How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. Lyle in Cube Sector's world has multiple routes that become more dynamic with each upgrade you get, practically the definition of a Metroidvania
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: Lyle in Cube Sector was played using version 1.11 available on the Bogozone site
Buy Lyle in Cube Sector if you like…
- High choice exploration
- Throwing Objects
- Innovative use of environments
- Oldschool Humor
▼ Review continues below ▼
In the early years of the internet a lot of freeware was being passed around. Most programs were passing novelties, often just presenting an idea or concept without fleshing it out into a real game. Some of those free passion projects have risen to the top however, either living strongly in the memories of the people that had played them or in some cases they’ve gotten remakes and commercial publications. Compared to the likes of La-Mulana and Cave Story it’s not too hard to see why Lyle in Cube Sector didn’t get the remake treatment. It’s a game about a guy trying to reclaim his stolen cat, who apparently just happens to live in a Metroidvania neighborhood where everything wants to kill him. It lacks the kind of depth and complexity that those secret-filled and more social media friendly competitors had. From a pure gameplay perspective however, Lyle in Cube Sector offers something wholly unique, and as a Metroidvania it’s a contender for some of the best level design overall. Its narrative and style might not have that powerful hold that those other well known mid-2000s freeware games had, but it has a ton of heart in the places that matter.
The premise of Lyle in Cube Sector is that all of your actions are centered around lifting up and throwing blocks. While in true Metroidvania fashion you begin with little power to do anything, your first ability is lifting those cubes. From there paying attention to what’s available in the environment becomes your immediate objective, although calling this process “puzzle platforming” is a bit of a stretch. At any given time you’re only given enough options to get through a single room. You can’t carry blocks into other rooms anyway, so solutions are usually pretty obvious. The trickier part with the block interactions is dealing with the hordes of bugs and bizarre creatures that want to deplete your health points.
Lyle has several options for throwing blocks once he has one in hand. Throwing while running gives the block more horizontal distance. Holding the down button and then throwing causes the block to arc much closer to Lyle, letting him hit enemies right next to him or underneath him. You can also throw blocks straight up into the air, but beware, if a block ever makes its way back to Lyle it can damage him instead. I was a victim of many self-kills almost immediately after retrieving the block lifting power, and it took me quite a while to get used to the physics. The way Lyle throws blocks is always consistent however, so while lobbing cubes didn’t allow me to transfer any skills I had acquired from playing other Metroidvania games, I was able to master the technique by the end of the game. In fact, if you ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a kid again playing video games for the first time, a game like Lyle in Cube Sector that does things wholly different from anything else is a great way to test your mettle.
Every enemy follows an exact and strict pattern, including the bosses, although not every enemy has movement that is easy to predict. It’s all slow enough that you can react to the less consistent patterns easily, assuming you’ve honed your aim enough that your reaction can accomplish something. Some enemies take more practice than others, but ultimately even the final boss can be manipulated so that they’re playing your game instead of the other way around. The enemies and the three bosses are where Lyle in Cube Sector’s fantastic creativity really shines, with one boss in particular being so out of left field it made me laugh out loud. Ideas are introduced nicely as the game unfolds, so you intuitively know what to do when a boss suddenly changes their pattern – although knowing what to do and executing that action are two completely different things. Enemy encounters are creative and overall really satisfying to take down.
Where Lyle in Cube Sector might get a little controversial is how it handles checkpoints. If you die you always start back in your house at the beginning of the game. Calling this a “single checkpoint” isn’t exactly true however, and the game is way more forgiving than it would initially seem. You keep everything you collect before dying, whether that be one of the game’s 20 collectables or any of the critical power-ups. You also keep any room you have explored on your map, so suicide exploration is totally a thing you can do. Most importantly though, Lyle’s neighborhood has three teleporters that link back to a central hub right next to your house – so collect any of these and you’ve effectively unlocked the game’s three checkpoints permanently. The setup gives Lyle’s world a sense of place – something important for any Metroidvania game – and the teleporters manage to keep the unnecessary repetition to a minimum, at least as it relates to the exploration aspect. My main criticism for this death mechanic is that as soon as you collect more than the starting number of max health points, you only ever respawn with that initial value. This means you’ll have to grind out some enemies to get back to your new maximum every time you die. There’s an “ideal” grinding spot located right next to a teleporter, but convenient as that is, choosing to patch yourself up before tackling a challenging section of the map can get a little tedious to do every time you fail. Thankfully boxes that provide health items will respawn every time you leave a screen, so sometimes merciful placement of said boxes can mitigate this issue. A better design might have been to just give the player a full heal at these points, but that criticism starts to tread into nitpicking.
