There’s something slightly unnerving about watching your soldiers march into battle, knowing that they’ll likely be killed. In Cubemen, most won’t return. This is a digital war of attrition, in which two armies of faceless combatants fire clumsily at one another until a victor emerges. It’s not pretty, but it is a lot of fun.
At its heart, this is a tower defence game. Given a single spawning point and a modest budget, your aim is to command an army of cubemen to destroy another, who march relentlessly towards your point of origin. Kills increase your budget, but let too many enemies through and it’s game over.
“This is a digital war of attrition”Organising your defence is straightforward: select one of the seven unit types, then the point on the map where you wish that solider to occupy. Once a unit has been deployed, you can largely forget about them; they’ll remain where they are until you relocate them or they’re killed. There are no unit upgrades or other reasons to interact with soldiers and this simplicity of control allows you to focus on more pressing matters.
Placement of your units, rather than the selection of them, is the main challenge in Cubemen. Most maps feature varying levels of terrain, with steep slopes, bridges and underpasses. Choosing well garrisoned vantage points is key, as is distance from your base, which affects the speed you can reinforce your front line and the points you earn.
Identifying where to make your stand isn’t obvious either. You’ll often find yourself having to replay a level after positioning your first line of defence in the wrong place. Once you hold off the first few waves of enemy cubemen, things become a little easier. In the main Defense mode, most levels can be beaten by flooding them with as many low cost units as you can build. As you slowly occupy every tile in the level, the sheer weight of numbers stops all but the last waves of enemies.
In the alternative Skirmish mode, things get a little more challenging. Both sides have troops trying to capture the other’s base, while the number of tiles onto which troops can be deployed is limited. With equal objectives, resources and unit deployment abilities, you can’t flood the map with your troops, but must make slow territorial gains while counteracting enemy moves. This can lead to stalemates where no tiles are available, but it makes for more strategic gameplay.
While you might be able to beat the main mode in a long afternoon, the variety of game modes and number of maps gives Cubemen considerably more longevity than most tower defence games. Defense has 28 maps which can be played in 5 sub-modes, while Skirmish has 22 maps with the option to play against A.I. or a human opponent over your local network.
The action looks fantastic too. While the visuals don’t feature any rich textures, the movement and animation of cubes has a visceral and at times bemusing quality to it. Fire and ice stream across maps, while rockets fly through air followed by plumes of jagged white smoke. Cubemen also has full support for the new iPad’s retina display, which can’t be said for many games at the time of writing.
The only significant point of concern is the game’s performance. When there are many units on screen at once with flamethrowers, explosions and missiles flying around, the frame rate can drop significantly. If you pause the battle at that point, items will continue to appear as the rendering process catches up with the action. This and the number of crashes (around one per hour of play) can severely hamper your enjoyment of an otherwise excellent game. It’s worth noting that the developers have been in touch and reassured me that these issues are being fixed, but for now, this is something you should be aware of.
Technical issues aside, Cubemen is a cleverly produced game that has the potential to keep you engaged for hours. The simple controls, challenging maps and variety of game modes are a potent combination. Once its stability improves, this could be one of the best purchases you make on iOS.
Version tested: 1.0.3 on iPad 3rd generation