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I must admit that despite its foibles, I am fascinated by Cubivore. I don’t really know what brought this on, considering that it’s a mostly forgotten about Gamecube exclusive (though interestingly, co-developed by Saru Brunei and Intelligent Systems, the latter responsible for Advance Wars and Paper Mario) that I only heard of when a guy I knew submitted a soundtrack sample from the game for a contest. It really stood out to me though, from the really quaint blocky environments and low-poly textures alongside its rather melancholic tunes and soothing ambience, to its core gameplay concept of devouring other panel monsters to evolve your protagonist and become the King of All Cubivores to restore Wilderness to the world. After finally finishing it, I’m honestly pretty impressed. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with a lot of the others here that the combat is extremely grueling, but I think that’s exactly what makes this game shine. It’s very barebones: the A button lets you both jump out of the way and pounce at enemies (depending on whether or not you’ve locked on to enemies by holding the left trigger, and letting this lock charge fully does more damage), and the B button lets you block but stops you in your tracks. Then, once you chip away all of the enemy’s health, you have to swing them around and tear off their limbs to eliminate them by furiously rotating the analog stick (which can take several tries because the timing is very tight). Combine this with the laborious task of dodging/fighting multiple enemies at once while carefully targeting the correct foes to snag the correct color upgrades from devouring foes, all while your enemies are trying to do the same to you, and you’ve got some absolutely brutal combat. It makes for these very tense moments, constantly rotating the camera due to the limited FOV and trying to read your opponent or get the jump on them while keeping an eye on your health, all so you also don’t get knocked down and devoured, and it absolutely sells its subtitle of “Survival of the Fittest.” At the same time, this further accentuates the game's contrast from any downtime spent wandering about these often peaceful and quiescent levels, really making you savor and appreciate your lingering moments of safety until you must once again, throw yourself into the breach.
That said, Cubivore does suffer from one fundamental flaw: it doesn’t do quite enough to prod the player into constantly experimenting and unlocking as many mutations as possible. You see, Cubivore’s final stage and bosses require the player to unlock at least 100 different mutations to proceed onwards after completing the third stage… but to my knowledge, it never fully tells the player that this is required, and is rather vaguely hinted at instead. The issue here is that Cubivore’s circumstances never really necessitate such a high number of mutations outside of gate-locking the final stage: there are a ton of different mechanics and traits that would take a ton of time to list, so I will simply say instead that it’s quite straightforward for players to figure out exactly what specific mutations and color-types mesh best with them, and focus on unlocking and using those forms with classic bread-and-butter combat skills to clear the levels. The alternative is gobbling up every single enemy to grab as many different color combinations as possible, but this could result in losing a valuable mutation on hand if you don’t already have it saved as an EZ-mutation (which must be unlocked from mating or from a specific number of the unlocked mutation, namely during mutations number 20, 50, 80, and 100). Personally, I was met with the pretty abrupt lock after only snagging 60 mutations myself during my first run, and was then sent back to the title screen, where I could select each of the first three stages (Piggy, Grizzly, and Chicky), and essentially had to replay them until I hit 100 mutations, which was definitely not as interesting and sapped some of my goodwill. If you don’t want to be forced to replay these stages, then you have to clear and fight enemies in a very specific manner because levels are quite linear: you can’t go back to previous segments of each stage once you move onto the next segment, enemies will never respawn until you go back to the title screen, and there are no quick checkpoints in-between the individual segments of each stage (so you won’t be able to “devolve” your character to a form with less limbs once you’re inevitably forced to mate to take down larger enemies that require nothing less than a difference of “one limb”), meaning that you can only restart stages at the very beginning. As such, this either requires previous knowledge of all the enemy traits present within a stage + meticulous planning to hit as many forms as possible, or closely following a walkthrough. The structure is definitely a bit of an impediment as a result, and I think this could have been greatly alleviated with more quality-of-life features that wouldn’t force me to constantly restart to respawn enemies for additional traits, as well as firmer messaging that would let players know outright to shoot for 100 mutations.
