Tower Defense games have come a long way from being simple custom maps in Starcraft. TD is quickly becoming its own major game genre, and tons of games have been released that put a spin on the classic formula. One such game, Cubemen, by Three Sprockets, aims to take everything we think we know about Tower Defense and throw it out the window. Rather than build static towers, you purchase and command a squad of “Cubemen”, soldiers with specialized gear and roles. Does Cubemen stand out in the crowd of Tower Defense games, or fall in line? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
There are several aspects of Cubemen that it shares with other Tower Defense games; namely, enemies spawn on the map and move towards your base to destroy it, requiring you to build defenses to stop them. What sets Cubemen apart are its unique gameplay twists; rather than building towers, you can use money (called “Cubes”) earned from destroying enemy Cubemen to purchase your own Cubemen, each with their own role. Your Cubemen will fight with enemy Cubemen, and each side will take damage. When a Cubeman’s HP is exhausted, it disappears. What’s nice is that you aren’t required to keep your troops where you put them; all Cubemen (except the medic) can be repositioned around the map as required. This is a good thing, because Cubemen’s maps might take some adjusting-to as well. Rather than playing on flat, open battlefields, each map is three-dimensional (and made of – you guessed it – cubes); some even contain walls and pillars to take cover behind. This allows for some complex strategies and makes every Cubeman useful. Try hiding a flamer behind a wall, waiting to ambush enemies who pass by, while perching a Sniper on top of a column to soften up enemies from afar. Mortars can fire over walls (given enough clearance). This is just a taste of Cubemen’s deep strategic opportunities, and rewards players with experimentation. The game even seems to steer the player towards producing a variable army, as each time you purchase a Cubeman, its cost increases by one Cube. This creates the hilarious possibility for the cheapest unit in the game to eventually surpass more powerful ones in price. Even so, your Cubemen work best when they can perform their specialized roles, so having a tough unit in the front while the much frailer Sniper chips away at enemies from a distance is an excellent idea.
While the game lacks a real “Campaign”, the single-player experience includes a staggering 35 maps to play on, each with varying difficulty, from Beginner all the way up to the Insanity level. Your score is recorded at the end of each match and uploaded to the global leaderboard, allowing you to see how you stack up against the rest of the planet. You can even rate each map out of 5 stars after you play it, both to remind yourself of what you thought and possibly for some other hidden feature that has yet to be revealed. Single player includes six different game modes, including Classic, Limited Players, Limited Cubes, Just Rockets, Endless, and Sudden Death, and each provides some nice variety on the core gameplay. Cubemen also has great Multiplayer offerings, including 1-on-1 Skirmishes and a Mayhem mode, where six players can duke it out together. Multiplayer has no shortage of maps either – there’s a whopping 25 of them. Multiplayer is very similar to single player, with every player spawning Cubemen periodically to automatically try to attack other players’ bases. Unlike single player, however, Cubeman purchasing costs do not rise as more are purchased, allowing a wider range of unit combinations and strategies. You can even apply some creativity to your Cubemen, as the game gives you the option to choose their color and give them a pattern. Want to wage war against Eyepatch (pirate) Cubemen with your own Ninja Cubemen? Go for it. Are you a hardcore Linux user and want to stick it to Microsoft? Proudly emblazon Tux on your Cubemen while plastering the Windows logo on your enemies. It’s simple, but a nice addition.
As far as visuals and audio go, Cubemen is pretty simplistic, but it works. The game goes for solid, metallic colors with neon lighting, and definitely gives off a huge Tron vibe. Even the sound effects, which sound like something straight out of an 80′s Atari game, fit this theme. However, this is perfectly evocative of the game’s style, placing virtual soldiers on a simulated battlefield. Cubemen is true to its name as well – just about everything in the game is formed from cubes or rectangles, from the maps to the Cubemen and the projectiles they fire. While it’s never going to compete with Crysis 2 in the graphics department, Cubemen succeeds at presenting a clean-cut, simple art design that fits the game perfectly. Perhaps the one place Cubemen falls flat is its music – there is really only one track to speak of, and it plays on loop throughout the whole game, whether you’re in the menus or playing a round. It’s a shame the developer didn’t add a bit more in the way of a soundtrack, but it doesn’t detract from the game either. And if you eventually tire of it, you can always shut the music off and play your own soundtrack on your favorite media player in the background.
Cubemen would have also greatly benefited from a map editor, and given how simple the maps are, it wouldn’t be hard for a player to pick up and start rolling out their own stages. It’s possible Three Sprockets may be planning to release map packs down the road, which would definitely make a map editor a bad idea. However, if that isn’t the case, I hope Three Sprockets plans to include one at a later date.
All in all, Cubemen is an excellent addition to the Tower Defense market, and brings many fresh ideas to a genre already full of variety. The single player component offers an excellent change for players to hone their skills, while the multiplayer component ensures tons of replayability. Cubemen is currently available on Steam, Desura, and the iPad App Store for $4.99.
Final Score: 8.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!
A special thanks to Three Sprockets for providing Gamers XTREME with a review copy of Cubemen!