Eventually you get powers that crush the difficulty of any given section of the game, but until you get those powers, Lyle plays out more similarly an unforgiving Mega Man level played with zero lives once you figure out where to go. On the second and final bosses you must survive a long gauntlet of enemies leading up to them before you even have a chance to fight them. With the second boss in particular if you don’t play that gauntlet perfectly you’re going to have that many fewer HP to use while learning the boss’ pattern. Calling this “unfair” would be wrong, since the game gives you every tool you need to do the task unharmed, and that task is actually really easy to do with some practice. Until you get that experience in though, Lyle in Cube Sector can be extremely punishing, and I think most players are going to be wishing there were just one or two more checkpoints available in those more brutal sections. Personally I’d add just one more teleporter to the upper right section of the map, maybe put it behind a secret passage to award explorers, and I think the map would be perfect for my own personal tastes. As-is I think this punishing design is going to be the biggest turn-off for most players.
Push past the more difficult parts though and you get to enjoy a very well designed Metroidvania world, which for me is the biggest highlight of the game. Everything loops around back into itself with two or more ways to get just about anywhere. While the most critical paths have one singular optimal route, it’s up to you to discover what that is – and given the “single checkpoint” rule you have every incentive to do so. You’re also rewarded for checking everywhere. For instance, you can upgrade your health a whopping ten times by finding blue orbs, which of course can make the more difficult parts of the game much much easier. There are also pink orbs that can be given to a vending machine that spits out more power increases. For the endgame only three of the ten pink orbs are actually optional, but getting these pink orbs early on though will reduce the overall difficulty – which isn’t something I did on my playthrough, so I was playing hard mode without even knowing it. I don’t always 100% every Metroidvania I play, but collecting every secret in Lyle in Cube Sector was a delight – although it also helps that the game isn’t particularly huge.
Using a generous estimate contingent on how long it takes you to get good, Lyle in Cube Sector runs only about five hours long, and that includes the time to get any of the optional collectables. However, it’s one of those games where the experience is compact and concentrated; every single moment is pure ingenious design with no fat or fluff to be found. Its “oldschool” style of punishing the player for their mistakes is probably going to be a turn-off to wider audiences, but compared to the likes of the original Metroid or other niche NES favorites like Blaster Master, Lyle in Cube Sector is actually pretty fair and forgiving. Throwing blocks to defeat your enemies is weird and maybe initially awkward, but mastering that unique focus is in my opinion a great part of the appeal. The hardest part about playing it today is getting it to run on a modern PC; I had to run it in Windows XP compatibility mode to eliminate issues. Other than that though it’s still completely free, and wholly worth checking out, and not just because it’s a time capsule for a nostalgic era of gaming. Lyle in Cube Sector isn’t an epic by any measure, but it is a great game.
Enemy patterns are discernible making for a great hard but fair experience, although I suspect many will find the block throwing a bit hard to get used to
Precise platforming isn't heavily challenged in this game, but the abilities you gain do make it interesting
Lyle has a masterfully designed world with secrets hidden in intriguing places, Although some hidden items might be a tiny bit obtuse, it's all presented well enough you could do it without a guide.
There are only one or two secrets that involve what could be called ''puzzles'', but they're fun ones
The entire story is given to you in the game's title screen, but who doesn't want to save a stolen cat?
The oldschool aesthetic is timeless and there are even some good CRT filters available for that extra nostalgia
The music is incredibly catchy right from the start
There really aren't any options to give multiple playthroughs any sort of newness to it, unless you get into speedrunning