As you absentmindedly stir them into your morning coffee and sprinkle it on your grapefruit, did you ever consider that maybe sugar has feelings too? Not just feelings, but friends and families; a whole life that inevitably leads to a tragic ending. The sugar cubes in Turtle Cream's Bittersweet Factory have had enough of this grueling cycle, and thus look to you to guide them to safety...but do you really want to?
Sugar Cube: Bittersweet Factory is nothing if not original, but a delightful premise and strangely charming characters can only take a game so far. Something of a puzzle platformer, levels are built around a mechanic of flipping the background to reveal or make disappear platforms, buttons, and whatever other manor of device is for some reason sitting here with these anthropomorphic sweeteners, with the express goal of making it to the exit (and by extension, freedom). It's a solid mechanic on paper that I can't recall seeing used in quite the same way, but when executed boils down to a lot of blind luck and frustration.
As you are only able to flip tiles in a small area around you, you're often forced to awkwardly jump around to reveal tiles (most of which you have no way of finding without raw trial and error), which leads to an endless stream of inaccuracies. Because the grid around you that decrees what tiles you can flip is never quite constant, it's enough of a challenge to get tiles to flip consistently, which is to say nothing of the precision required in later levels. Difficulty through mechanical issues is never the right way to challenge the player, and this mistake is built into the foundation of everything Sugar Cube attempts.
Despite being most easily described as a puzzle platformer, there's a noticeable absence of anything intended to make you think or otherwise befuddle. Levels are decidedly straight forward from beginning to end, with rarely a spot of innovation or an interesting use of the game's sole mechanic. Haphazard and nondescript, each level bleeds into the next with a dull and tedious complacency, missing every halfhearted opportunity to do something inspired until you finally stumble upon the ending less than two hours later.
That ending is Sugar Cube's one redeeming quality, and not just because it means I can finally set it down and move onto better games. As the credits role, an upbeat track cutely puts into words just how sad a world it would be without chocolate. It's charming and catchy, and for a moment made me completely forgive the numerous mistakes that Sugar Cube otherwise makes. I couldn't help but love it and will surely have it stuck in my head and on my playlist for some time to come.
Unfortunately, the journey to get to that point is nowhere near as sweet and for a game about sugar left a rather sour taste in my mouth.
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