Kyubo is a strange game. All it takes is one look at the odd-looking main character and you'll get an idea of what a weird combination of influences it happens to be. What is that little guy anyway? He kinda looks like what would happen if Ang from the Avatar cartoon met one of the shadow creatures from Ico. Sprung from the keyboard of former Angry Birds programmer Marco Rapino, Kyubo is the first effort of his spinoff studio Chestnut Games. But this title is about as far from the ubiquitous physics flinger as it gets.

When you boil it down to the core elements, it's clear that Rapino definitely set out to try and mess around with existing gameplay conventions. Kyubo is a mixture of a puzzle game and a platformer. That experimentation is certainly evident once you boot up for the first time. From the quick set up via a comic strip to the atmospheric and creepy music setting the mood, Kyubo is something different for sure.

You play as some kind of ghost prince shadow boy royalty who's trapped in a giant, labyrinthine dungeon beneath a palace and needs help escaping. Each level in Kyubo presents a series of puzzles and obstacles that you will have to make your way through. But the path to the end is up to you and how you decide to combine different platformer game elements and puzzle components. There are parts in the game where you will have to solve a Tetris puzzle while moving your guy through it, jumping from platform to platform.

Just going about the standard platformer motions and timing the right jump will not be enough to get you through. You and your little shadow man will have to figure out how to call on the spirits and get them to help you use all of the magic cubes in the game, which will help you disarm traps, enable triggers and access far locations. It's a cool concept.

Sometimes the price paid for experimentation comes at a loss of consistency and balance and Kyubo certainly suffers from some of that. The tightness of the programming is certainly evident, with the responsiveness of the menu and platformer buttons being smooth and buttery. Although I did manage once or twice to get Kyubo stuck in-between the pixels of a platorm that should have squashed me. In a way, the polish of the programming almost feels out of place with the bizarre setting and art style. But it's certainly not uninteresting.

The first couple of levels will introduce you to the different things you can do, before you really dig into the meat of the game's 70 different stages. The main character will help you along with his own little running dialogue to himself. The blocks that you can control will gradually become more and more versatile, expanding from the simple up and down commands that you can give them at the beginning of the game.

In perhaps its strangest bit of experimentation, Kyubo has pulled off something that sets itself apart from every other mobile game out there now. Amazingly enough, Kyubo is free of in-app purchases. Talk about experimentation! Who would have thought of such a concept? Okay, I'm kidding a little bit with the hyperbole, but it's always refreshing to see a title appear without a microtransaction or ad-serving business model baked in.

Ultimately, this is a cool effort from an already established iOS talent. While I don't think Kyubo, as it exists now, has the right combination of influences and elements to come together into something that will set the world on fire, I do think that it's a great bit of experimentation and will likely lead to something even better.


App Store Link: Kyubo for iPhone & iPad | By Chestnut Studio | Price: $0.99 | Version: 1.0.0 | 35.2 GB | Rating 9+

7.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating