The Magic of the Cubes : Sifteo

It’s hard to tell if the world has become jaded by the games we play, or if we’re just completely complacent with the first-person shooters that completely dominate the realm of video gaming, but the split feels even. Just as much as we vegetate in front of the same old screens, we’re also constantly inventing and innovating new ways to play, and ways to make our games interact with our movements and bodies in a more intuitive way than toggling oldschool joysticks and watching a crude simulacrum of these movements on a screen. There’s no denying the importance of gaming on an emotional, social and physical level, so I’m always seeking out new ways to play.

And laser tag scares me. Woods and teenagers who feed on a steady diet of Call of Duty? No thank you, I enjoy my dignity. So, I found Sifteo.

The idea of moveable gaming tiles is something which dates back to some of the earliest games known to man. The expansion of this idea into tiles which communicate with one another is relatively new, with games like Scrabble Flash allowing the player to construct words out of five LCD, electronic tiles which generate new letters for each game, allowing for any many game variations as there are 5-letter-or-less words. Sifteo takes this premise one step deeper, and one dimension further.

This is Sifteo. The basic Sifteo set comes with three ‘cubes’, a dock which can charge six cubes (so you can expand your games), a power cord and a wireless dongle (a small USB device which you plug into your computer). These cubes feature full-color, animated video screens which display any number of games which you download from the Sifteo store directly via a computer app, which also remotely runs these games onto your cubes. By shifting these cubes around next to one another, you can make them interact: colors and shapes on one screen will connect to the next screen and cause reactions, as if by spooky techno-magic harnessed by electrowizards and imbued into these mystical boxes. It’s a great system to construct some really interesting games, too.

Better yet, these cubes react to three dimensional motion. Tilt a cube to the left, and your puzzle pieces will slide to the left. Shake your cube, and your game elements will scatter. While these mechanics don’t apply to every game, they’re a ton of fun to watch when they come into play, and present some puzzle solutions which might not otherwise be obvious for those of us who are used to a certain type of 2D gaming.

Image via YouTube

Downloading games to your cubes requires the aforementioned wireless dongle, which remains in constant communication with your cubes while you’re playing. This is the only way to activate a new game, or access they games you’re purchased from the Sifteo store, so you remain tethered (however wirelessly) to your computer as you play. So, this is not a ‘take it on the train’ or ‘game in the bathroom’ scenario. The cubes are much easier to use then you have a table in front of you anyhow. It’s an app you can run in the background and it’s definitely not a resource hog, so you can continue to type your dissertation while the rugrat does simple math via the cubes.

The array of games is fairly wide, ranging from word puzzle games (which are almost undoubtedly better with six cubes then three), math puzzles, visual puzzles, and arcade style games. Difficulty levels begin at an all-ages point, but slowly ramp up to more complex scenarios. The addition of more cubes makes most of these games much more challenging, so I’d suggest stocking up on a few extra cubes if you’re serious about your puzzles and require a significant challenge, as there aren’t too many three-cube puzzles which will test your IQ too significantly. Tilting, shifting and shaking add a lot of depth to otherwise traditional puzzles (as well as fun animations), but once you’ve mastered these mechanics, the hunger for more complexity sets in. I’m a guy who likes to have his brain torched by puzzles, however. I’m not happy until I get a headache and lose track of reality, and start subconsciously shifting around the bathroom floor tiles to form a Tetris.

That said, the frantic action of Booker the Penguin is a ton of fun, even for an old man of 30 like myself: align a series of ever-changing paths to direct your penguin towards its eggs, while avoiding the imminent approach of an enormous monster. Loop Loop is an app which assembles sets of rhythms and noises, while Peano’s Vault is a series of math problems in which you align cubes, mathematical operators and numbers to reach a sum (paying attention to the order of assembly, not order of operations—remember PEMDAS from school?), and the Chroma games are a completely unique take on the color-matching genre, depending on rotating entire fields of dots and tilting screens to get them to join together. This diversity alone is a great selling point.

Image via YouTube

As Sifteo’s store grows, I’m very interested to watch the selection of games expand the really test the technical specs of the little, invincible cubes. It’s also a platform which I’d love to see grow and expand into more games which might appeal to an older audience. As it stands now, Sifteo is a great educational tool, focusing on motion, shape and color to really create a rounded game experience.

[Product graciously provided by the publisher.]



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