Getting It Twisted – GiiKer Supercube

In the early 2010s I taught myself to solve the Rubik’s Cube. Since then I’ve got heavily into all sorts of twisty puzzles and have a collection of about 50, including various 3x3x3 shape mods, 3x speed cubes, 2x, 4x, 5x, 7x, 9x, 2x2x3, 3x3x2, 3x3x5, the highly intimidating X2 (it’s a sort of 3x3x7 in the shape of a cross rather than a cuboid), plus Rubik’s Clock, Rubik’s Magic, megaminx, pyraminx, master pyraminx, mastermorphix. On top of this there’s a few 3D puzzles, ring puzzles, dexterity puzzles (like the Rubik’s 360), and various wood burr puzzles. You could say, I enjoy puzzles.

Last summer I heard about the GoCube being kickstarted. It seems a really cool idea to have a cube that can tell what position it’s in and help you solve it, or help you learn the algorithms needed to solve it yourself from any state, or race against another cuber somewhere in the world through a matching scramble.

However, I’m always cautious with Kickstarter, especially for anything other than board games from known creators. Let’s be honest, there have been a lot of tech scams on KS, and if any of them is as good as they seem, it’s going to hit the market eventually, right?

Where there is one, there will be many, and so there are currently 3 main players in the smart cube market (some of which have had various iterations already). The GoCube was successfully delivered to backers earlier this year and are now available to purchase directly through their website for about $100 USD. Next up is the mighty GAN, with their 356i which retails for around £80 GBP. Pretty much anyone who has an interest in speed cubing, knows the GAN brand, they’ve even worked with Rubik’s to make better models of Rubik’s brand cubes (despite being the name everyone knows, Rubik’s are known in the community as makers of ok at best cubes). Then there’s the GiiKer Supercube which you can get for as low as £35 GBP.

Some of the copy states that they made the world’s first smart cube, but I’d never heard of them until they started turning up in comparison videos with the other smart cubes. Regardless, no one else sent me a cube to play with so this is the one I’m reviewing.

First off, the presentation is really charming. The charger sits on the center spots on opposite sides of the cube, with little connectors that hold it neatly in place. They look kind of like headphones, and this is further highlighted by the fact that the cube has a stand, which looks like the body a robot sitting down. with the cube and charger in place, it looks genuinely adorable on the shelf, sitting amongst its less intelligent cubey brethren, vibing out to tunes.

The action is great: it turns smoothly, finger tricks are easy, and corner cutting is successful at around a 40 degree angle. These are all things a speed cuber would look for and there it is, so what else? Well, it’s magnetised and while you can’t swap out the magnets for different strengths like you can with the GAN 356i, they’re a nice strength and do the job very well.

If this were just a review of the cube itself, I’d be giving it top marks as it’s possibly the nicest cube I’ve ever personally used. However, smart cubes aren’t just sold on their build quality, there’s plenty of nicely built cubes, and some available at very reasonable costs. What’s important here is the app.

Heading over to the app store or Google Play, and searching for Supercube will find the app. It’s not huge, but does require quite the selection of permissions in order to get started (especially on Android as it requires you to have location on for the Bluetooth connection to work). While the quality of the cube itself is great, the lack of polish on the app does let it down somewhat.

Once you connect to the cube you’re greeted with a menu which looks like you’re about to play one of a billionty Unity asset flips available on Steam for actual money (no, really, people charge for these My First Video Game project files). It’s not pretty, but it sure is functional.

Unlike the other smart cubes, the Supercube doesn’t have any tilt sensors. As such, it can’t tell which way up you’re holding it. This means that during instructions, the app needs you to orient the cube as shown on screen. It must stay rigidly where you’re told to put it (no y turns for you *glares in cube*).

The learning mode for this app certainly will take you through a solve, but it’s unlike anything I’ve encountered before. Most beginner’s methods I’ve seen for a 3x3x3 start with making a cross on one side (usually white) and then going going layer by layer from there.

However, the method here starts with making the ‘daisy’ (shocked pikachu.jpg). This involves moving the four white edge pieces up to the yellow center (edges are the bits with two colours on, centers which have one colour, and corners which have three). What threw me most about this was the fact I had white edges in roughly the right place to start with and the tutorial insisted that I move them to the yellow side to make this daisy (Ok, I’ll be fair, I get that there is a need to create a solve that works in every situation and not just in specific cases, but surely it wouldn’t take much to just tell people to look out for already solved things and use the methods to solve the rest).

