but it fits very well with the game’s apparent theme of relentlessly pursuing a task of unknown consequence for no readily-available greater purpose. That’s not to say there’s no reason to do anything, though; the game features an impressive list of accomplishments to go after. Featuring an impressive array of variety, these tasks range from simply adding color to growing percentages of the world to meeting different characters, finding notes elucidating the history of the planet, and many other strangely compelling tasks.
So, a lot of these references to the meaningless nature of the game and the non-directionality of play might sound like something of a strong condemnation for Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love, but they’re not really. While there’s very little to go on, especially early on, I did actually find myself enjoying playing, much in a similar way to how I enjoyed Luxuria Superbia. It’s a relaxing, soothing sort of game that doesn’t make demands or give any reason to stress or grow frustrated, and there’s something to be said for that in the landscape of games in general. I’m not sure if it feels worth the $9.99 investment via Steam, but for those who enjoy experimental games and starkly different play styles, it’s worth a gander – maybe more so when it’s swept up in an inevitable sale, but it’s intriguing enough that certain people could easily get their money’s worth out of full-price. There’s a lot to do, once you get a good handle on how to do it or what it is you’d like to do with it, and the free-roaming exploration is a bit of fun, if not entirely my cup of tea.