PEGBRJE: STRAWBERRY CUBES and Koshka’s Kofe
STRAWBERRY CUBES is a terrifyingly abstract puzzle game created by Loren Schmidt, the indie developer featured earlier with luminous corridor 0. Unlike that prior title however, this features a nameless protagonist that cannot shoot, nor can they fight back — instead, they can only explore and discover just what exactly this world can offer.
As far as 2D puzzle titles go, STRAWBERRY CUBES takes a lot of inspiration from the older platformer genre as players will be reaching the edge of the screen to move to the next quadrant of the world. This means any edge can be a place of movement, which means players could find themselves falling through multiple ‘floors’ on their way down if they don’t find a nice ledge to stop themselves. Now this can be a puzzle in its own right, but where the puzzling truly begins is in these small ‘seeds’ that players will gather, which when placed will grow a large flower. Collected around the world, these flowers will grow as high as they possibly can before they are stopped by a hard surface; meaning that they can go ‘through’ the roof and wrap around to the bottom of the screen. This is player’s only real sense of mobility, as there is no ability to jump — instead players will climb the stems of these plants to get a good vantage point to fall on to new platforms to keep travelling. Reaching those new locations doesn’t seem so hard now, but there needs to be a solid surface for the plants to grow, and unlike the plants we as players don’t get to screenwrap. In fact, it will bring the protagonist to the next level and despawn the flower, for everything always resets in every room when the player leaves it. Make sure to take everything that is available, because can lead to some very awkward scenarios where one cannot get back up due to a lack of seeds.
This has the making for a relatively understandable puzzle game, but STRAWBERRY CUBES isn’t satisfied with that; it wants you to scratch your head and wonder just what exactly is going on. Imagery is insanity, a mixture of colours and shapes that create a sense of understanding yet I still am attempting to parse exactly what is going on. There are characters that exist in tableau in the backdrop, giving hints of direction or a sense of what the game is about but say explicitly nothing. What goes on within this game I’ll never know, and I don’t think I could explain even if I did — the only way to find out is to play, and that’s all up to you getting in to it.
Koshka’s Kofe is a web novel and interactive narrative created by Michelle Ma, JP Jupiter and Cloud Tian. After inheriting her father’s coffee shop (against her will), Catarina Koshka takes up his place as the local barista for the town and begins serving the locals as they come in, and determine what she wants out of this quaint little store.
As Catarina, players will be following her along as she tries her hand at being a barista, interacting with folks that she hasn’t seen for a while and delivering their order. Customers will arrive at the front desk and give their order, which players can then switch the screen over to the one seen above; the coffee making location. Here players will correctly input everything that was specified in the order, from the quantity of coffee shots to the extra flavour syrups. The directions are lovingly placed on a blackboard on the wall, which players can reference at any time to ensure that they are doing things in the right order; Catarina will also give helpful hints if players try to do things out of order. If the order comes out wrong, make sure to dump it in the sink and start over, better to serve the right thing slowly than the wrong thing fast. Getting an order wrong will sour the reputation of the store — which some may want to have happen given the previous history learned — while correct orders will keep spirits high. Many orders will also be accompanied by some dialogue between the customer and Catarina depending on their previous history, before moving on to the next customer.
I did say this was a narrative, and while the gameplay of crafting coffee is fun, it is hardly the main focus; rather, it is a way of allowing player actions to effect the plot in some way as they navigate Catarina’s feelings towards the shop and returning home. She will get to interact with many who might know her late father and give their condolences, while possibly learning more about him that she may have not known. Due to their tense relationship before his passing, Catarina appears more apathetic to his departure than those around her, which is slowly delved in to as customers she knows prod for information. It’s a way of showcasing both Catarina’s understanding of her past while allowing for her to grow and learn possibly different ways of seeing it, even if they don’t change her opinion by the end. There’s also the subplot of a corporate entity that is looking to purchase the shop, which takes over more of the main plot the deeper the player immerses themselves in the shop.
As someone who is deeply familiar with coffee-centric narrative games (having drafted one myself, what are the odds) Koshka’s Kofe does a fantastic job of setting the player up for success through its focus on storytelling. It doesn’t want you to feel pressured to finish the coffee, so there’s no timer, and the only negatives are the shop’s reputation — which you might want to tank anyway if you learn more about Catarina’s past. It’s a short experience, depending on your aptitude, but it’s a warm little tale with cute animals that just want some caffeine. Or just milk! The heart wants what it wants. Try this out if you want a small experience for some emotional fun.
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