My other main issue with the solve which app wants you to learn is that once you’ve done the daisy, you turn the cube over, and are asked to solve the cube from top to bottom, without ever turning it over again. Most methods that do any flips like this will have you solve the white cross and possibly the whole white layer, then hold this as the bottom layer for the rest of the solve. Here you’re expected to make the daisy, use this to make the white cross, and then turn the cube over and solve each layer from the top down. The on screen prompts largely ignore what’s on the yellow face, only what you can see on the side of that layer (thanks, I hate it).

I’m not going into this any deeper because those who came to laugh at my snark are probably getting bored with cube jargon, and speed cubers who wanted an overall review of the cube are probably never going to even look at this mode because they already know a faster method. So I’ll just sum up the learning mode by saying “Sure, it’s fine, I guess.”

Next up, there’s pattern mode. Want to make a checkerboard pattern on the cube for display? Want to swap all the centers while leaving everything else solved? Want to do that cube within a cube pattern you see in the displays of YouTube cubers? Well, this mode will guide you step by step through how to make all sorts of cool patterns. It’s good, but don’t you dare mess up a turn, because it will make you go all the way back to the beginning and start the whole thing again rather than just getting you to undo what you did wrong and keep going from there.

How about games? Sure, why not. One game sees a little virtual person standing on one side of a corner piece. You’re then given a limited number of turns to move them to a particular position, preferably via any coins sitting in other locations. It’s actually pretty fun and makes you think about how you move pieces around the cube, just the thing for getting more intitive about how you do a solve.

Ok, ok. That’s all the fluff, I know why the speed cubers came here. You want to test yourselves and show your skills. Don’t worry, I got you.

The timer mode invites you to scramble the cube however you want, or you can hit an option to be provided a scramble, and then tap the screen to declare your readiness to start. As soon as you make your first turn, it will start the timer and stop the moment you complete your solve. The on-screen cube will show each of your turns as you go, which is a nice addition.

Once completed you’re given your solve time, number of turns and turns per second (all info that serious cubers seem to revel in. Additionally you can click to get a full breakdown of the moves you made, and the chance to see a virtual reconstruction of your solve which you can inspect for ways to improve in future. Additionally it will provide your split times based on the stages of a layer by layer solve method. While some of these steps may not be relevant or even completed for the way you solved, it’s still good information for working out where you need to make improvements. Additionally, you can see what your average solve time is based on past attempts from a menu here.

The timer function was what I most wanted from a smart cube. Despite its limitations (no tilt sensors mean that the cube can’t tell what orientation it was when you did certain things and the playback of the solve was done from a static perspective), accurate timing, and seeing where I needed to be a bit better at looking ahead, to avoid doing and then immediately undoing moves as I move from one algorithm to another has really helped me learn not only how to do things, but how I need to think and look while solving.

Last up is battle mode. So you’ve learned to solve a cube and you now you want to test yourself against people all over the world. Well, here’s your chance. Once you’re ready, you’ll be matched with an opponent (matchmaking has never taken me more than 30-40 seconds). You’re then given a set scramble. The faster you do this, the more inspection time you’ll get (careful not to start before you’re told though or you’ll automatically lose the battle). There’s something rather motivating about challenging another cuber that’s genuinely increased my speeds overall.

The GiiKer Supercube is an excellent budget smart cube that feels really nice and with lots of features a speedcuber will enjoy. For those learning to solve, I’d stick with YouTube tutorials before coming back to the app to time yourself or challenge online players.

Pros:

  • Nice quality cube with a good action and cutting
  • Timing and battle modes are educational and fun (I genuinely can’t belive I just used that phrase)
  • Considerably cheaper than other smart cubes

Cons:

  • The app lacks polish
  • No tilt sensors so the cube on screen can’t track the orientation
  • Needs better or additional tutorials for other solve methods

Final Score: 8/10

Gooey Centre

I do enjoy a metroidvania. I’m not good at them, but I do enjoy them. I recently spent about a month playing Hollow Knight. However, I didn’t finish it due to lacking certain skills which that game demands. It’s a shame, but there we are stuck. In a frustrated rage at dying for the umpteenth time in the same area, this time losing a bunch of money I’d been saving for a big upgrade. The game is beautiful. The music is stunning. The mechanics can kiss my heart-shaped booty while I’m mid-poop, the morning after a particularly lively dopiaza.

