With a AAA game market that continues to overdo it on the brown/grey, gritty super-realism, it’s almost become expected of indie games to have some form of eye-popping graphic design. Over the years, games like LIMBO, Journey, and even Minecraft have engaged their audience with unusual aesthetics that AAA games have barely ever touched. It’s no surprise that Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube makes the same kind of gorgeous first impressions. Developed by Liquid Flower, Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube is a first-person puzzle game with a downright ascendant graphic design and plenty of mind-bending, block-stacking challenges in its eerie world. While its stages have a nasty habit of overstaying their welcome, inventive mechanics and a beautiful visual design make Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube a puzzle game with creativity to burn.
Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube can be easily defined as Minecraft meets Portal. It’s a first-person puzzler where the main goal is to reach the light-filled doorway at the end of each stage. However, the main mechanic is using different colored blocks to progress. You can place blocks with the left mouse button and take the blocks back with the right. You don’t need to be directly next to blocks to reclaim them, so you can move and manipulate them from a respectable distance. The twist is that each color of block has a different purpose. The first color, red, can be placed against yellow tiles on the walls and floors, while also being stacked or attached to each other. Red blocks can be used to make bridges, design ledges, or even stop moving platforms in their tracks. Other blocks like the purple block (which lowers gravity for extra jump height) add new dimensions to the puzzle design. While they aren’t brain teasers, the puzzles can be challenging, sometimes requiring tricky platforming to complete. However, the jump controls are pretty weighted, so it can make the platforming extremely unreliable in more harrowing puzzles, sometimes leading to an untimely demise.
Each stage is composed of floating temples and platforms, but despite their serenity, these stages can be real challenges. Earlier stages get to the point quickly, with a pretty linear design, but later stages are unnecessarily open-ended, making it very easy to get lost. Checkpoints are also troubling. Glowing bird statues are your checkpoints, which you appear at after you fall to your death. The checkpoints aren’t too rare, but most puzzles leading up to each checkpoint can be very complex. A missed jump can force you back to the beginning of a lengthy series of block placements, setting you back a few minutes. Finally, the levels are very long, which becomes especially troubling when you’re forced to start at the beginning of a stage after you exit and revisit the game instead of at a checkpoint. Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube isn’t digestible in short bursts. With lengthy stages and labyrinthine design, it throws a wrench into the straightforward puzzling that Portal succeeded with. But the length can be rewarding. The puzzles might take an excessive amount of preparation and organization to complete, but completing a puzzle does offer ample satisfaction. It’s when you spend 20 minutes on a single puzzle, then realize that there are three more to finish afterward that things get really obnoxious.
Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube uses a subdued, serene atmosphere. With levels taking place in the sky, the graphic design is imaginative and beautiful to behold. The use of glimmering lights and surprisingly varied color makes each level pop, despite sticking with the traditional “sky temple” aesthetic. Levels use the typical spectrum of gaming tropes (ice, fire, caves), but these variants give an otherwise consistent graphic design new life. If you have an Oculus Rift, the game also supports the headset if you’re up for even more immersion. Audio is stellar. With a heavy emphasis on ambiance, Qbeh-1 is symphonic, eerie and spiritual. Few tracks hold any kind of hooky melody, but with a quiet and serene design, the audio feels apropos to the game’s dreamy world. The graphics aren’t going to push GPU’s to their limits, but Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube’s atmospheric and stylistic proficiencies are amazing to see and hear.
Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube is a beautiful puzzler that over-indulges on its own mystique. The graphics and sound are atmospheric and stunning ways to draw players into its fantastic and dreamy world. The unique mechanic of using the cubes to progress is given plenty of room to shine; Liquid Flower designed puzzles that use the different cubes’ powers intelligently, offering unique ways to turn a simple temple room into something completely different than before. It’s when Qbeh-1 starts rambling that things get bad. The levels’ massive length make completing a single stage a real marathon, and when combined with the temples’ maze-like design, you’ll find yourself wandering for far too long before you’re able to nail a puzzle’s solution. The tedium starts to sink in after you’re walking around a single level for 30 minutes or more. But imagination breeds charm, and Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube, for all its flaws, is still a puzzle game with inventive mechanics and a graphic design that shows the best in indie games. If you’re up for an artistically ambitious puzzle game and don’t mind getting lost in the stages (literally), Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube will mesmerize you the whole way through.
Version Reviewed: PC