It’s been said, that the Rubik’s Cube is one of the greatest puzzle games ever designed. Even Nintendo’s own Shigeru Miyamoto is a big fan. It was one of the most popular board games available in the 1980’s. It still maintains a loyal fan base today. It has been cloned by hundreds of imitators over the years. Suffice it to say, it’s been held in high esteem for a long, long time. “But Deviot, isn’t this a video game blog? Why are you talking about the Rubik’s Cube?” You might ask. Well back in the golden age of gaming, Atari looked at the popularity of the puzzle. Then decided to try to capitalize on it.
PROS: It’s an awesome puzzle game.
CONS: It’s much easier to solve than the real deal.
BELATED: AVC was later republished as Rubik’s Cube when Atari acquired the license.
In any case, it is a pretty great attempt at recreating the Rubik’s Cube experience. I say attempt, because it isn’t exactly the same thing. Today, a coder could probably transplant the sophistication of the puzzle to a modern console. In fact, if you count Cubage, it already has been. But on the humble 2600, even getting a side scroller to work on the hardware was a pretty big deal. This was probably an even more demanding game. Why? Because it simulates a 3D space.
Atari Video Cube works around hardware limitations by altering the rules. The cube does indeed, scroll in four directions. It does so with a cool, faux 3D effect that is pretty impressive, even today when considering the age of the console. However, since each individual row isn’t animated, the game does something else. In Atari Video Cube, the object of the game is still getting each of the sides of the cube painted one distinct color. In the shortest amount of time possible. But instead of moving rows of blocks around, you essentially move the stickers. In a way it’s like you’re playing the cheater’s version of Rubik’s cube.
You move what appears to be an elf around the cube. The game box, and manual refers to him as Hubie: The Cube Master. You can pick up a color with the fire button, then briskly go to where you need to then drop it. When you drop it, you will pick up the color that was there. Things aren’t exactly easy though. True, you aren’t moving entire lines around. But you also cannot move to a side if the same color you are holding is on the next space. This means that you’ll still have to use your wits, and think about the cube in a three-dimensional space. You are also being timed. So if you want to show the world of retro gaming your speed run, you need to think as fast as you act.
That is just the base game. Most Atari 2600 games have variant modes that alter the rules. Atari Video Cube has about eighteen of them. Some of them make things more difficult by blacking out the cube during scrolling animations. This means you have to memorize where you put everything, on top of thinking in a 3D space. There are other modes that will neuter your movement by only allowing you to move around the cube upwards, or to the right. Some modes don’t judge you on the time, but on the fewest number of turns to solve the puzzle. Oddly enough, there are also trainers built into the game on some modes. These basically play the entire game for you. There are also about 50 different color tile positions, that randomly change each time you start a new game.
While it isn’t as deep, or as complex as an actual Rubik’s Cube, Atari Video Cube is a good puzzle game. So good that it manages to hold up today, thanks to its variation modes. It is also considered a collector’s item. To complicate things for collectors, there are actually two versions of this game. There is the standard Atari Video Cube version. This was released in 1982. Approximately two years later in 1984 Atari somehow gained the license from Ideal (the company that owned the Rubik’s Cube intellectual property) to use the Rubik’s Cube name. Functionally, both are pretty much the same game. Cosmetically, the games have slightly different color selections. The package, manual, and label art are identical. Both are pretty uncommon.The cartridges, manuals, and boxes marked Atari Video Cube are hard to come by. The Rubik’s Cube version is fairly rare. It came out around the time of the legendary video game crash, limiting the number hitting retail. It isn’t going to fetch the prices a Nintendo World Championships cartridge would. But a loose copy is still up there with some of the Contra, Castlevania, and Mega Man Game Pak values NES collectors see these days.
It’s certainly worth playing, and if you can find a copy you should certainly pick it up. So long as you have an Atari Video Computer System in your collection of game consoles. It’s also a curious bit of board game, and video game history. If you’re a video game enthusiast check it out. Particularly if you’re a fan of retro gaming, or nostalgic for the simpler times. Atari Video Cube is simply put, a good video game.
Final Score: 8 out of 10