Shown off at this year’s Tribeca Spotlight and Guerrilla Collective 3.0, The Cub from Demagog Studio currently has a free demo available to play on Steam. Inspired by some of the Sega platforming classics of the 90s, The Cub is a post-apocalyptic platformer in which you, as the last human left on an abandoned Earth, traverse through the remains of an urban wasteland in escape from otherworldly invaders.
The Cub is a love letter to the likes of the old Aladdin, Jungle Book, and Lion King videogames of the 90s, taking solace in their retro-style difficulty, replicating their incredible looking hand-drawn animation style with a modern update, and putting a strong onus on a thematically rich soundtrack. The result is an arresting experience furnished with bursts of action-packed and quiet gameplay in balanced measure.
Jungle Book Meets Armageddon
The Cub has plenty to say on the current state of the world and where we are heading with our rigorous capitalism and disregard for our home planet: When humanity’s aggressive technological advancement brings on the Great Ecological Catastrophe on Earth the ultra-rich (headed by the subtly named “Muscovitch) flee to Mars to begin life anew. For the rest of us the catastrophe renders the planet uninhabitable, leading to a near-complete extinction of the human race in Earth.
Somehow, however, you as a small child have survived by possessing some kind of mysterious immunity to the Earth’s attacks, leaving you as the lone member of the human race still standing on our planet. Like Mowgli before him, our “Cub” is taken in by a pack of wolves and raised as one of their own. Now years later the Mars colony has sent recon teams back to Earth to examine the remnants of the world they damned, and of course once spotted The Cub quickly becomes of prime interest.
The Cub sees you adventuring through the remains of the world, taking you through a vast urban jungle as mother nature has reclaimed large swathes of cityscapes in humanity’s absence. Through the incredible world design you can piece together where things went wrong for humanity amongst the numerous towering skyscrapers, neon glazed adverts, industrial chimneys, tunnel colonies and genetic labs, and even dust-filled battlefields. The preview shows off just a couple of these environments, but each is incredibly well detailed and excellent to explore. There are often multiple pathways through an area with small notes and artefacts of the old world to be found though all of them. The Cub’s world seems to be rich with narrative texture where every unlikely avenue can teach you another small story about the old world.
It helps that the art style of The Cub is wonderfully done too. The hand drawn art style harkens back to the Sega classics and gives the game this excellent retro-style look then contrasted against your character’s more modern 3D look. Your Cub is out of place against the waste of a world that has been left behind for him. The camera work is also sublime. Your movements are followed by a distinctly voyeuristic camera style, with scenes being framed through shrubbery or passing by objects in the foreground. It gives this sense that you are always under observation by the recon team studying your every move as your cub examines artefacts of the old world with animal-like curiosity. Passing out of these more intimate peeping tom camera angles are huge awe-inspiring wides that let you absorb the huge wasteland around you in all its haunting beauty. For a game concerned with a world left in desolation it purposefully takes plenty of time to appreciate the natural beauty of what we’re currently destroying.
The gameplay is a mix of quiet exploration and challenging parkour with the odd puzzle or creature thrown in, and then more adrenaline fuelled chase sequences as Mars scientists hunt you down. Both sides of the game are enjoyable and the balance of pace is nice to be able to steep yourself in the world and sometimes get your action boots on.
The quieter exploration is also aided by the game’s diegetic soundtrack. Your cub has picked up a Mars helmet which is keeping him plugged in to a Mars radio station meaning your adventure is furnished with musical pieces and the odd interview or commentary segment from residents of the colony. These segments again run a commentary on what has been left behind and add a nice texturing to your adventure – plus the music is great too with its chill lo-fi beats, and really helps underscore the high notes of some of those breath-taking wide shots. You might be alone in this world, but equipped with your music your journey through the urban jungle doesn’t have to feel quite so lonely.
With a playtime of about 20–30-minutesThe Cub’s preview gives a good account of the balance of gameplay that we can expect and has plenty to whet the appetite for more. I’d encourage any who enjoy platforming or adventure games, or indeed the Sega classics it is inspired by, to take a shot at the demo and wishlist the game on Steam to help Demagog Studio out further.