Eight-Bit Junkyard: Kickle Cubicle

Rediscovering video games of the past
“Kickle Cubicle” (Irem, 1990)

“Kickle Cubicle” is a quaint curiosity. A puzzle game that blatantly borrowed its gameplay and design from two more popular games, this addictive all-ages cartridge is a far better game than it may appear to be at first, second, or even third glance.

Film franchise adaptations continuously topped the sales charts in 1990. Eight-bit versions of “Batman,” “Dick Tracy,” “Gremlins,” and “Ghostbusters” all vied for a gamer’s time. Imagine perusing the rental shelves at your local video store or staring at the selections behind the glass case at KB Toys. What about “Kickle Cubicle” is going to make you choose it over ectoplasm and mogwais? Not much.

The nauseating rainbow balloon logo floating over a green and white checkerboard background were enough to make most think “Kickle” too juvenile a game to give it any serious consideration. Below the balloons is what looks like a floating toddler with earmuffs covering his insanely large bald head. A clearly villainous pirate chicken, and what appears to be a turtle/corncob hybrid, glares at him. Did I mention that this is a port of a Japanese arcade game?

Irem, the developer responsible for the arcade classic “Moon Patrol,” originally released the game as “Meikyû Jima” (“Labyrinth Island”) in Japan in 1988. “Kickle Cubicle” has a simple premise: Collect three dream bags within 100 seconds. As the levels progress across Garden, Fruit, Cake, and Toy Land, acquiring said dream bags becomes much more difficult — and addictive. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that the Wicked Wizard King covered the world in ice. And all of its inhabitants are enslaved in the dream bags. Except for Kickle, who was, for reasons unexplained, spared. And the weapon Kickle uses to save the ice-bound world? Freeze-breath that turns enemies into ice cubes.

The game traces its origins back to 1982’s “Pengo” (SEGA) and 1985’s “Eggerland” franchise (known to American audiences as “Adventures of Lolo”). “Pengo” stars a bow-tied penguin named Pengo who pushes ice blocks around a slippery landscape to block, trap, and smoosh multicolored enemy blobs named Sno-Bees. One doesn’t need to make too large a leap to see the connection in “Kickle Cubicle,” where the titular ear-muffed protagonist kicks ice blocks around a slippery landscape to block, trap, and smoosh multicolored enemy blobs named Noggles.

“Kickle Cubicle” lulls the player into a false sense of security with its tinkling earworm soundtrack, kindergarten visuals, and quickly beaten levels. Which is why, roughly halfway into the game, it’s such a surprise when you find yourself unable to stop playing. Those simple early levels morph into Rube Goldberg-ian nightmares where one wrong step can set off a sequence of events that cause Kickle to drown, explode, or — the bane of every gamer’s existence — run out of time.

Hidden Gem or Total Junk: Hidden Gem