All the animals of the world have been transformed by Dr. Buc Ooze's experiments into lifeless shapes, and only the zoocube can bring them back to their rightful forms. ZooCube, Acclaim's 3D puzzle game for the GameCube, is an interesting game that looks deceptively simple, belying the complexity of its gameplay. At its heart, ZooCube is a game that challenges your timing, quick thinking, and sense of depth perception.
The gameplay is easy enough to describe: Hovering in the center of the screen is the zoocube, which can be rotated in any direction with the directional pad. As each stage begins, shapes covered in animal prints will appear at the edge of the screen, one after the other, from one of six different directions to denote the cube's six sides. The rotating shapes will slowly drift toward the cube, until making contact, at which point they latch onto it. Each shape is representative of the animal that it corresponds to--it's not hard at all to separate the floating udder of the cows from the bat shapes and bunny ears. There are 36 shapes in all, and the object is to match up similar animal-themed pieces. Once this is done, both pieces will disappear. After you've cleared a set number of pieces, you progress to the next stage.
As shapes fly toward the cube at an increasing rate, occasionally nonmatching shapes will begin to stack, making it more difficult to rotate the cube without unintentionally attaching an additional shape to the growing stack. You are able to work on pieces embedded in each stack by pressing the shoulder or X and Y buttons, which juggles the objects latched onto the cube's faces, much like how gems could be shifted in Sega's old puzzle game Columns.
You can stack up to five shapes to a cube's side before it's game over, but in case rotating the cube quickly isn't enough to keep you from losing, you are allotted three smart bombs during each round. By pressing the Z button, one row of pieces on all faces of the cube is destroyed, allowing you to get rid of a problematic row or make up for a big mistake. Each animal shape is also associated with a particular colorful symbol, which is released and made available for collecting by accelerating a piece with the A button. Accelerating your pieces as they are coming in is the major trick behind staying ahead of the game, as they will not only increase your point tally, but also release bombs that blow up shapes attached to the cube and release other power-ups as well, such as extra smart bombs or an increased rotation speed for the cube.
There are additional objectives to strive toward during play in your quest to rack up more and more points. At the top of the screen is an indicator with six empty circular slots representing various colored juggling balls that can be nabbed once a single face of the cube is cleared. The indicator for a particular colored ball will light up when it is captured, and grabbing a whole set will net a 5000-point bonus. You can also try to maintain a balanced cube, with equal numbers of stacked items on each side, which results in progressively higher bonuses, depending on how large the stacks become. Performing well will also lead to secret bonus levels, which if cleared, will rake in plenty of extra points.
The GameCube version of ZooCube is a sharp-looking game, with attractive and easily recognizable animal-themed shapes, as well as solid use of the 3D perspective that is much easier to get a grasp on when compared to the Game Boy Advance version of the game. Each stage is queued with a brief cinematic sequence, which dips you in the middle of an attractive setting. While not exactly astounding to look at, it makes a good backdrop for the action--though paying attention to the background is nearly impossible during the intense gameplay. The GameCube version of the game also features more animal-centric effects, with comical animal heads popping out and thanking you once they're freed, accompanied by their distinctive animal call. In fact, later in the game, when combos are being linked and shape after shape is eliminated, the game can sound like a veritable menagerie of animal sounds.
There are plenty of options aside from the standard single-player game. A lone player can explore blind mode, where all the shapes lose their color and must be identified by geometry alone, which can get fairly difficult considering that many of them are quite similar. To make it less frustrating, the color of stacked shapes will light up when matching an incoming piece. Even better, ZooCube features a pair of interesting multiplayer modes, for both collaborative and competitive play. The cooperative multiplayer mode has two cubes onscreen at once and throws an additional requirement into the mix for advancing from level to level. This challenge forces you to send some pieces to the other player to complete each level. The competitive multiplayer game plays much like the single-player game, except many of the power-ups now inflict harmful effects on the opposing player. There are additional stages to unlock, as well as new animal shapes and the ability to stack more than five shapes on a single side to intensify the already frantic gameplay.
Overall, ZooCube for the GameCube is a thoroughly entertaining puzzle game that can be quite a bit of fun for anyone able to grasp its three-dimensional nature. The controls are relatively simple, so it certainly has pick-up-and-play appeal, but there's also a lot of strategy and depth involved in handling the game's complexity and combo situations. ZooCube requires quick thinking and patience, and those who are up to the challenge will derive quite a bit of satisfaction from this solid new effort.