And so it’s gone. It’s only legacy, a stain on my heart and gnarled fingers and a cloud with an arrow icon showing on my Switch menu.

So what now? I’m still craving that kind of game, Nintendo Online hasn’t updated to include SNES games like Super Metroid yet and I can’t be arsed to fanny about with emulators, especially with a bunch of new games coming out in the run up to the primary commerce period of the year.

I’ll tell you what now – Dead Cells.

I’d seen stills of the game and thought it was another, pretty enough, pixel graphic affair with (*big sigh*) procedural generation. Don’t get me wrong procedural stuff can be interesting, for a little while, but I often find it turns to boring mush before too long. Dead Cells, however, has done a good job making a game that is very playable, pleasantly different on each run, and with enough difference between the stages to keep it fresh as your make your progress in the world.

You start the game as a rolling ball of mush, which slithers into a body of sorts and is ready for the next run. One of the few characters that you encounter seems to imply that even on your first run, that this isn’t the first time you’ve done this. Like you’ve been here a while, and only just becoming aware of that. This is fairly typical of the way the world in which you find yourself is introduced. Prison cells containing notes, hidey holes, little clues as to what has happened here.

As you move through the levels, you’ll find a variety of different enemies. Some will drop gold for your coffers, others leave jewels which can be sold for profit, or even minor health items. If you’re very lucky, enemies will drop, or you’ll find weapon blueprints. These can been handed into the blacksmith. Once they’re safely handed in, you’ll start to find these weapons in the world to collect on future runs. Arguably more important than all of these are cells. These glowing orbs are the key to paying for the game’s permanent upgrades.

In addition to enemy drops, you’ll come across weapons like swords, bows, and whips; shields; and special items, like grenades, deployable arrow launchers, and bear traps. Lastly, you’ll find scrolls to power up your weapons and abilities. You can choose to power up your brutality – represented by things like grenades and swords, survival – shields and bear traps, and tactics – bows and arrow launchers. They will also provide a helpful percentage health increase.

Once in a while, you’ll come across vendors selling weapons or special items. These are bought with gold and there’s usually something worth grabbing to help on your journey.

The other way to spend gold is to open the golden doors which you’ll run across. I guess it’s like a money box that you put your cash in until it opens, because otherwise I have no idea how paying a door to open would even work (unless maybe it’s sentient and has a better minimum wage than any country I know of). There is the advantage that you can see the item type on the other side before you decide to spend the pennies, but there’s no guarantee of what level said item/power-up may be. That said, the game feels like it’s skewed towards moving you on to better things, rather than offering crappy items at inflated prices.

As I mentioned earlier, cells are the most important currency, but these are only spent between levels. Here you can buy those vital permanent upgrades. Want a health potion or two? Spend cells. Want to be able to keep a little gold for your next run? Cells. How about powering up the quality of weapons you find during your runs? CELLS (and plenty of them!). The more unlocks you buy, the more will open up. Behold the cycle of cell based capitalism!

Something else you’ll spot in the safe zone between levels is the chance to mutate (I crossed my fingers that I’d be getting tentacles, but sadly I was disappointed. Watch now as I don’t get on twitter and shout at the devs like some entitled twatbag. Marvel as I don’t harass someone off the internet because this one thing wasn’t specifically taylored to my desires. You too can achieve this level of chill). There’s a good selection of options, each influenced by how you’ve powered, up using the scrolls you’ve nabbed. Do you want to do more damage for a few seconds after each kill? Take a 30% health bonus? Grab a little health after each kill? These handy little bonuses will only stay with you during that run, but they can really make all the difference. Especially as you gain more mutations and power them up further with scrolls.

