“The Jungle Book meets armageddon” is how The Cub is described, and boy is it pretty apt. Excusing the musical numbers and that there are, in fact, no bears, that is. Brought to us by the wonderfully talented bunch at Demagog Studio and Untold Tales, The Cub is set in the same universe as my game of the year for 2021 – Golf Club Nostalgia (previously Golf Club Wasteland).
This time around, the golf clubs have been shelved. You’re a surviving child left behind after the exodus to Mars has long since occurred. No relaxing mediative swings here, now it’s time to run and jump through the post-apocalypse as you scramble for survival. The real question is, does The Cub live up to the standard set by its forebear or find itself an outcast from the tribe?
Whereas Golf Club explored the perspective of an Earthian returning to his home planet, The Cub focuses on the helpless souls left to adapt to what was left behind. Nailing holes-in-one has been replaced with fast and frenetic chase sequences. Lining up shots and taking in the atmosphere forgotten as you whiz through the dilapidated remains of a world left to ruin.
Dropping from the trees in the intro, The Cub quickly gets you to grips with movement, jumping and simplistic physics mechanics. You can push the odd object, use your double jump, swing from vines and bounce off elastic surfaces. The Cub is a platformer, through and through. I found the shift a fun fit in theory, at first.
There’s an escalation of difficulty throughout, as you evade a group of over-curious visiting humans. Stealth sections are relatively basic and most of the gameplay feels accessible, despite its rapid pace. In truth, I started to notice quite quickly it’s more style than substance, as while you can be caught quickly or easily perish with a misstep, there’s not a whole lot of depth here.
There are some enjoyable set-pieces, like a jetpack sequence as you out maneuver a rocket-spewing robot. Another highlight was a section that had me dashing between signs to avoid the gaze of a nefarious trooper. Yet, much of the enjoyment of these came from the atmosphere and graphical beauty of the world, as opposed to the thrill of the chase itself, so to speak.
Meet The Pack
While the movement and pace feel engaging, the controls feel slightly loose. This resulted in more than a few frustrating moments, even during The Cub’s rather short runtime. From moments not being clear when you can and can’t double jump, to an input not registering when sliding down hills, things can go wrong. The platforming is proficient, but it fails to excel, which is a real shame.
In some ways, the gameplay also feels a bit at odds with the world and the other elements that made Golf Club so special. Radio Nostalgia from Mars returns, only it’s hard to keep up with its cutting satire and tongue-in-cheek tunes when you’re evading deadly creatures or dodging nets. In Golf Club, you could lap everything up as you planned your next swing – not so much here.
As I mentioned before though, the set pieces can once again be pretty spectacular. Leaping across skyscrapers and dancing through thorns alike can be truly brilliant at times. Smashing up the night club like a wrecking ball or launching yourself across the balcony building complex felt incredible as throwbacks, too.
However, there are some maddening moments. The awkward timing of a bison sequence which makes you restart from the beginning every time irked me. One puzzle area involving a killer robot dashing at you can be painful. Albeit, once it clicks, it’s okay, but passing these sections felt more like a relief that it was over rather than a satisfactory feat of skill.
Writing this so far has me a little downbeat, it must be said. When I played the demo back in June of 2022, I was pretty ecstatic to return to this delightful universe. But while the gameplay and platforming left rather a lot to be desired, the music and art direction absolutely did not. Once again, the team at Demagog Studios have flexed their visual muscle, and damn can it bench some major iron.
The diversity of locations, density of flora and fauna are all realised with stunning beauty. Locations from Golf Club are returned to but are given a marvellous tune-up. Flying above the clouds amongst the neon towers is genuinely whimsical, and the team deserve massive credit for the visual direction once again. Heck, seeing an albino alligator swoop up out of a radioactive crater to eat my poor avatar still left me in bemused appreciation.
Musically, The Cub is also stunning. From the little humming motif to the introspective songs about the meaning of existence (when riding a motorcycle, of course), it all pieces together beautifully. Due to the platforming being so pacey, it’s easy for a lot of this to whiz by in a moment, lost to the ether of the desperation to survive.
In a way, that’s kind of fitting, given The Cub’s themes of human colonisation and wanton destruction of the environment. In another way, it’s difficult to appreciate the masterful work on display, as you’re too busy timing your button presses or being killed by an aggressive hog for the 19th time. I’d recommend listening to the soundtrack separately so you can have the opportunity to truly appreciate it.
Neither The Runt, Nor The King
In truth, my favourite parts of The Cub are the things that I adored most about Golf Club Nostalgia. This isn’t a bad follow-up by any means, but I can’t help but feel it’s the less cohesive of the two games. Golf Club grew into its skin and became head of the pride, while The Cub feels very much like a junior finding its stride.
The addition of more story exposition through voiced cutscenes that bookend chapters is nice, but it doesn’t really carry the rest of the shortcomings. There’s a good message in here regarding how we as people willfully neglect the environment around us, and the satire still hits that sweet spot of humour and boldness. The various collectibles tie into this in a meaningful way too, making them fun to collect.
By the time I rolled credits, I was only between an hour to two hours, which felt pretty short. While it’s not unheard of for this studio and publisher to focus on shorter, more compact experiences, it still feels somewhat light. There’s not a whole not of replayability outside of collectibles, and the trophies were easily attainable too.
I enjoyed The Cub for what it is – a decent platformer with a gorgeous art style and great musical score, set in a universe I already fell in love with. Outside of the parts I was already invested in, however, it feels like a less realised and cohesive vision to its predecessor, and it’s a short-and-sweet experience that’s probably good for an evening, but not much more.
Swapping clubs for running and swinging, The Cub is an okay platformer that rides the coattails of Golf Club Nostalgia’s wonderful aesthetic, soundtrack and satirical ingenuity. The frustrating controls and basic gameplay mean this fledging doesn’t develop as strongly as its forebear did. But, there’s enough still running through this cub’s DNA to make it part of the pack.
The Cub is available January 19th on PlayStation 5 (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Developer: Demagog Studio
Publisher: Untold Tales
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher.