Zarvot – A Game About Cubes (Switch) Review
A highly detailed and well-written single player campaign
Strong local multiplayer support
A surprise, memorable experience throughout
Smooth controls but moving and aiming with same stick is unintuitive
Combat gets tedious fighting the same enemies with the same attacks
Some absurd difficulty spikes especially during boss battles
What’s A Zarvot?
Zarvot isn’t your typical action arcade title. Playing as a simple cube with a ton of personality, the single player campaign is a charming, yet ridiculous outing set in a realistic metropolitan environment… only each character is a block and there are enemies to shoot. Zarvot is one of those games you have to play for yourself to fully understand. Make no mistake, it is actually pretty adorable but different.
Part of what makes this cube shooter so unique is the diorama-like visual motif. Presented through a film noir style setting, Zarvot is very artistic despite being designed around simple cubes. Lens flare, blurred field of vision, and enhanced lighting effects make this Switch download its own; even the opening title screen is highly sophisticated. But putting all that aside, it is just so bizarre to see these cubes, literal squares with a square on top of it that acts as both a mouth and a gun, interacting casually with one another as if pals are meeting on the side of a busy street corner. The overall plot revolves around protagonist Charcoal and yellow cubed friend Mustard attempting to cheer up their red cube friend for his birthday. The quest leads these two blocks through trials, battle, and platforming in order to find obscure items like a banana. Along the way there will be cutscenes on a train, in their apartment, and even in stores. There is no question that this is a strange concept, like a Thursday night sitcom, but that doesn’t mean it is not well written. Sprinkled with humor, this heartfelt drama is actually more involved that you would ever think. There are tiny details that are never explained to the player, like being able to slightly nod your cube during cutscenes, that provide an uncanny amount of personality.
In my opinion, the biggest annoyance with Zarvot are the controls. Although running at a smooth fps, movement and aiming is contained in the same analog stick but the player more often than not needs to run and gun in different directions. Why this wasn’t a twin stick shooter is anyone’s guess. Because of this, combat becomes tedious and even unfair at times especially during boss battles and long endurance fights. The shoot button also must constantly be tapped and after just a few minutes I had to give my right thumb a rest. Making matters worse, each stage goes on for much too long, about thirty minutes. This wouldn’t be so bad is the player didn’t run into the same gameplay pattern repeatedly. Each stage is basically a walk down a linear path until you run into a make shift arena designated by a red perimeter. Then, kill all these enemies until the red barrier disappears. Then repeat for a half hour until the difficulty spiking boss battle. Although boss battles are oddly charming, such as fighting a carton of milk or a mechanical rubber ducky, they often cause cheap and frustrating deaths. My fight with the rubber ducky, as one example, took a few dozen attempts because I wasn’t able to defeat it thanks to its cheap tactics. If I didn’t have to review this game, I would have rage quit after the first several tries.
Outside of the goofy but adorable campaign, there are several multiplayer modes that can secretly act as the game’s most entertaining experience if you can gather enough local players. In addition to the standard death match, there are other ways of playing that modify the goal such as collecting items or spawning combatants. If you can partner with a few local friends, you will want to experience the single player narrative but stay for the multiplayer. Also, multiplayer options can be unlocked by finding collectables in the single player campaign.
Zarvot, unexpectedly, is a lot of things. It is a shooter. It is emotional. It is simple. It is complicated. It is a platformer. It is cute. It is charming. It is competitive. It is memorable. It is well written. It is artistic. It is light. It is dark. But it is also unbalanced, unfair, and could strongly benefit from twin stick controls. Even though it isn’t perfect, this $20 game about cubes has a unreasonable amount care put into it and should be a title to put on your radar.
Also Try: Cubivore (Gamecube)
Better Than: you would have ever thought
Wait For It: new mini games in a new Super Monkey Ball on Switch