You’re going to die a lot in this game, it’s half the fun, but the fact that you can leap quickly back in, and eek out a little more distance on your next run is what really makes this game. And you certainly will be getting a little further, by virtue of having earned and spent your cells or beaten certain enemies. Relatively early on you can pick up a health potion that will refill between levels, a chance to carry some gold over to the next run, and – possibly far more important – the ability to access new areas by tickling moss (which is my new favourite euphemism).

The game is quite pacey. Your character runs everywhere, combat is fast and fluid (unless you’re using a particularly heavy sword), special items have nice short timers so you can be ready to use them again in ~20 seconds. Even death and revival feels like a minor trip, rather than an agonising fall into the void where you must plead for resurrection. For me, that really helped keep the rhythm of the game going.

Everything is beautifully animated and despite pixel art being fairly overused of late, it’s very well done here. Lots of bright colours, beautiful lighting effects and well-designed scenery. Enemies are bold and easy to identify. A few runs in and you know how that enemy attacks. You know how to take it out, without suffering too much, or any damage. Each enemy clear and distinct, but very much a denizen of the world.

Controls are tight, you never feel like death was the fault anything other than rashly running into a densely populated area or overestimating your skill. Primary and off-hand attacks on Y & X, jump and dodge on A & B, specials are on the shoulder triggers, and interact is the R button (Quick note – I’ve only played the Switch release).

Pros:

  • Fast paced.
  • Very replayable.
  • Fair price for a lot of game.

Cons:

  • Loss of sleep due to the endless ‘one more run’.
  • Once the initial power-ups are purchased, perm upgrades can feel expensive.
  • I had to stop playing to go to work.

Overall Score: 9/10

Hyrule Genocide Simulator

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Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition has just been released on Nintendo Switch. This is actually the third version of the Nintendo-property-skinned genocide simulator from developer Koei Tecmo, having previously been released on WiiU and 3DS. I’m told this one suffers with less frame rate issues than the previous incarnations, but having never played them, I couldn’t say for sure.

You take control of various familiar faces from the Legend of Zelda franchise history + KT’s self-insert character, that I’m fairly certain is contractually required in all such games. The game opens with Hyrule castle being attacked by enemy forces and Link – here appearing initially as a fairly standard guard, training at the castle – find’s themself on a chaotic battlefield full of demonic looking little bastards that need a strongly worded… sword to the face. Hack cleave and grind your way around the map, following blips on your minimap and character conversations in a tiny box on the bottom left of the screen.

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Ok, here goes, I’m going to wade in with everything I hate about this game *hits the badge shop and throws all the resources into defence badges*. I get easily overwhelmed. It’s a thing. If there’s too much going on around me in the street, I sometimes need to just go hide in a toilet stall and gather myself. So the idea that I would have to track hundreds of onscreen enemies, a minimap that could do with being about 10-20% larger to be clear enough, and unvoiced character conversations in a tiny corner of the screen. That’s too much, man!

*waits for the bottles of piss to stop being thrown*

Right, so here’s the thing. I love this game. I’ve been playing it every spare minute and I nearly blew off going out for my friend’s birthday this weekend because it would have allowed me another 8 hours of solid play. In spite of all I listed above, this game is brilliant fun and very addictive. The first thing I had to learn – as this is my first time really digging into a Warriors game – is that a lot of the shit on screen really doesn’t matter. You just push your way through the general minions to whoever the quest marker deems important, like a white, middle-class woman with a bob desperate to take her ire out on the store manager. Then, if the quest marker isn’t satisfied with their answer, you go find someone more senior to shout at until victory happens (look out summer 2019 for Soccer Mom Warriors).

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As you progress through the game you’ll gain experience from those that fall at your blade (or crossbows, or book… somehow). As you level up, your characters become stronger. Just stronger, no other stats matter. Just how ready you are for more slaughter.

Randomly brutalising any enemy with a health bar can gain you extra weapons or materials. Weapons add a little more strength to your attacks and often come with various elemental or bonus perks. These perks include the ability to find better weapons (with higher damage or more perk slots), power up certain combos, have advantages against certain enemies, or the ability to find better materials. Perks can be swapped into empty slots in the smithy between battles, for a price.