Regardless, I’m glad I finally got the chance to clear Cubivore. There was a really visceral satisfaction to be found from getting to the final stage and destroying all the final bosses with my now overpowered character, all from grinding out more powerful mutations and thoroughly upgrading all my stats via all the different training areas and collecting powerups along the way. Despite how unfortunately grindy it became from needing to replay levels, I do have a soft spot for these wacky yet interesting and lovable titles that were made during this era. It’s absolutely emblematic of a time when first- and third-party developers alike were readily willing to run with crazy concepts and push them to their limits. While I can’t quite say it’s worth the 400+ dollars asked for online, it’s definitely a nice little diversion that’ll get a few kicks out of you if you’re looking for something unpolished but definitely memorable.
Spotting an arcade cabinet of Time Crisis 5 was like spotting a unicorn in the wild for me, and as such, I immediately felt compelled to run through the whole thing. I imagine that the devs must have been just as excited as I was to try out their new toys (in the form of the Unreal Engine), because that would be the easiest way to explain the drop in depth from previous installments. The dual pedal system sounds great in theory (switch perspectives on the fly to target covered enemies from their weak points while dodging more threatening attacks), but it makes the game somewhat of a breeze, because you can switch pretty quickly with no limits and enemies take a few seconds to refocus their attacks towards you, not to mention that you can dodge every bullet your way by doing so. You're heavily conditioned to do so anyways, because the animation for ducking back under cover has been slowed in comparison to how quickly red-highlighted bullets can be spotted and then damage you, so it's much harder to dodge without outright switching with pedals. Besides that, there's a lot less incentive to mess around with your other weapons, because there aren't quite as many yellow grunts to attack to farm extra ammo: not that you'd really need to anyways, since the unlimited handgun deals enough quick damage to dispatch practically everything with ease. The game also feels a bit more gimmicky this time around due to all the other sections that detract from Time Crisis's signature cover shootouts. There are a few quick time events that require you to press the correct pedal to avoid damage, a single sniper section that has you headshotting foes to avoid detection (unlikely anyways since they die to two body shots and you'll usually fire fast enough), and some "break the targets" quick time events that become simple enough since you're provided with unlimited ammo during these moments.
I do have to admit that at the end of the day though, it's still Time Crisis despite the obvious lack of focus, and it's still got many of the hallmarks that got me so interested in the first place. The light gun aiming feels pretty responsive and satisfying due to the vibrations and fantastic visual/audio feedback, there are some pretty intense railgun sections that actually prompted me to really keep an eye on both perspectives with the pedals, and the story still makes absolutely no sense at all with some of the laziest voice-acting imaginable. I can't help but grin though, as the campyness of the franchise, with all its exaggerated boss fights and gratuitous explosions, has always been a big draw in its memorability. As it stands, it's definitely the weakest of the Time Crisis games I've dabbled with, but I'm glad to have finally found and conquered another installment. The search shall continue until I've beat them all...
There are some strange rare design choices that cause minor moments of frustration, like one song constantly switching on and off between off-beat hits and another song that can overwhelm you with a flurry of notes right after an in-song cutscene, but in general, this game absolutely rules. It does a great job translating the song's lyrics and major beats into a firmly telegraphed form with the overlapping circles + lines that have to be traced as held notes, and they're all placed carefully in order to keep the chart and the player in-tune with the beat, perfect for the compact DS touchscreen. Admittingly it's not ideal relying on sheer score accrual over individual stage rankings to unlock the bonus stages, but it at least provides another incentive to master more difficult stages and the hardest settings when the thresholds are set that high. Either way, the game's charm is absolutely infectious and it never gets old watching three guys in suits and sunglasses dance away everyone's problems, no matter how minor they may be. Without a doubt, I can see myself coming back to push through the highest difficulty after clearing this on normal, so it's an easy recommendation despite some low points. I saw this advertised all over the place as a kid and can't believe it took me this long to finally try it out: hands down one of the best titles on the DS, and it's a real shame we don't see anything from iNiS anymore.