Cubivore – A Retrospective

piggyI specifically remember the first time I saw the game box. It was around 2002 or 2003. Netflix wasn’t really a thing yet and we all had to go to the Blockbuster or the “blue place” equivalent to rent a movie. Always for too much money. A game rental from Blockbuster was around $8 at one point. Where if I thought I would rent something twice, I would probably also rent it a third time and therefore it would be worth buying used somewhere.

I bought the GameCube on the day it was released. I didn’t really plan on doing it but at the time I was working at a PetCo that shared a parking lot with a Target. That morning, I dropped into Target to get that day’s lunch before there was a crowd and saw the “new GameCubes here” sign. I casually walked up and asked if they had any. They said that they had just a few more but only the black ones. I bought it, put it in the back of my car, and worked the rest of the day. I remember getting home and sitting down and then remembering that I just bought one. I must have forgotten because I sure didn’t plan on buying a new video game system that day. Either way, it was the last time Nintendo had a competitively fast system on the market. And it didn’t last long.

But this story isn’t about the GameCube.  In fact, it is more about it’s predecessor, the Nintendo 64.  The major differences between the two would be the move from expensive-to-produce cartridge based games to the far superior disc-based games.  If you could master read times and partitioning, what sort of load times would tie you down?  I’m asking you.  Answer me!

A long while back, like in the year 2000, a company that nobody had ever heard of, or will ever hear from again, began working on an unusual title called “Animal Leader”.  It was being made for the Nintendo 64 which was Nintendo’s hot console at the time.  The game was a combination of an action game with the Japanese concept of collecting everything to complete the game.

Saru_Brunei
Who?

For whatever reason, Animal Leader never made it out onto the Nintendo 64.  A year later, in 2001, the GameCube was released (see three paragraphs above).  Releasing a new game for the “last-gen” console is a risky move.  Especially if the game is weird and may have only a niche market.  Animal Leader was updated and basically ported to work on the new GameCube hardware.  The name of the game was changed from Animal Leader to Cubivore.

I believe that the name change was a way to capitalize on the “Cube” name in GameCube and to tell the world that we made this game look graphically poor on purpose.

The game was released in 2002, a year after the GameCube hit the market.  Internet gaming forums and things didn’t really exist and there was no build up or on-the-horizon view of games coming to the United States from Japan.  Sure, things were better than the 80’s when something new just showed up at Toys-R-Us, but still.

Check out this early Japanese commercial.

Which is where I step in again.  I didn’t spend too much time in the early 2000’s playing video games.  I was cycling a lot and had a girlfriend or two (at different times, no overlapping).  Work was always busy and I even had a couple of jobs.  I wasn’t on the tip of the video game ice burg as I am now.  I would play some games that were recommended.  We would find things by chance or buy some very cheap used titles.  Rarely would I buy a new game.

Cubivore Box Art
Pretty colors.

Cubivore sat on the shelf of many stores and was mostly ignored.  Sales weren’t stellar and the game had nothing to be compared to.  Also, spending eight dollars is a gamble if you’re going to pick up a game that you’ve never heard of.  One night I took that gamble with my sisters and we finally won!

Cubivore won me at first with the box art.  I’m a sucker for big and colorful pictures which are staged outdoors.  Maybe that’s why I love the Mario games.

Atlus_logo
…and these guys.

We popped in the game and created a save file.  The GameCube was the first of the Nintendo systems that had personal save files which means that if you rent a game, you can later buy a different physical copy (disc) and still have the game that you were playing.  It was a win-win situation technically and it kept costs down for everybody.

The first thing you see is possibly a dog made out of flat square panels.  It growls at the screen and begins to run away, stopping to take a dump real quick.  Some great MIDI piano music starts and then you’re there.  These oddly shaped animals come out to run around.

animals
Audubon’s Field Guide to Ugly Animals

What next?  Push Start!  Here we go on an adventure that I’m going to get my eight dollars’ worth.

The creatures don’t actually look like that.  They don’t even look close to how they look on the box.  They actually look more like this:

gameshot
The TV show In Living Color as a Cubivore.

You play the part of a brand new creature.  You are born with a single limb.  Your goal in life is to become the King Cubivore a.k.a. the Killer Cubivore.  You’re really thrown into a brutal world.  Video game violence is glorified to the point of comedy.  In this game, the violence actually makes you sad.  You start as an almost defenseless piggy with not much more than a mouth.  You wobble around and suddenly see other creatures.

