Format reviewed: Wii U eShop
Other formats available: Steam, App Store
Developer: 3 Sprockets
Website: Cubemen 2
Cubemen 2 is fast-paced 3D tower defence-strategy game in which players control an army of Cubemen, using them to battle against enemies in a range of modes, including Capture The Flag, Skirmish and Territory, in single player and online 6-player cross-platform games.
If tower defence or strategy type games are not your thing, Cubemen 2 can seem overwhelming upon first loading it up. Thankfully, this is remedied by a very helpful and easy to follow Tutorial Mode that explains all the necessary basics from choosing units to upgrading and camera movement.
The main game type encountered in the 1-player campaign is Defense. Waves of enemies will approach your base, try to eliminate your Units and, upon attacking your base enough, leave you with a Game Over screen. Your task is to survive these waves of attacking Units and protect your base. The first things to master are the types of Units on offer, how to move them, how to buy them, and how to fight with them. Units available are level specific, but on later levels you’ll have access to pistol shooting grunts, one-use only mine layers, wall builders, flame throwing Units, long range mortar launchers, lightning rod attackers that slow enemy movement, homing missile launchers, massively powerful laser gunners, snipers, and engineers with the ability to disarm mines and dismantle walls.
Every Unit is purchasable with Cubes. Earning Cubes is a matter of killing enemies, but keep in mind that killing an enemy nearer their base nets an increase in the Cubage accumulated. Smaller, weaker, and faster Units, like ‘Grill’ the pistol toting grunt, cost less, but powerful Units, like ‘Laslo’ the laser shooter, will set your Cubes back by an awful lot. Units can also be upgraded an additional 2 times and will also cost Cubes. Upgrading a single Unit will enhance its shooting range, strength, resilience, and speed. Each Unit has a health bar which depletes upon being attacked. This health bar can be regenerated by placing your Unit on a Health square, which is, luckily, shaped like a hospital cross, it’s even red.
There are seven different gameplay modes to take note of as well. Classics, such as, Defense (outlined above), Skirmish (a free-for-all/team standoff), and Capture the Flag are all present and correct. They are also accompanied by Rescue, Territory, Koth, and Defector. Rescue plays like Defense with the slight variation of having civilians traversing through the level that you are required to maintain at a healthy posture until their return back to your own base. Territory speaks for itself, by using colours left behind to cover more of the stage than your opponents. Defector allows defeated Units to join the fight on the other side.
Cubemen 2 offers a vast array of customisation to both level design and Unit skins. All Cubemen follow the same shape, think Minecraft and you have the idea, blocky renditions of people with every appendage squared off. Simple and pleasing at the same time. The skins to choose from, such as, ‘ach Scotsman’ a rendition of Mel Gibson in Braveheart, ‘agents’ FBI black suits, cowboys, spacemen, convicts, clowns, zombies, knights, cover most stereotypical imagery. The theme of the levels can also extensively be aesthetically customized. The choice between Aztec, Downtown, China, Highlands, Moon Base, The Grid, etc., changes nothing to the gameplay, but allows a variety pleasing to see.
The game’s aesthetics are simple and blocky intentionally. Due to this simplified look, the game runs incredibly smooth, even cluttered stages with 50 Cubemen walking around, particles firing off in all directions, it’s still possible to zoom out completely and take in the whole stage, and then smoothly zoom into a single Unit filling the screen and flaming an enemy to death. Unfortunately, the smoothness of the playing experience on a technical basis is not replicated in its control of its input methods.
The GamePad is used extensively. As such, Cubemen 2 forces the player to select menu choices by touch, and not by button presses. The main game is played by touching Units to select them, touching a location to send them to, touching to upgrade and bring up all the submenus onto the screen. Due to all this need for touching the TV screen becomes redundant, and is put on the back burner to be used as a second display for a spectator audience. Not that this is a bad thing overall, the uses of the GamePad are very well implemented, precision touch selection of menus, in-game or selection screens, is responsive and intuitive. Playing solely on the GamePad you would think that it would be difficult to see the sub-menus that surround the central game playing screen. That’s far from the truth, the sub-menus that hold your score, cube count, game speed, Units present, etc., are all big enough to touch to enable a further menu to appear. For example, when you touch a single Unit, its information bar appears in the lower left side of the screen. From this sub-menu it’s possible to check its health, and other stats, and then touch to upgrade it, select a target, or sell it. Conversely, the same is not true of the game itself. It is let down by an imprecise movement of the camera and pinpoint cursor touches whilst using the Stylus or the Analogue Sticks. The frustration of trying to select a position for a Unit to move to only for it not to register because the camera angle is not correct, or the square you think you’ve tapped on doesn’t register, then having to flip the camera around or zoom in, and then select again, is notable, especially under intense fire from an enemy, and can mean life or death.
After playing off-TV for a couple of minutes I realized that there was a distinct lack of music. Of which, military style marching beats and action rousing scores punctuate the solid sounding effects of gun-fire. Fortunately, the music can be easily selected to output to the GamePad in the Settings menu, but it‘s hidden and there is no way to know where it‘s located without finding it yourself. For a game that is meant to be played on the GamePad solely this is a strange design choice that will lead some to think the audio is broken for GamePad play.
Online play is also an extensive feast of delicacies. Single player missions have leader boards, sharing your rankings with friends and the world’s best is nice to see. Cubemen 2 supports up to 6 player online Solo or Team battles, against other players or AI, all competing for the highest rank and global domination. Players can host their own online games or join other games in an easy to use game lobby, and all multi-player games support full cross platform play. That’s right you can play with anyone who owns this game regardless of the platform that they have purchased it on, Wii U, PC, Linux, Mac or iOS device. Once again though, a problem arises that puts pay to this initial optimism of an amazing online experience. It’s that there is a substantial lack of online play happening. Connect with an easy touch and the game checks who’s playing at the moment, and then it strikes you, there are at best 2 players waiting for others to join them, and it doesn't get any better. Other times it’s as barren as Mars.
However, there is a slight redeeming feature for online play and it is best expressed through use of the Level Editor. This is an easy to use creation tool, in the vein of Minecraft, place blocks, bases, teleporters, set game conditions, and your good to go. Unfortunately, the Level Editor suffers from the same inaccuracy of input on the GamePad that the main game exhibits, and only serves to frustrate and slow down the whole creation proceedings. But, once your design masterpiece is finished it’s possible to upload it and make it available for download by others. There is a plethora of user custom-created levels to choose from, but due to the lack of actual online players, you’ll be playing these levels, for the most part, against the CPU AI.
To say the game offers extensive content is an understatement. There is literally too much for one person to see, unless you are the most dedicated Cubemen 2 player. The game tracks all the statistics accumulated through the many hours that you can put into it. From your win/loss record, all the way to how many Units bought, sold, killed, and cubes earned/spent. If that’s not enough for the completionist/stat tracker in you, how about a slew of achievements to unlock through various accomplishments, like completing missions, successful wins within certain parameters, kill counts, etc.
Cubemen 2 is an extremely competent strategy/tower defense game. Its extensive content, customisation, and user-generated levels make this an essential purchase for the discerning strategist. However, a finicky control system and a extreme lack of online competition might put more than a few off from buying this. If your looking for a solid strategy title with huge content, and don’t mind missing online human competition, then this will certainly be for you. Great fun!
Review by Lee Davis for Nintendo: Review