The advent of the motion sensitive controller was always going to make tilt-games popular, and Super Rub-a-Dub marks the first outing for the genre on the PlayStation 3.
Just like Super Monkey Ball, Mercury, and the more recent Kororinpa, the action and skill in Super Rub-a-Dub centres around tilting a tray-like maze. Instead of guiding spheres or blobs of gooey metal to a goal, this time the focus is on gathering up small rubber ducks and leading them to safety, with your own mother duck.
Each course, based on the porcelain style of a comic-book bathtub, is filled with a thin layer of water, divided up by a series of walls and obstacles. Tipping the controller in your hands sends the water in the tray the same way, gently guiding your lead duck in the desired direction. As you pass through the pre-set formations of the yellow plastic ducklings, they join behind you in a queue that follows you so obediently you have to be careful not to lead them to their deaths.
Along with sharks of various size and ability, holes in the wall and floor expose dangerous drops that can swallow you and your newfound family of ducklings. Toppling over the edge sees you sent back to the levels start point, leaving any youngsters previously linked to your chain either lost to oblivion or floating perilously on their own. Highlighted in red, these breakaway ducklings are not anchored to the floor as they were when you first gathered them, instead at the whim of the current of the water, making reining them back in furiously hard.
'Returning immediately to a level to shave a few tenths-of-a-second off your time, or to gather just one or two more ducklings, is irresistible, when it means you might jump hundreds of places up the leaderboard...'
The parameters for finishing a level are fairly forgiving. You must guide as many of the ducks as possible to a swirling plughole that leads them to safety. You can drop off your chains of tiny yellow doppelgangers as often as you wish in each level, with longer linked lines of ducklings being rewarded with a higher score bonus. There is no limit on the lives you lose, and as long as every rubber duck either returns or is lost to a shark or the infinite drop below, you complete the stage.
What adds longevity and excitement to what would otherwise be a fairly short-lived novelty is the instant world ranking you receive on finishing each individual stage. Returning immediately to a level to shave a few tenths-of-a-second off your time, or to gather just one or two more ducklings, is irresistible, when it means you might jump hundreds of places up the leaderboard to the top-100, or even make the best ten scores in the world.
How long this will last as a worthy gameplay element debateable, as though presently achieving a top-ten ranking score is possible, no doubt the hardcore will quickly fill the high-score tables with superhuman, unbeatable feats. However, the option to view most of your rival players' best performances instantly from the ranking menu is an inspired option, giving you a chance to watch and learn from the best.
Super Rub-a-Dub certainly proves the worth of the Sixaxis controller, although the ability to jump by jolting your hands upwards is a little too easy to trigger, and when it accidentally sends you and your rubber offspring leaping to a certain death it is infuriating. However, including a jump has enabled the designers to open up the levels with gaps and platforms to negotiate. As the bathtub courses get harder, though achieving a worthy ranking becomes near impossible, the compulsion to overcome the cunning puzzle elements makes Super Rub-a-Dub very hard to leave alone. Devices such as strong currents, barriers to the water's flow and well-placed gaps are expertly combined to create some brain-teasing challenges.
The levels can feel a little samey after extended play, and Sony's gather-'em-up is certainly best enjoyed in short blasts. A feeling for variation is maintained thanks to the odd level that sees you controlling a shark, greedily feasting on a sea of adult-sized rubber ducks. These are among some of the more exciting stages of the game, and often involve furious races through some of the choppiest waters of Super Rub-a-Dub, with the hunter and the hunted swept through turbulent rapids.
The end result is a brilliant nugget of arcade puzzle gaming that is hard to put down and well worth its budget price. However, it is a little lacking in substance and, despite its next-gen gloss, feels a lot like a homebrewed internet shareware title. Yet perhaps that is exactly what the PlayStation Network has already become. A window for the distribution of the unusual and the novel, to a public that are in dire need of something other than the latest generic shelf-filler. If Super Rub-a-Dub is indicative of what is to come for low-price gaming, then the future of the PlayStation Network should not be ignored.