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Jerks. Every single one of them. (prototype coloring)

These creatures are pretty weak like yourself.  They have one limb also and bumble around the best that they can.  On their ears or faces, they scrape along looking for food…and for you.  They want to kill you and eat you.  Plain and simple.  This is the game; eat or be eaten.  And it is brutal from the beginning.  You must kill and eat the first creature you meet.  Actually, you are in direct competition with all of them.  You rip them apart in a very brutal manner though it looks like you are taking apart Lego bricks.  It sounds like a suffering animal

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Even more.

And here’s where it turns into a real game.  You eat your own species.  And when you do, you morph into other species.  Having a body of Legos makes you an open palate for evolutionary mischief.  And you just punched your card, buddy.  Today’s your first day!

clash chart
Clash colors are the bee’s knees.

So what now?  You’re a new form and a new color.  Colors have different abilities and shapes can be better for running or fighting or getting out of the way of something bigger.

What’s this?  This next enemy has more limbs.  He has two.  And he’s quite a bit stronger.  Let’s see how this goes.  Battle time.  You’ll end up fighting some nasty guys in this game and if you come unprepared, you’ll have a tough fight before you.  By unprepared, I mean as a creature in an inferior color or shape.  You’ll be hacking away at a big guy one hitpoint at a time while he takes thirty from you with each hit.  The only way out is to hit a few times and run away to a safe area, eat some grass, maybe wait until night when you recharge and recite some awesome poetry, and continue the battle the following morning.

You will recover all of your hitpoints overnight but the enemy will only recover about 50%.  Underprepared battles can take days.  Not literal days but video game days.  Big enemies will give you things called raw meat.  This is the only way to mate.  Really?  Yea, we’re going from PG to PG-13.  But in a science text-book sort of way.  And with the same attitude as the kid you were when you were reading these textbooks.

Mating has real consequences.  Your offspring will be some mutation of you.  The more lovebits you pick up in the world, the greater amount of females will produce offspring.  Lovebits are hard to get and the females won’t even touch you if you don’t have the raw meat.  So you’re given a choice of your offspring.  That offspring is you.  You play that one next.  Sadly, in the next scene, you watch your character, the old you, die as you grow up very quickly (in a matter of seconds).  You can continue from exactly where you were but now with another limb.  Here is a bit more on the mechanics.

You’ll even need to eat certain wildabugs to open up more wilderness. Areas of land are inaccessible until you eat enough of these sneaky little buggers.

You can build up a few characteristics such as hump points (larger stomach = larger hit points), horn points (attack), and scar points (defense).  These stay with you through all of your forms.  Fortunately, they become very helpful later on.

So now we’ve got a real life example of evolutionary science here.  Eat, kill, sex, death.  Or whichever order you choose…but death is always at the end.  And you will die, you will be killed and you will kill a lot of things.

After Piggy Jason grows up into several forms, he is killed for good!  Jason then is reincarnated somehow into a bear.  You are now Grizzly Jason.  The game begins as it did before.  You’re in a different place but you have only one limb.  Characteristics listed above follow you but for the most part, you’re starting over.

cube body
I’m not an anatomologist but this looks shopped.

You make it a bit further as a bear.  You are able to get four limbs or so where as a pig, only three.  And by the way, the difference between these “animals” is nothing beyond their name.  Your next form is a bird, Chicky Jason.  As Chicky Jason, you will be able to get to the end of the game.  But wait, what, I can’t?

As I made it to the end of the game, I realized that without mutating 100 times, whether through offspring or eating everything in sight, you cannot fight the final bosses.  It’s a bummer because you beat what you think is the last guy and then you go to a scene where a giant Cubivore female eats you and you start over.  Literally, start over.  You get to keep your characteristics but they tell you that if you don’t get 100 forms, you can forget about the final boss.  So keep playing from the beginning.

I should point out that during game changes, you (our character) runs an internal dialogue.  He is interested in eating as much as possible thereby eliminating his enemies and sex.  And not subtly.  The word “sex” isn’t used but our little guy is a bit of a horny eating machine.  Poetic as well and likes to rhyme.  It actually made what could have been a very bland game much more entertaining.

I played again as piggy Jason a few times because it is a short run.  When I got to about 75 mutations, I jumped to the Chicky Jason form and aimed at the top.  Going through the levels, I found it easier with my stronger (and eventually maxed out) characteristics.  I began to understand the coloring and patterns that I needed to match to mutate.  It is somewhat complex and has a very interesting mechanic to the changing of shapes.  You need to eat certain colors in a certain order.  If you mess up, you can “doo” and remove the last color.  If you want a strong set of colors and are weak, you should eat some less strong guys first before going after the tough guys.

There are special colors called “clash” colors though I keep calling them “rage” colors.  They are more vivid, solid standard colors.  These are more powerful and in the right combinations can be incredibly effective.

