Kickle Cubicle - IREM 1990
Kickle Cubicle is a single-screen, overhead-view puzzle game in the spirit of the "Adventures of Lolo" series of games that were very popular in the 1980s. Kickle, your earmuff-clad hero, must navigate traps and obstacles using the simplest of weapons: his freezing cold breath (which can turn certain enemies into ice cubes and temporarily immobilize others), and the ability to create ice pillars. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to save the inhabitants of four different lands - Garden Land, Fruit Land, Cake Land, and Toy Land - and liberate their respective palaces from the icy spell of the Wizard King.
Naturally, you must also rescue the four princesses that reside within the palaces. There's the ruler of Garden Land, Princess Pumpa (Pumpa? What kind of parent names their poor daugther Pumpa?), Fruit Land's ruler Princess Lutea (who looks like a hula girl), Cake Land's Princess Cremia (can you imagine how hard it would be to maintain your weight if you ruled over Cake Land?), and finally the leader of Toy Land, Princess Mira (who's mentioned in the instruction manual as the one who calls out to Kickle for help). As in Super Mario Bros. and other games with similar "save the princess" storylines, one wonders why four human princesses are in charge of sentient cakes and toys. There don't appear to be any other humans in the game (except for their father, King Tois), so where did they come from? For that matter, what exactly is Kickle? A snowman? A marshmallow? Maybe it's better not to ask questions.
At the end of each Land, you are taken to the palace and must fight a larger version of one of your common enemies: the one-eyed rooster, the ball-throwing clown, and the shell-spinning turtle (who is actually a mythological Kappa, according to the instruction manual art). The boss characters throw a large object at you, which will break into four smaller pieces. Get behind one of the pieces and push it back at the enemy to damage it. Your final enemy is the Wizard King - a snowman with an overturned bucket on his head. He's the reason you have to solve all these puzzles and rescue weird sentient edibles. You can beat the Wizard King just like his underlings, but obviously he's much tougher.
Don't go into Kickle Cubicle expecting fast-paced button pressing. This is more a game of strategy than reflexes (although you'll need both). In most levels, Kickle first needs to freeze the little blue guys into ice cubes with his icy cool breath (that lasts... sorry, bad joke). By throwing these ice cubes, Kickle can turn the impassable water sections into floor tiles, allowing him to walk across. You'll also utilize contraptions like hammers and springboards to get the ice cubes where they need to go. In each level, your job is to collect all of the flashing red bags scattered across the board. Inside are trapped denizens of the islands - talking carrots and pies and whatnot. Most boards also contain popsicle bonuses that you can collect for extra points. Some levels even have 1-up hearts that give Kickle an extra life. Upon completing a level, Kickle is awarded with points according to how quickly you solved the room's puzzle.
Of course, just because this is a puzzle game doesn't mean you can't die. First off, touching any enemy character or enemy projectiles is deadly to Kickle. If Kickle is hit by flying ice cubes (kicked by an enemy, bounced off a springboard, etc) or a spinning hammer, you also lose a life. Finally, you'll lose a life if you fail to complete the level before the timer reaches zero.
Kickle Cubicle is a fairly challenging game although the first levels are quite easy. Things really start to get hairy somewhere around the middle of Cake Land. Even though you are only given three lives, you can continue from the level you died on as many times as you like - you only lose the points you had amassed. Sometimes you'll receive a bonus - a ruby ring will appear that clears all the enemies from the board and creates bonus items (like flowers) that you can pick up for extra points.
The whole game has a youthful, cheery feel to it. Kickle looks like he went to high school with Lolo and Kirby, floating from stage to stage courtesy of a red balloon on his back (maybe that's where Tingle got the idea). The enemy characters are more goofy looking than frightening, including the Wizard King (the above-mentioned bucket-headed snowman). The background music is repetitive, but it's bouncy and upbeat. There's only one thing in this game that ever creeped me out, and that was the pumpkin palace in the first world. I mean, this is poor Princess Pumpa's home, and it looks like an evil jack o' lantern. She's got a lousy name and a scary house, and she rules over a bunch of sentient veggies. The other princesses get things like cake and toys, she's got leafy greens. Looks like she got a raw deal all the way around.
The overall cuteness of Kickle Cubicle underscores just how tricky some of these levels can be. Any youngster giving this game a try should ask Mom or Dad for some help with the later puzzles. Sometimes a puzzle's solution is just a matter of a different perspective. I remember playing this game as a kid and having the whole family offer suggestions to some of the later boards.
If you've had it with Kickle for the day, the game includes a password feature so you can continue where you left off. This is very useful when you want to return to a challenging puzzle with a fresh eye. There is only one eight-character password per level, so you can't save your high scores.
After you finally defeat the wicked Wizard King, Kickle rescues Princess Mira, her father King Tois, and liberates all of the Fantasy Kingdom. But there's a surprise! Unlike many 8-bit heroes of his day, Kickle actually weds the princess. Mira seems a lot shorter than her three older sisters (Pumpa, Lutea, and Cremia), so I guess she's the best match for the tiny Kickle. He certainly seems happy.
As an additional reward for saving the kingdom, Kickle is given four extra puzzle levels to complete. Seriously, what's his incentive here? He's already saved the kingdom and married the princess, what more is there? Nevertheless, Kickle (and you) struggle on with these last four super-hard puzzles.
All in all, Kickle's a fun little guy who've never (to my knowledge) appeared in any more games beyond this one. It can be assumed that he lived happily ever after in Toy Land with Princess Mira, and they never had any problems again (at least not problems that require a gamer's help). The overhead-view puzzler genre seems to have vanished over the years, but this game is still a challenging brainteaser for players of all skill levels.