I’m not playing it coy this time. The game I’ve gone back to this week has no truck with coy. It is Kurushi, the ‘Modern Times‘ of videogames. If you’re American you might know it as Intelligent Qube, which means you missed out on the oh-so-subtle ‘I krush u’ pun of the European title.
It will have crushed you, nonetheless. It’s a game that pits a tiny, fragile human against an implacable, advancing wall of giant, granite cubes. There is no winning, only surviving. There is no reward, only a fresh wall of furious, thundering monoliths. It is, in many respects, the most frightening game ever made.
Why go back to it? Because it remains one of the neatest strategy games ever conceived. Your job is to lay mines under the advancing wall to destroy the light grey blocks, while avoiding damaging any ‘forbidden’ black blocks. As the cubes roll forward, you detonate whatever mines you have laid under them. The only thing stacking the odds in your favour are the green blocks: hit one of these, and it will take out all the blocks around it.
That’s it. Destroy the grey blocks and get out of the path of the black ones. Failure comes either by being crushed, or by running out of ground to retreat along. You need excellent spatial skills and the ability to think three steps ahead, and you have to do it all fast.
It’s also one of the cleverest games ever conceived. I’m not entirely kidding with the ‘Modern Times’ reference. This is a game about how one apparently powerless person can take down the faceless system. It’s about our need to measure ourselves against machines, and machines against ourselves. And, if you ever make it all the way to the end, it’s about death. And not the St-Peter-meeting-you-at-the-gates-with-your-childhood-dog-and-a-mug-of-cocoa kind of death, either.
This week, though, I’ve been playing to lose. This week, I haven’t been the brave, battling human, the tiny spark of organic potential refusing to be ground in the gears of industrialised progress. This week, I have been the cubes. This week, I am become death. I am become rage. I am become unstoppable, howling fury, mashing the pathetic, scuttling bug of a human beneath my perfect planes and razored bevels. Because, this week, that tiny human hasn’t been man. He’s been a man. A very specific man.
This week I’ve killed Steven Spielberg three dozen times. I’m feeling better about the whole thing now, so I’m not going to vent any more steam about his increasingly asinine – and frankly pretty arrogant – repetition of the ‘games won’t be important until they can make you cry, which up until now they haven’t been able to, but don’t worry I’ve come to fix things’ line.
Just because he’s proven, time and again, to have a better grasp of how to entertain people than any other human being alive doesn’t mean he knows squat about games. Or about how games can be so emotionally sophisticated and thematically resonant that I’m currently using one built out of nothing more than flat grey blocks as a in-house psychotherapist.
No, there’s no need for any of that now. I have dealt with my anger issues. I have let go of my rage. I am at peace. Largely thanks to the other thing that Kurushi made me realise. Stuff Mario, stuff Master Chief (You fool! I could have offered you so much more than stupid old Cortana.), stuff Viewtiful Joe and Sackboy and KK Slider. My favourite videogame character of all time is the Cube.
When you think about it, pretty much all Cube games are brilliant. Kurushi, brilliant. Devil Dice, brilliant. Animal Leader, Nintendo’s oft forgotten angular exploration of sex and death, brilliant. Tetris. Brilliant. Lumines, brilliant. Tetris Attack, brilliant. Mr Driller, brilliant. Super Puzzle Fighter, brilliant. Every generation, every platform, Cube delivers.
And no carping, please, about blocks and cubes being different things. Mario is still Mario whether he’s in 2D or 3D. The things that make me swoon about Cube – his orthogonality, his ability to be whatever colour you need him to be, the neatness – Douglas Adams would say the kentuckyness with which he fits against other Cubes – are there whether he’s got depth or not. And the more I play with him, the happier and calmer I get. I’ve swapped my desktop for some nice Ellsworth Kelly. I’m lunching on feta and croutons.
So, in the end, I’m grateful to Spielberg. He may need high-def, motion sensing, Natal-enabled kit to get excited about the potential of games, but the rest of us only ever needed a few straight lines and a handful of vertices to know we were on to a winner. And it’s not very often you get to feel smarter than a man with three Oscars and two billion quid.
[Margaret Robertson is the former editor of Edge magazine and now videogame consultant. One More Go is her regular Offworld column in which she explores the attractions of the games she just can’t stop going back to.]
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