There’s some thought that goes into it but I’m not much of a thinker in video games.  I mostly just want to shoot/run/end/kill/finish a level…and fast.  There’s a lot of strategy in this game.  And it is even more difficult to focus with a few major technical problems.

The controls are bad.  Your thumb is busy because it controls the block/attack/retreat buttons which are used commonly.  It is a button-masher type of game.  If you don’t know what that is, it is exactly as it sounds.  You lock on to targets with your left index finger.  Mine is still sore and we completed the game three days ago.

The camera is really bad.  Bad enough to possibly not play the game.  We’ve been spoiled by some great 3D games.  Going back ten years to this stinker of a camera is tough.

The music.  The music is nice at first.  Some nice MIDI piano.  Then you realize that there are about three or four “songs” which are loops that are anywhere from five to ten seconds long.  There are lots of decent sound effects but the awful piano fight music is just, well, awful.  Fights can last for days and hearing the same five second loop for an hour can be a bit too much.

I enjoyed the game even though there were a few times that I nearly just put the controller down and said it isn’t worth it.  When you’re weak and fighting a strong guy, things get difficult to the point of almost tears.  It is a hard game.  I will not lie about that.  The combat system is poor.  This game does hold a special place in my heart.  It is strange.  Atlus took a big chance, and lost.  We won a quirky title with a small following.

After playing and nearly completing the game back in 2003, I put it down.  In fact, I never owned the game until some time in 2007 when bought it from eBay.  It was an easy sale for me and I always meant to pick it back up and finish the stupid game.  Finally, just last week, I set out to do so in a public area, the internet, and stream the thing for the world to see.  Here it is.  All 14 hours of it.  Please, don’t feel like you need to watch any of it.

During the broadcast, I was joined by a group of different people from all over the world, including a guy going by the name KingDahl who was there for almost the whole thing.  This spanned over four nights and I really enjoyed it.  You can hear my voice through the game as I comment on the game and also communicate with those who joined us in the chat room.  Erin helped out with the chat room.  You will not hear their voices nor did I.  I am responding only to the typed comments in the chat room.

That heavy breathing you hear is not me.  It is the sound of some of the animals sleeping.  It sounds gross but it isn’t me and my cold.

Lindsey and Lisa joined me also.  It was fun and nostalgic for them to hang out and watch me play video games.  Sort of neat to think that we’re 3,000 miles away and can still do that sort of thing.  I miss stuff like this.

Of course, I have a cold so I routinely pull away from the microphone to cough.  Possibly not often enough.

Here are all of the videos in order: (I removed these links July 2014 because they are long dead and Twitch.tv lost the videos when they changed their name from Justin.tv.)

If any of it is worth watching, it would be the last video. Lindsey, I think you would like to watch the last one, at least the second half.

All in all, even with the frustration, I would give this game a thumbs up.  I’m glad that I finally finished it and I’m glad that I have it on video so I can either re-watch the whole thing or just know that I have proof of the completed game.  It will make it’s way to YouTube soon.

So if you’re ever looking for an unusually styled, older game (I can’t believe I just called a GameCube game an “older” game), try Cubivore.  It’s always available on eBay.  The manual itself is full of great artwork.

I found a few other reviews of the game which, as if this hasn’t been enough, you can read more.  These were mostly written a while ago so the viewpoint is different, especially from a technical standpoint.

  1. Joysquiq believes that this should make it to the Wii.  Obviously this is one of the later reviews.
  2. Gamecritics gave it a 6.  A 6 in the video game world is pretty bad.  I’d call it a D.  A ‘D’ to me is pretty good.
  3. TVTropes didn’t hate it, but had some negative views.
  4. The-NextLevel had the most positive of the reviews I found.  I think that they felt the unusualness of the game was worth the control problems.
  5. If you read any of these, read this one.  It is short and sweet.  It is a dialogue between a former player of the game and the game itself.  A fantasy dialogue on why I love you and why I won’t miss you.

So, if you see this wobbling down the street, say Hi.  You’re big enough and he can’t hurt you though he may try.  It’s in his nature, his blood, and his raw-meat.  He’s not so bad of a guy.  Pick him up.  You’ll be glad you did.

cubivore paper

Old Comments

By: Lisa on: Mar 9 2011 5:05AM
I can’t believe I read the whole thing…
By: Kingdahl on: May 2 2011 12:20AM
I believe that I didnt read the whole thing 🙂 It was a book and I already saw the movie..
By: Jason Schlueter on: May 2 2011 11:44AM
The movie was much better than the book. And the movie was hard enough to watch.

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