Death By Cube
Surrounded by hundreds of deadly cubes, an amnesiac robot spins wildly, piercing his six-sided foes with a spread of lasers. Pools of red oil are spouting from the cubes and collecting at the feet of our confused hero. He doesn’t know how any of this came to be, but trusts that by eliminating each area of its cube shaped inhabitants, he can recapture his memory and perhaps save something that’s worth fighting for.
Spanning over an impressive number of white grids with black outlines, the levels are defined by dark backgrounds reaching into the depths of space. Your robot hovers over the grid based foreground, avoiding cubes of varying sizes. If caught in close proximity with any of the enemies, the character’s life meter depletes and once that is emptied, robot blood splatters across the television screen. Like any other twin-stick shooter, Death By Cube is extremely challenging; even gamers with the fastest of reflexes will find themselves dying all too often.
The biggest difference between Death By Cube and the many games it replicates, then, is that there’s no apparent learning curve, or logical progression in its difficulty. Even the first set of stages are nearly impossible to clear completely. For example, fulfilling the score requirements for a gold medal in the earliest survival stage took me over two hours, whereas a later destroy all enemies level consisted of a single enemy, along with some explosive bonus objects to help rack up a high score, and lasted only a matter of seconds. There are a couple other games available where you’ll either be defending your base or attacking the enemy’s, but they’re not very well conceived and the main focus seems to be piling up combos against your enemies. Defending or attacking the base isn’t enough in either scenario.
Death By Cube requires replaying the troublesome first set of grids repeatedly, though, as the chips you’re rewarded for performing well are necessary for unlocking the upcoming levels, the next set of locked levels, and even upgrades for your robot. Spending so much time on each of the drab, white-washed grids really puts a damper on the fact that there are so many of them that might otherwise be enjoyed. Several of the robot upgrades are questionable, as well. Aside from a few highly priced, more useful upgrades, most of them come with glaring deficiencies to off-set whatever strengths motivated you to purchase them. An upgrade with the most powerful shot also claims the weakest defense, the upgrade with the best shielding has mediocre shot power and can’t take many hits without his shield, the most defensive type moves like a slug, and so on.
Beyond varying laser types, there are a couple other tools at your disposal, when dealing with enemies. Dashing into cubes or robots will cause them momentary confusion, allowing valuable time for the player to launch some up-close shots within a fixed window, without taking damage themselves. Another ability is the absorbent shield, which collects enemy fire and can be redirected just as your robot normally fires (with the right thumb stick). Used in conjunction, the dash and the shield abilities allow for quicker movement around each of the grids. Too often it feels like these factors are working against you, rather than providing any sort of extra depth to the gameplay.
Then there’s the multiplayer. The first problem’s that you can only play over Xbox Live and the second is that there’s nobody playing the game online. Unless you want to scour the internet trying to line up matches, you’re probably not going to experience a whole lot of the game’s multiplayer mode. As of this writing, the game does nothing to auto-balance teams. I’d recommend that something be done about this in the form of an update, but it doesn’t seem like there are enough people truly invested in the game for it to matter.
It’s unfortunate that Death By Cube doesn’t attempt to take on any modern 360° shooters, as that might’ve at least provided the developers at Premium Agency with the incentive of creating something more formidable. This is just another reminder of why companies like Square Enix shouldn’t be backing games like Death By Cube. With the Square Enix name, a certain level of quality and polish ought to be expected. The only thing Death By Cube has to offer that its competition doesn’t is an excessive level of blood (or red robot oil), but that alone doesn’t warrant a purchase.