I can’t live if living is without cube.
If you could throw a stone in the Switch eShop, you would almost certainly hit a game involving cubes or squares. I’ve reviewed a handful of them myself, such as Alteric and Ink. The proliferation of such titles made me a little skeptical about Zarvot, but I was interested primarily in the fact that the perspective shifts from 2D, as in the two aforementioned games, to 3D, not to mention it’s an arcade shooter rather than a puzzle platformer. Shortly after starting Zarvot, however, I discovered that it is a truly unique and quirky experience with lots of heart. It plays and controls well, but there is more here than meets the eye.
The single-player Story mode tells the tale of two cubes, Charcoal and Mustard, who set out to create the perfect present for their friend Red. You play as Charcoal, who has the ability to shoot, jump, and dash, in addition to a few special abilities such as a beam that fires in a circle around you. The primary form of gameplay involves traversing linear levels while shooting all sorts of blocky and spikey enemies. Each level features arena-like sections that trap you within a small space and task you with destroying waves of foes in order to progress. As you move from chapter to chapter, new enemy types add greater challenge to these sections, and overall the scaling up of difficulty occurs at a good clip. Story beats are sprinkled throughout each chapter that feature conversations between the three primary characters, each of whom has its own personality. I didn’t think I could care about three face-less cubes, but the writing often breaks the fourth wall and endears you to the little guys. Many of the 12 chapters end with a boss fight, typically involving some real-world object coming to life and trying to destroy you. I really enjoyed these fights for their challenge and unique enemy mechanics.
For the presentation, there is a great range of music that really suits the gameplay and atmosphere of each chapter. Moody and melancholic tunes play as rain pours down and upbeat, jazzy techno plays as you explore the inside of a freezer. I never felt like the music was repetitive or out of place; on the contrary, it always contributed to cutscenes and the levels themselves. In terms of visuals, Zarvot reminds me of Pikmin in that it combines real-world objects and backgrounds with bright and colorful characters. On the negative side, I take issue with the fact that the camera cannot be moved at all and that cutscenes focus on certain elements and blur out others. There is some slowdown in places where you are fighting and destroying large numbers of enemies, and it is possible for arena sections to not load properly. I found all of these to be noticeable distractions.
Zarvot also contains a single-player Arcade mode where you can shoot for high scores and rankings for each chapter. These levels are unlocked by finding a specific token in the corresponding chapter. Fortunately, the tokens are usually in plain sight. Unfortunately, there are no online leaderboards. Zarvot also has a local Versus mode for 2-4 players with a variety of different game types, including last-player-standing Elimination and first-to-ten-kills Deathmatch. Like the Arcade mode, there are unlockable games and stages in Versus as well.
The name and a first glance won’t tell you the full story about Zarvot. Behind what may be a familiar exterior is a charming single-player and decent multiplayer experience. Quality of life changes such as the ability to move the camera and a little more polish would definitely improve things, but I had a very difficult time putting this game down. Each chapter takes between 15 and 40 minutes to complete, and I was able to play through the Story mode in about six hours. While the arena segments and shooting remind me of arcade classics like Smash TV or Robotron, I have never played a game like that with such heartfelt characters and story, pieces that didn’t just feel like an afterthought. I won’t go so far as to say Zarvot has the wit and soul of a poet, but the writing gives the game life, and it’s a title that will stand out this year as having the types of genuinely touching moments we don’t often see in video games. I can’t give anymore, so check out Zarvot and fall in love with these cubes.