Its name makes it sound like a second-rate space opera, and indeed, Namco Bandai's newest puzzler does have an amusingly cheesy space theme that would be at home in a Sci-Fi channel B-movie. But while a bad popcorn flick can still be a satisfying romp, Trioncube is a derivative puzzle game that is too easy to keep you occupied for long.
If you've played Tetris, you know how to play Trioncube. Blocks of five different shapes fall from the top of the screen, and you must fit them together at the bottom. The twist here is that you use the blocks to create three-by-three cubes to begin a chain. Once a chain is started, you add new blocks to extend the size of the cube. When you can't add any more blocks, the chain explodes, unchained blocks fall to the bottom, and it starts all over again. There's nothing wrong with looking to a classic for inspiration, but while it gets the basic gameplay right, it misses most of what makes Tetris so great: increasingly nail-biting difficulty. No matter how long you play, Trioncube is never a challenge, so you could easily blow through the 40-odd levels of the story mode in an hour or so without losing a single time--and most of the 99-level endless mode with nary a drop of sweat.
Unlocking new backgrounds and visual effects is all the rage in puzzle games nowadays, and to its credit, Trioncube puts its own spin on the trend by having you unlock skins and special effects separately and then combining them as you see fit. For example, you can combine a pretty Japanese landscape with blocks that produce a clucking peep of chickens when they explode, making for an occasionally appealing and surreal experience. Yet it's as if the developers knew that the core gameplay wasn't going to keep you interested for long, so while you unlock block effects rather quickly, it takes what seems like forever to open up new backgrounds. It's nice to look forward to new visuals, but eventually the game just gets in its own way, since muddling through the simple levels doesn't make the payoff feel very rewarding.
Of the four main modes in Trioncube, the story mode is the most interesting. This isn't really for its premise, mind you, which features a prepubescent, blond-coiffed pilot flying across the galaxy to rescue a kidnapped princess. It's all about the presentation. The spaceship is an engorged mechanical bluebird, beak and all. The pilot's hair resembles a yellow cinnamon bun with an extra dollop of icing. And then there's King Pluto, a character that pops up between rounds to announce such tidbits as "My soda's gone flat," and "Curry is too spicy for me," to the ecstatic applause of his countrymen. It's all pretty wacky, and while it isn't as comical as it thinks it is, the mode is cute while it lasts.
Once you've tired of the story mode, you can check out the arcade mode, which takes a cue from Meteos and sends you through a small chain of planets until you meet a boss character. Endless mode isn't quite endless, but it is a sequence of 99 levels that feels endless and will have you glancing at your watch around level 15, hoping it'll be over soon. You can also play against the CPU or another player in versus mode. Here, successfully completing large chains will flood your opponent with unusable gray blocks that hinder the other side's ability to create chains. Perhaps there aren't many more ways to spread out the thin gameplay, but the selection of modes is scant in light of more recent puzzle titles, like last year's Gunpey and its music sequencer and G-Note Gallery or Lumines and its puzzle mode.
There's nothing special about Trioncube's presentation, although it features some colorful artwork, and the story mode's cutscenes are nicely done. Yet it doesn't do enough to take advantage of the unlockable skins and effects, which don't have nearly as much charm as the game's colorful characters. The same is true of the soundtrack and sound effects, which are serviceable but uneven. The in-game music is ultimately forgettable--though you can't beat the dulcet sounds of cackling chickens when creating chains.
It's worth noting that Trioncube doesn't use the Nintendo DS's touch screen, which makes it seem even less original than it already is. At the end of the day, the amiable story mode is the only reason to consider checking it out, since the game itself is far too easy and unremarkable to retain your interest. If you are more interested in quality puzzling, there are other games on the market that can back up their charm with equally compelling gameplay.