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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Qubed (Xbox 360)

Combining three of Q? Entertainment's seminal Xbox releases in a single, low-priced package, Qubed offers a distinctly playable gaming experience most players won't want to miss. The package includes Rez HD, Every Extend Extra Extreme and Lumines Live. Each of the three games delivers an intense, surreal cybernetic experience that mixes beautiful CGI graphics, intense techno music and synchs them together to create memorable titles that can't be easily classified or pigeonholed. Those players who were unfortunate enough to have missed these games in their original release can now have access to all of them in a low-priced package.

Over the past few years, developer Q? Entertainment has built a strong reputation for producing innovative, surreal techno-infused titles that mix electronic music with classically low-rez computer art to create some of the most innovative and ground-breaking titles on the market. By combining music beats with gaming controls, these titles set much of the groundwork for the recent surge in interest in music games. Rez is the most highly-regarded of these titles and its release in 2001 didn't seem like much at first, but its influence was felt strongly, especially for those who played it fully and completely. The highlight in the package is easily Rez HD. Based on the original groundbreaking title, this version offers a surreal cybernetic first-person shooter that explodes in waves of color and computer-generated imagery. The evocative imagery combines brilliantly with a driving techno soundtrack that makes the experience feel more like going to a rave than playing a game. It's easy to get lost in its beats, especially with the lights down and the volume turned up. The new edition for Xbox 360 includes upgraded visuals, which look sharper, crisper and smoother while keeping the memorable look and feel of the original game intact. Players begin each level shooting at a few minor enemies on a somewhat sparse landscape, with a few relatively easy targets to shoot.

At the end of each stage, you shoot level-up icons, which unlock more advanced levels with additional enemies. They become more aggressive and shoot back at you. You have the ability to collect icons which increase your shooting power, but you'll lose strength as you take hits. This is really cool as you watch your figure either become more detailed as it gains power, or devolves into a simple globe when you lose. The driving score adds to the intensity and shooting items acts to create a kind of musical beat that increases in velocity and speed, and makes you feel like you're building up a song elementally. Things gradually become more intense as the levels add layers of wire-frame, vector graphics to create an absolutely stunning experience. Earlier levels make good set pieces, and help you understand the basics and build on your skills until you face off with the final boss on the stage. These climactic battles against screen filling bosses that will challenge even the best shooter players, though some of their moves are predictable in some ways. The Xbox edition also includes several upgrades, such as the ability to go back and replay completed stages in time attack mode plus the ability to post high scores to online leaderboards. Rez HD also lets you play the original game which is cool since it lets you see all the upgrades for yourself.

An enhanced port of Every Extend Extra Extreme offers a more traditional top-down shooter that likewise offers and addictive shooting experience. This one is somewhat more abstract and takes some getting used to. You steer a ship, represented by a reticule around the screen and have to detonate it to destroy enemies. The catch is these enemies can't come into contact with you or your ship will be destroyed. You have a limited amount of time to do this, and need to collect the many power-ups they leave behind without contacting them. Its fairly easy to do this in the first few levels but becomes increasingly difficult as the screen becomes filled with tons of enemies. As in the other Q titles, the visuals are a pleasing mix of old and new, with minimalist early CGI graphics reminiscent of classic arcade games mixed with waves of color and screen filling explosions. Combined with a techno score, it gives the game a frenetic and challenging pace all its own, and makes E4 an addictive experience. Adding to its replay value, this version of Every Extend Extra includes several different single and multiplayer modes that give you plenty of reason to keep playing. E4 is definitely in the mold of things like Geometry Wars, which should give players a good impetus to check it out.

The most traditional of the titles is Lumines Live, an addictive puzzle title with techno-trappings featuring surreal background 'skins' and challenging gameplay. It works like Tetris or Columns as you move and twist dropping blocks around the screen, and try to create 2 by 2 blocks of the same color, there are two colors, which is somewhat simple. What makes this interesting is that the blocks aren't credited until the metronome flies across them and activates them. It definitely makes the traditional puzzle action a bit more challenging and gives the game a bit more of an innovative feel than most other puzzles games offer. What really sets the game apart however, are the animated skins, which bring an impressive layer of immersion and feel to the gameplay. Lumines Live is great in single player mode, and there are other options as well, including a co-op online play which add even more value to the game. Lumines Live is probably the most accessible and immediately playable of the titles on Qubed, but it still delivers an engaging and challenging experience. The games are all packaged with impressive menus that are fairly easy to navigate, and there are a few extra features to unlock as well, including an interview with designer, Tetsuya Mizuguchi who is the driving force behind these titles and Q?'s innovative game philosophy. With all these titles in one package, Qubed delivers a great deal of intense gaming and is essential if you missed the original releases.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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