An ecological game with a sense of humor, Cubivore: Survival of the Fittest is endearing in a loveably bizarre way, despite frequent battles against an unanticipated foe: the camera.
Developed by Saru Brunei with assistance from Intelligent Systems, it was originally intended to release on the Nintendo 64DD before winding up on the GameCube. Nintendo published it in Japan in early 2002 but opted to forgo a western release, prompting Atlus to localize it for North America, where it launched on November 5, 2002.
Beginning life as a wee pig, my avatar’s first utterance was simple but profound: “I want to live. That was the first thought I ever had: I want to be alive.” This instinctual need to survive evolved into a desire to return wilderness to the world. Achieving this meant climbing the food chain by eating, mutating, and mating to become the King of All Cubivores, an animal strong enough to dethrone the Killer Cubivore and his mechanical beasts. They had run rampant gorging themselves without thought, stripping the land of its wilderness. More than just a cutesy rumination on natural selection, this game hammered home its allegorical environmentalism.
Venturing through linear stages Okemah, my self-named avatar, fought and consumed fellow Cubivore, gaining their traits in the process. As a one-limbed creature, simply eating another Cubivore would allow him to adapt and mutate. Gaining more appendages meant eating two or more like Cubivore to mutate. Traits inherited depended on the color of the Cubivore. For instance, as a Redaped his jumping ability would be unmatched while as a Greyodon he’d be an unparalleled dasher. Besides color-based traits, hues determined strength, from pale to dark and beyond. Additionally, training grounds and power-ups led to permanent improvements to inherent abilities and attributes. I enjoyed experimenting with Okemah’s diet and gaining new mutations but it took me a while to fully grasp the importance of this.
Apart from just having fun seeing Okemah’s new forms and the way he moved and attacked, gaining new mutations was mandated. To become King of All Cubivores, he had to mutate into 100 unique forms. With predetermined assortments of Cubivore in each stage, this was doable on a virgin playthrough but challenging without consulting a guide. I fell short initially, only surpassing 70 mutations. At this point, I replayed stages in a new game plus style, adding to Okemah’s accumulated mutation total until he reached 100. The stages were remixed with new areas and beasts, helping me to reach the target while offering a somewhat fresh experience. Having grown annoyed with an obstructionist camera though, my patience was wearing thin.
Engaging Cubivore in combat was an often aggravating affair thanks to the camera. Since it did very little adjusting on its own, the responsibility fell on me to keep the camera properly positioned. Early on I learned to habitually click up on the c-stick to re-center the camera behind Okemah. This wasn’t an ideal solution and added another layer of complexity to battles. Before Okemah could pounce at an enemy, he needed to be close enough to lock on. Complicating matters, in adolescent forms he needed to remain stationary to attack. So, while I was finagling with the camera and keeping Okemah motionless, his enemies could hop out of attack range or jump out of view. Just like Okemah, I had to adapt to survive. Controlling the camera became less of an obstacle over time, but it was never fully to my liking.
In contrast to the meat of standard Cubivores, which imparted passive traits and mutation effects when consumed, meat from the Killer Cubivore’s subordinates granted actionable abilities like dashing and blocking. Their meat was considered raw meat, or concentrated wilderness. Eating this concentrated wilderness also helped him attract mates and produce stronger offspring, which literally translated into offspring with more appendages. Besides mutating 100 times, to challenge the Killer Cubivore, a six-limbed beast, Okemah needed to become a six-limbed beast himself. The pig form he began life as only got him so far and at its apex, he attracted the attention of the Consu-mate. This female devoured him and spawned a stronger form: a bear. The cycle repeated once more until Okemah achieved his ultimate form: a… bird?
Once Okemah accumulated 100 unique mutations, I was granted access to the endgame. Beginning with a battle royale against all prior bosses, I was surprised by how non-threatening they were. Granted, Okemah was immensely powerful at this point, but I was able to reliably pick them off one by one. The finale against the Killer Cubivore was more in line with my expectations. Before confronting him, I had to pick off four Cubivore stronger than anything else I’d previously fought. Furthermore, they swarmed me, preventing Okemah from seeking safe haven or reliably getting an attack out. After a few attempts I finally overcame and went toe-to-toe with the Killer Cubivore. He had an unbelievable amount of health and I essentially needed to defeat him six times. After a stint turtling and analyzing his patterns, I executed a strategy that had me victorious on my third attempt.
Cubivore: Survival of the Fittest has been on my backlog for years, nearly twenty at this point (!) and I’m glad to have finally played it. With enjoyable gameplay and a rewarding system of experimentation, the core concepts of ecology and natural selection were not only interesting, but well executed. Although issues with the camera were pervasive during my ten-hour playthrough they did little to dampen my desire to see what was next, figuratively and literally. Stylistically, the cubist design is as eye-catching and appealing as ever, and some animations were just too cute! Similarly, the quirky music fit the game perfectly, enhancing scenes of peaceful tranquility and aggression alike. It’s clear a lot of heart went into making Cubivore, and considering there’s nothing else like it, I’m a little saddened to be done with it. Nevertheless, the legend of Okemah will live on with me.