Ever since I first clapped eyes on Marble Madness back in the early-mid 1980s, I’ve been obsessed with the marble rolling puzzle platformer. That love grew ever more with multiple hours spent in the land of Kula World a decade or so later. And that in turn was complemented brilliantly by the arrival in my life of Marble Blast Ultra on Xbox 360, again pretty much after another 10 years had passed. In fact, you could say that for 20 years, my gaming life was dictated by the humble ball rolling puzzler. But then things went quiet with just a few throwaway options failing to ensure that the excitement the genre delivered would continue to evolve. But with the release of HardCube on Xbox One, there is a chance that once again the ball rolling skills I’ve developed over the best part of 40 years of gaming could come to the fore again. Or not, because this really is another one of those throwaway titles, and a poor attempt at infusing some life into a much-loved genre.
HardCube arrives on Xbox One via the team at Big Way Games, and from screenshots alone you could be mistaken for thinking that this is going to provide an experience much like those previously mentioned titles. But honestly, if a ball had shoes, this wouldn’t even be fit to tie the laces of the iconic Marble Madness from all those years past. In fact, it’s a poor attempt that does little to excite, not helped by the fact that you’ll find yourself having completed the entire experience before you know it – with absolutely zero reason to continue going back from there on out.
HardCube promises to be a simple but gripping casual ball roller that should be perfect for passing the time. With the express intention of the player being left to take a tennis ball, and navigate their way through a multiple set of worlds and levels, avoiding obstacles in the process, the basics are pretty much there. Unfortunately HardCube fails to ever build on those initial building blocks, to instead provide a gaming experience that is quite easily over within an hour.
Movement of your ball is actioned by the left stick, the A button works as a simple jump, and the bumpers are utilised to snap the camera 90 degrees in either direction, to allow you to be able to work out the best route to the finish. With thin walkways to tease the ball along, as well as the need to jump up steps and across large chasms which are in place, the simplicity of HardCube is there for all to see. And it is simple too, with the tutorial allowing anyone new to the game or genre the chance to understand what is needed of them.
From there four different worlds play out. The Flying Islands further the tutorial and task you with collecting umbrellas on your way around each maze, while the Western world swaps the umbrellas out for cowboy hats amid a yellow-y/orange Wild West theme. We then have the Winter world that drops in some ice paths and cold windy blasts that see you slip and slide as you try to collect Santa hats, alongside that of the Sci-Fi world – a land full of diamonds and laser guns… and not much else. Much like the rest of HardCube.
The problem is, whilst each of the eight levels that are included in each world are well-designed and thought-out, none of them really do anything different from the last, or the next. Yes, the Winter levels chuck those icy paths in, slowing you down as you inch your way around, and the Sci-Fi stages occasionally see you needing to dodge the odd laser gun – in fact, the only tricky stage in the entire game is due to one rather persistent sentry – but any form of obstacle is so scarce and few and far between that they are rarely worth worrying about. In fact, I have been pretty dismayed to see the initial obstacles of mines and push rods that are first introduced in the Flying Islands just reused again across all stages. It’s like the development team totally ran out of ideas whilst putting HardCube together.
And that’s an overruling theme for the entirety of HardCube – a game that runs out of ideas nearly immediately. Yes, there’s the chance to stick a timer on to let you get in on some speedrunning action, but with the full 1000 Gamerscore snapped up for just working your way through the various stages, and ensuring that you die a few times, there’s absolutely no way on this earth anyone would find further pleasure in trying to complete a stage before a timer runs out. Especially not when you have to put up with dodgy hit detections, a camera snapping system that constantly wants to see you fail, and a backing tune that feels like it is on a loop from the word go.
Even though HardCube on Xbox One is a relatively cheap purchase, I can’t in all honesty recommend anyone purchase it, unless all they are bothered about is grabbing some super easy achievements and Gamerscore. It’s a poor addition to the puzzle platformer, and can’t hold any form of light to those ball rolling games from decades past. And that’s a pretty sad statement to make.