The final way to power up your characters is with badges. These are crafted between levels and allow yet more perks. These come in three delicious flavours: attack, defence, and assist. The attack badges unlock more combos, more damage against defending foes, give additional special attack uses, etc. Defence badges will let you take less damage from different elemental sources or allow use of health potions. Assist badges allow you to take over enemy keeps more quickly and increase the duration of certain power-ups. Each character will need their own badges, and each may require different materials for the same badges, on different characters. So there’s going to need to be a lot of item farming if you want to unlock everything for everyone.

The Story Mode takes you on a super meandering journey through Hyrule to defeat Cia (a witch originally tasked with keeping the balance of the Triforce) as she causes chaos while trying to gather up some funky glowing orbs. I’ll not spoil the plot here, but there’s more to it than that, obvs. The story takes several branches along the way, as you get to visit areas from Ocarina of Time, Twiglet Princess, and Skyward Sword. Then sends you back to see things from other perspectives. See how things got going for Cia and her captains – Volga and Wizzro. In addition, you can enjoy Linkle’s side adventure. (Side note: Pleeeeeease Nintendo, we need you to fully adopt Linkle, she’s hecking awesome and needs to be in mainstream LoZ games).

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The graphics are beautiful and the characters are really nicely modelled. It’s really good to see hi-def versions of so many familiar faces form LoZ history. Each of these warriors plays quite differently, having different movement speeds. From the plodding Goron, Darunia to the fleet of foot Link. Each character has a number of combo attacks and specials to wreak havoc on the armies that oppose you. The animations for these are pretty stunning, but can get a little repetitive if you’re playing the same character for an extended period. A perfect excuse to swap out to another of the 28 playable characters.

As well as the familiar playable characters, there’s some familiar boss monsters in the shapes of King Dodongo, Gohma, Manhandla, the Imprisoned,  the Helmaroc King. They all look stunning and all need to be taken down at some point. Luckily, you’ll slowly be gathering the unique items during the game that will help with this. Series favourites like Bombs, boomerang, hookshot, bow and arrows, and hammer will help you take those giant, aggy arseholes down in short order.

While all the original game characters are open from the start, the DLC characters of old now have to be unlocked from Adventure Mode. Speaking of which, here’s where you’ll be spending a considerable amount of time if you want to get those final characters and indeed the epic number of alternate character costumes and weapons that are hidden away. I’d felt like the Story Mode had been a good value for money experience. Then I popped open Adventure mode – as the character select screen was now showing a bunch of question mark characters in addition to those I already had – and it suddenly became obvious to me that amount of content in this game is fucking ridiculous.

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There are 9 separate Adventure Mode maps, each with slightly different mechanics, but based on a previous LoZ game. Each cell of the map represents a different challenge and can lead to new character, weapons, costumes, or item cards. These item cards can then be used on certain cells to open up more rewards in other cells of the map. Each of the maps features a wide span of difficulties per level and each map is rated overall from the menu. This is an epic task and should take you a decent chunk of time to work through. I’ve probably put about 16 hours into this mode and still have 2 characters to unlock and I’ve barely touched the weapons and costumes yet. Challenges include slaughtering more mobs than your opponent, butchering a certain number of enemy captains, trouncing a number of boss monsters in a time limit, slaying specific foes to answer questions, and more. Basically, this game does killing a lot.

LoZ has some pretty iconic music, and HW:DE does a wonderful job of covering them as stunning, driving guitar tracks that really add to the metal as fuck mass slaughter fest. I’m terrible for turning off game music and whacking on my own tunes most of the time. I had no intention of doing so with this because it’s just too good. I can’t recommend the soundtrack for this enough.

Pros:

  • A whole lot of awesome game for your money.
  • Beautiful graphics.
  • Awesome soundtrack.

Cons:

  • Starting the co-op mode is ridiculously contrived and needs to be reinitialised after each level.
  • The minimap is a little small for my liking.
  • Possibly dangerously addictive.

Final Score: 8/10

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive edition is out now on Switch.

PolyArmoury – Episode 2 – Get Hammered

Episode 2 is now live. The morning after the spoon before. Vendirak has had a lead on Mod’Ra’Tar – the legendary hammer of Bann Trollslayer. Our polycule are sent out to the gnoll’s warehouse on the edge of town with a hash stone to check the goods. Something seems fishy.

Brilmara takes a trip to Bumbles to pick up spell components, Madame Valerie desires juice, and Thrall will kill again.