Q.U.B.E. 2 Review

If you want to play Q.U.B.E. 2 – something that I do recommend overall, as it’s a pretty fun, if weirdly confounding puzzle game – then I can only recommend the Switch version if you have literally no other way to play it. Or at least, I ASSUME that my problems with this version are Switch related, such as its attempts to make the game more playable on the Joycons resulting in the most ridiculously huge dead zone for the right joystick I've probably ever seen, making it so that any fine aim is frustratingly difficult. So many times did I run into this, in fact, that at some point I realized that it was easier for me to just use the left stick to move my character’s whole body into place than just use the right stick to position the reticule.

The Switch can definitely do first-person games, or games that require at least a bit of finesse with the control sticks, so I know it’s possible, but for some reason, even with the sensitivity turned all the way up, fine movement is just like.... not possible on that right stick in this game. It’s annoying in most puzzles, and downright aggravating in any that require faster movement or interacting with something from further away.

Being on the relatively underpowered Switch is also the only reason I can assume for the technical hitches I constantly ran into along the way as well. It’s all graphical, never something that actually hurt the gameplay, but frame drops, disappearing geometry, even the way that the world seems to just barely be loading fast enough around the edges of the screen as you turn – docked or undocked, it’s the same thing.

It’s unfortunate to lead with that but it’s also important to mention it all at the beginning just as a warning that if you read the rest of this, and like the sound of it, please check if you have any other way of playing the game. Switch version is a bit of a mess and my score’s going to reflect that, but Q.U.B.E. 2 is honestly a wonderful little puzzle game, with a neat core mechanic that can be really satisfying to see working right. 

Starting out on the game, I was definitely feeling like I missed something. It felt like I was coming in in the middle of a story, like there were two or three chapters that I’d skipped over, because I was right in there, confused, lost, someone barking orders in my ear, references to how some big crazy event had happened and you were in the middle of the fallout of it. I found myself thinking “Wow, Q.U.B.E. 1 must have had the WILDEST STORY MODE IN THE WORLD.”

Turns out Q.U.B.E. didn’t have a story. It’s just a game where you walk from room to room and solve puzzles and then way to go, chum, here’s some credits, proud of you. There wasn’t even someone talking in your ear or like audiologs, or anything. And that’s wild to me because not only does the game owe its whole thing to Portal, but it came out AFTER Portal 2, which blew the story and characters into even greater importance. It’s really weird to see a game like this come out and give you so little personality. I’m guessing the developers felt the same way, which is why Q.U.B.E: Director’s Cut a few years later added a full story involving aliens, space travel, and the potential invasion of earth.

So, Q.U.B.E. 2 takes place in the aftermath of all of that, with a human woman in one ear trying to help navigate you around and help you figure out what this big facility is, and an alien voice in the other ear filling in the whole backstory. The story doesn’t really go anywhere or add much, save for explanations about why you’ve entered ANOTHER chamber with four puzzles off to the side and a central terminal to activate after, which I mean, I didn’t really need that justification, but it’s nice it’s there, I guess, to give some flavor and some real headscratchers of lines (e.g. “you could imitate everything about your subjects.... except life. That’s why you’re dying...”, like how are they dying if they can’t imitate life, doesn’t that mean they’re not alive so then they can’t die, what’s going on here, help, I need an adult!).

Like I said, this is all here to basically give you a reason to be going from puzzle to puzzle, and those puzzles are definitely what you’re here for, and have some of the smartest changes from the original game. In it, each room you entered was stark white, except for colored squares that indicated how you could interact with them. Each was pre-colored, so when you walked into the room, you already had the tools in place, you more or less just had to figure out the order for how to do it. I saw it described as less solving the puzzles, and more about executing the solution you’ve already been given.  

Q.U.B.E. 2 instead lets you assign those spots to have the actions you want, with the caveat that you can only have one of each type at a time. The game’s got a far more mechanical look to the environments, less the stark white rooms of the first, and on certain surfaces are glowing white squares, which you can then cycle to a specific color and thus specific action. Blue, for example, is a bounce pad. Red extrudes a column out of the square, and green drops a cube out. It thus makes the rooms feel more like places for experimentation, and is far more rewarding just by giving that extra step. You feel like a genius when you go “Aha, this cube should come out of HERE!” and you get that feeling again when you set it all in motion and watch it work perfectly. It eventually starts to layer in more, such as magnets and movable platforms, which really helps keep it fresh on the way through as well.

It’s got that thing I always look in a puzzle game where it manages to add mechanics until the end so it always feels fresh, and I was impressed at how much just a small change could introduce such new ways of looking at a puzzle. And most of the puzzles are pretty satisfying, though there were one or two that I found myself thinking “I don’t think that’s what the game WANTED but it WORKED so I’ll take it.” But with 80 or so puzzles in the game, that’s a ratio the devs can be proud of.

It’s just such a shame that the game is such a shame to play, then. I even wound up looking up a video of a puzzle solution because I thought the game was broken, and it was a guy playing the PC version and I was so envious about how it looked. Frame rates! Smooth camera control! Foliage that isn’t popping in and out at random! It was lovely, I mean, seriously, I’ve already harped on it but if you can play another version of Q.U.B.E. 2, then go play that instead. It’s a great puzzle game, it just needs to play better.