Developers take a big risk when they start charging for a previously free game. They can’t be sure that players will remain appreciative, so they usually try to justify the price increase by adding new features. Andy Qua’s Cube Runner II is $2.99 more than Cube Runner I, and it sports several additions that fans of the free game will love–especially the level-editing tools, which could open up a bottomless reservoir of user-generated content. Unfortunately, the editing and sharing features aren’t where they need to be yet, and until they improve, Cube Runner II isn’t all that much better than its predecessor.
Cube Runner II is a simple polygonal racing game controlled entirely by tilting the iPhone. In the regular game, you zoom through a field of blocks and other objects at a fixed speed, dodging laterally to last as long as possible. The new time trial mode adds start and finish lines, as well as the ability to accelerate and decelerate by tilting your phone to the front and back. This variant is more fleshed out than Cube Runner classic, and thus more fun; it also suggests that the developer is in the process of turning the series towards full-fledged racing gameplay, which could eventually be very cool. In any case, both modes control very smoothly, and you can adjust the sensitivity of the accelerometer to your liking.
Each mode comes with three built-in level packs, hitting easy, medium, and hard difficulty levels (time trial also has a fourth “obstacle” setting). After you’ve mastered everything the game has to offer, you can move on to building, playing, and sharing your own levels using the game’s toolset, as well as downloading new packs from other players. We found the level editor to be pretty straightforward–you apply numbers and symbols to a grid to build blocks and other objects, and you can take test-runs through your level right from the editor. The object editor, which allows you to assemble triangles into your own ships and items, is much less intuitive, and needs to be further simplified. Cube Runner II has excellent documentation on these features, but a tutorial might be in order, too.
User-generated content has the power to build a rabid community around a game, but only if players can easily distribute their creations to a wide audience. Unfortunately, that’s not currently the case in Cube Runner II–instead of referring to a main server, the game prompts you for a URL when you try to download new packs from your fellow racers. We had no idea where to find a good third-party Cube Runner II level host, so we were stuck playing our own levels. You can also email levels to your friends, but that seems like a laborious process. We’re looking for a central server with automatic uploads and downloads, as well as user ratings and feedback.
Cube Runner II’s presentation is not its strong point. Although the inclusion of polygonal objects and a full spectrum of colors has improved matters, it still looks like you’re playing something from the early 1990s. The textures are completely flat, and the game doesn’t generate much of a sensation of speed, due to its lack of effects. There are a few simple sound effects don’t make a difference one way or the other.
To summarize, Cube Runner II will be pretty cool once the developer beefs up its community features, and the new level packs start flying. We have a feeling he’s already working on it. Until then, it might be best to stick with the first Cube Runner.