October 14, 2013 10:30 AM | Lena LeRay
We've talked before about how Quibit's Space Qube was created so the designer could play with his son from halfway around the world. From that, it's a pretty safe bet that the game is good for kids to play. But will adults enjoy it? Furthermore, it offers in-app purchases -- are kids going to be tricked into racking up credit card bills while playing?
The answer to that last question is "no", thankfully, but whether adults will enjoy it or not depends on what they are looking for.
The Space Qube app has two parts to it. One is a shooting game and the other is a voxel editor that allows the player to create their own ships. The latter has a range of social sharing options including uploading one's model to the creator's site to posting to Twitter and Facebook via the usual iOS interfaces, though the shooting game only allows sharing scores to Facebook.
The Shooting Game
It looks at first glance like a 3rd person, over the shoulder bullet hell game, and that's true to an extent, but it is kid-friendly and the number of bullets flying away from your enemies is nothing like you'd expect for a game of that genre. In terms of gameplay, it actually felt more like I was looking up from the bottom of a game of Centipede. The player moves along a straight line back and forth, shooting at enemies coming towards them in different patterns.
There are two control schemes. The default is a touch control scheme in which you shoot by touching the screen and move by dragging your finger. The alternate control scheme is a tilt control scheme in which you have the option of automatic or manual fire. Each one has advantages and disadvantages. The touch control scheme allows for precise movement, which is great early on before you get your ship upgraded. However, all but the smallest finger drags cause your ship to barrel roll for a dodge, which means that mobility disabled gamers without the ability to make fine movements will have trouble controlling the ship, especially if it's a fast one. Bigger, slower ships are slow enough to make a difference in gameplay, but not much of a difference for the fine motor control impaired. The tilt controls are much more forgiving of bigger movements, but you give up the barrel roll dodge to get it and if you don't select the manual firing option you still have to touch the screen regularly or face it going dark at inconvenient times.
Controls are more important when you first start playing the game, as the ships available to you are basic and yet to be upgraded. To upgrade them requires a currency called qubes, which can be earned by playing or purchased using real money. Some upgrades can only be purchased after completion of a stage and are only valid for the ship currently in use, while others can be purchased at any time and affect the whole game. A few ships with better starting stats can be purchased with qubes, but most of the ships models that come with the game can only be unlocked through play, as you get some progress towards a random ship at the end of every stage. At this point, though, there are thousands of ship models that players have uploaded for anyone to see and use, so if you want an interesting ship you can get one without too much trouble.
My biggest complaint with the game is that there's no way to save your progress. If you get to the seventh stage and then your phone battery dies before you can go farther, you have to start all over again from the first stage. You'll have the advantage of ship upgrades to make it easier, but it's still something of a time investment. While this is potentially great for keeping a kid occupied on a long car ride, it means that it may not be the best game for an adult's commute. Furthermore, when I play the game on my iPhone 5, it gets warm. In my previous interview with Qubit programmer Owen Wu, he talked about the voxel engine trying the limits of what mobile devices can do, and I would say that the rise in temperature gives evidence of it. It doesn't really get warm enough to cause concern, but it is noticeable and I won't play Space Qube while charging my phone.
In short, the controls are intuitive, though some disabled gamers may have problems with them, and the graphics and sound make for a nice aesthetic package. Someone with a great deal of experience and expertise with bullet hell shooters may find this game boring. For someone like myself, however, who lacks advanced skill with those kinds of games, Space Qube's shooter half is pretty entertaining.
Making Your Own Ships
If you don't want to go to the trouble of unlocking ships or just want to let the creator in you loose, the voxel ship editor in Space Qube is your friend. There are a variety of colors to choose from and you can make anything you imagine with them that fits into a 16x16x16 voxel cube. The cube is divided into 16 layers of size 16x16, and each layer can be edited individually, with the ability to copy and paste layers to make it easier to make a smooth transition from one layer to the next. The model's current state is constantly visible to one side, updated in real time. My clumsy fingers sometimes have problems putting the voxels exactly where I want on the small screen of my iPhone, but that wouldn't be a problem on the iPad. The editor was designed to be used by children, and ease of use was clearly a concern when putting it together.
The larger an object is, the more voxels it has, the greater its armor (a.k.a. health) and the lower its speed will be in the shooter game. You don't have to play the shooter game with your creations, though. Once you've created a masterpiece, you have the option of uploading it to Qubit's servers for perusal and potential download by anyone who wants to browse the available ships. You can also share it with friends via email, Facebook, or Twitter, all of which are handled through the iOS's usual channels.
However, the coolest thing you can do with your creations (or anyone else's creations you download from Qubit's servers) is send them to an online 3D printing service. All you have to do is push the 3D printing button, use a slider to choose a size, and hit okay. The game will take you to the 3D printing company's web site and add your order to a shopping cart. You then fill out billing and shipping information and wait for a 3D printout to come to you. How much it will cost you depends on the size of the model, but small prints great for desktop decorations are very reasonably priced.
It never feels like the game is pushing you to buy more qubes with an in-app purchase. If you don't have enough qubes to buy something, it tells you so and that's that. There's no encouragement to push another button to instantly "get" more qubes or any other psychological tricks. Someone who wants to buy qubes must deliberately scroll to them and press a button with a real-world price clearly marked. It's still possible that kids could make in-app purchases, but the game doesn't try to trick them into it.
The more expensive 3D prints are impossible to buy on accident. You have to fill in too much information on the printer's web site for a kid to easily rack up real money charges.
In general, I get a little skeptical when a paid game also has in-app purchases of anything but DLC. However, I feel like Qubit has done a good job of creating a game which doesn't punish players who don't make in-app purchases while still providing the option. They've also done a great job of making sure that their kid-friendly game isn't going to try to eke money out of naive tiny humans. Adding the awesomeness of 3D printing with no chance of accidental purchase on top of that is pretty fantastic.
Conclusion, or TL;DR
People looking for a mobile bullet hell shooter experience should look elsewhere. People looking for a good family game or kid-friendly game should really consider purchasing the game. People who like Legos, Minecraft, and similar artsy things might consider buying the app just to play with that, even if they have no interest in the shooter.
If you're interested in buying Space Qube, it is a universal iOS app that regularly costs $2.99 but is currently on sale for $0.99. If you want to take a look at some of the things people have created, check out the Space Qube web site.