PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5
January 19, 2024
The remnants of an abandoned Earth are your playground in The Cub, a game that combines a satirically drenched post-apocalyptic society with childlike tomfoolery. Building upon developer Demagog Studio’s past work, The Cub depicts a world that is both bleak and cheeky at the same time, punctuating every on-screen action with a shockingly memorable OST.
The Cub starts strong, showcasing a world devastated by ecological catastrophe and reclaimed by flora & fauna. The visuals are engrossing as the stylised animations and vivid colours draw you into a world that’s high-spirited on the surface but hides a darker reality underneath. The Cub graciously embraces that duality. So much of the humour, the satire, and the boisterousness is a mere cover for the game’s grim storytelling, as newspaper headlines and radio anecdotes from the past capture the whole story. You play as The Cub, a human orphan left amongst the collapse of Earthen society after the wealthy fled to Mars in a bid for survival. Now, as the spacesuit-clad upper-class return to Earth, you must escape their hunt through the ruins of the past.
The Cub’s setting feels so beautifully conceptualised. There’s nothing surface-level about the game’s worldbuilding, with narrative depth and lore found in every aspect of the location design, every radio snippet, and every note you stumble upon. At times, it’s this storytelling that’s at the forefront of the game, with the 2D puzzle platforming taking a backseat, acting as a mere vehicle for discovery and exploration. This is perhaps the benefit of creating a game in a pre-existing universe. Demagog Studio’s previous game which went by the name Golf Club: Wasteland back in 2021 when we reviewed it (now Golf Club: Nostalgia) set the tone for this future project. More than just the lore carried over, with characters from the previous game and the charming radio broadcast delightfully reemerging here.
“The Cub’s setting feels so beautifully conceptualised. There’s nothing surface-level about the game’s worldbuilding…”
Unlike Golf Club: Nostalgia’s golfing gameplay, The Cub is a bit more conventional in its approach to moment-to-moment action. The challenge of Nostalgia has certainly been traded in for something much more approachable and less frustrating in The Cub, as you jump from ledge to ledge, hide from your captors, occasionally drag props around to assist with traversal, and largely just run from left to right as you unpack more about this world you inhabit. The gameplay fundamentally works to facilitate further discovery, though the barebones nature does eventually run thin as ideas become overused and imperfectly implemented.
The Cub unfortunately doesn’t end as strongly as it starts and it’s largely a gameplay problem. The chase sequences that were at first charming in an ‘adult buffoon outwitted by child’ kind of way eventually grow tiresome and routine. It’s just a trope that is relied on too heavily for the game’s rather short runtime. This problem is exacerbated by long-ish sequences with immediate fail states that are just as much the game’s fault as your own. It’s never fun to repeat a gameplay segment because of unwieldy controls or poorly telegraphed hazards, and once you leave the ground and start flying through the sky, those unwieldy controls become painfully noticeable. The Cub could have taken cues from other games within the genre and did more with its puzzling, as the rather simple ‘drag a prop to climb on top’ schtick was about as far as the puzzling went.
Despite its gameplay shortcomings, The Cub is far from a bad game. You’ll absolutely find yourself engrossed within this world, not just because of the aforementioned worldbuilding, but because of smart choices like the lack of a HUD that just makes everything feel all-encompassing and immersive. The range of collectables scattered about rewards you for exploration and provides additional levity. These go beyond simple interactables, with fantastic character animations and occasionally even videos accompanying each find.
The game is tonally very strong. The Cub himself is full of character and bursting with what I can only describe as big rapscalian energy. By far the best part of this game though is found in its audio. You’re never alone in your journey across a broken Earth, as Radio Nostalgia from Mars brings fun commentary, lively stories, and banging music to the entire game. This in-universe radio station is an idea lifted directly from Golf Club: Nostalgia, but is impeccably implemented here. The original soundtrack alone is commendable, presenting a look at what the future of music may sound like. But to accompany those tracks with an actual radio announcer just adds an extra layer of glory. Early on in the game, you’ll hear the remixed sounds of a baby that turns into a genuine bop. But then the radio announcer chimes in to back announce the track, calling it “Toddler Pop” and expressing nostalgia over “the days of late-stage capitalism”, claiming “child labour never sounded so sweet”. It’s just so deliciously dark, humorous, and satirical. Something The Cub excels at time and time again.
“It’s just so deliciously dark, humorous, and satirical. Something The Cub excels at time and time again.”
The functional integration of the game’s radio broadcast is also very clever. It never cuts out even when reloading to a previous checkpoint, providing a constant stream of audio goodness that doesn’t repeat. It’s all timed fantastically too, so the game can pace and match the audio with the gameplay. This is achieved, I believe, through looping music tracks that can play for as long as they need to before you reach the next area. You don’t hear the loops though, so it’s all very elegantly implemented. Extra touches such as muffled sounds when you submerge underwater is just the cherry on top of the beautiful audio choices.
The game will throw names at you as obvious parodies of real-world billionaires, companies, and notable figures pop up throughout. From notes scattered around to Radio Nostalgia stories and even the company names plastered on the abandoned buildings that surround you. It’s all dripping with irony to cut through the darker tones of the game. Admittedly, the jokes and satire can reach for very low-hanging fruit and lack subtlety, which hurts their overall impact. Regardless, The Cub still manages to achieve a level of poignancy and whimsy simultaneously, proving to be a potent combination.
- Incredible original soundtrack supported by radio commentary
- Dripping with satire
- Stylish animation and visual choices
- Amazing worldbuilding
- Unwieldy controls leading to unfair fail states
- Gameplay sequences lose imagination
The Cub is a fascinating romp through post-apocalyptic Earth. Balancing dark themes with delightful levity, the game finds a way to showcase both the best and worst of humanity with biting wit, vivid visuals, and impeccably implemented audio. It’s all let down somewhat by gameplay sequences that can’t maintain the same quality as the game’s other elements. However, even with that rather big caveat, The Cub still manages to present a lovely package worth opening.