At some point in time, games stopped being games. 25 years ago, you wouldn’t have expected something like Tetris to have a story, but with the 7th generation and games like Portal, it was demonstrated that even the puzzle genre could make us laugh and cry. Since then, however, it seemed like there were a lot of “me-too” games coming out, some straight up trying to copy the better titles of the genre. While narrative can certainly magnify the value of a game, it too often degrades the experience when it’s done poorly. Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube, refreshingly, doesn’t bother with any of that. It’s just a puzzle game with a relaxing atmosphere and a heck of a lot of challenge that doesn't even try to pretend it’s anything else.
Qbeh-1 looks and feels like a controlled version of Minecraft. The graphics in the game are simple – it has a block aesthetic – but the architecture of each level is pretty and fun to explore. There is a consistent atmosphere of mystery as you progress and this simple drive of curiosity is enough to keep you hooked.
The object of the game is to find cubes which you can place in designated locations, stacking them beside or above each other. You arrange these cubes in a manner that allows you to progress by building staircases and bridges. Later on, you get blocks that activate switches, squares that move after placing them, and bricks that create an area of anti-gravity. It provides just enough novelty with each level to keep it fresh. I think my favorite part about the cubes is that they are nicely tucked into the corner of the screen, just visible enough to know which color you’re equipped with. Grabbing and placing cubes can be done from a nice long range, and while the puzzles are mind boggling, they’re also easy to understand and navigate.
While other contemporary puzzle games have elements of frustration, Qbeh-1 retains its calm environment even as the puzzles become more difficult. Each level has a series of checkpoints within it. There is little danger in traversing the world, except for falling to your death. But thanks to these checkpoints that’s rarely a huge setback. The focus is neatly on the puzzles themselves. The only minor complaint I have with the level design is that some of the later levels in each world feel just a little too long. It would be nice if you could save at a given checkpoint and come back later. Such an option would perfect the game’s already enormous accessibility.
Honestly, there is little bad I can say about Qbeh-1. In a try-hard industry of pretentious or sloppy writing and presentation, Qbeh-1 teaches us that it’s sometimes okay to just be a game and nothing else. If you like challenging puzzles and enjoy a fun meditative zen aesthetic, get this game – it’s worth your time.