Cubemen 2 Review (iOS): “Block Battling on the Go”

title3

Developer 3 Sprockets released an awesome sleeper indie hit last year with their RTS / TD hybrid Cubemen. After giving the game a try and writing my review (which you can read here – if you want all the details on which Cubemen 2 was built on, give it a read!), I knew that 3 Sprockets was on to something big. Cubemen was a fresh take on the TD genre, replacing static towers with movable soldiers that can be placed around a 3D map. Cubemen also included a multitude of play modes, limiting the number of resources or soldiers you could have at a time, or even a crazy rockets vs. crossbows mode. Cubemen is great, so here we have another case of 3 Sprockets having to out-do itself with Cubemen 2. The game was a hit on PC, but does the iOS version stand toe to toe with its computer counterpart? Read on and find out.

Cubemen 2′s gameplay doesn’t deviate terribly from the first when it comes down to it – you and your opponents have a base from which you can spend credits – called “cubes” – to spawn soldiers to attack your enemy’s units. Depending on the game type you’re playing, you may also spawn AI-controlled mobs from your base, making their way to your enemies and taking off a life if they reach their base. Cubemen set itself apart from other TD games in several ways; first, instead of planting static towers, you purchase and deploy units with unique weapons, with the option of moving them to different locations as the situation changes. Players battle it out in fully-3D environments, and weapons obey full line of sight physics, opening up new strategies, like placing flamethrowers behind corners and perching snipers on high ground for superior offensive and defensive positioning.

All of the core gameplay has made its way into Cubemen 2, with some added tweaks and improvements. First and foremost, the list of units has been modified to replace some under-used or under-powered soldiers with more useful ones. Both games feature Grill, a speedy pistolero with low health, Flint, a short-ranged flamethrower, Moty, a fire-support unit with a long-ranged AoE attack, Ricky, armed with a heat-seeking rocket launcher, Lazlo, a laser-firing death machine, and Sid, a sniper armed with a powerful long-ranged rifle, perfect for picking off units at a distance. Two units from the original were removed – Fred, an ice-based version of Flint who deals less damage but slows units hit by its attack, and Mike, a medic who can restore the health of your units. Fred was replaced with Larry, a low-cost unit that can slow enemies in an area around him with ice lightning. Mike is no longer a unit in Cubemen 2, but his function was brought over as regen squares present on the map, which players on either side can move their units onto to heal. Cubemen 2 also sees the introduction of two new units that completely change the gameplay dynamic. Milo turns into a mine when he reaches his destination, exploding for huge damage when an enemy passes near it. Waly brings a traditional TD element to Cubemen 2, turning into an impassable wall when he reaches his destination to close off paths or create choke points. Both of these new units are single-use and will disappear when they reach their destination, but are also extremely tough to kill, but a new “Engineer” unit will be implemented soon which can dislodge these powerful area-denial units. This is a nice balancing factor, as the gameplay previously allowed players to permanently change the playing field with walls, a potentially game-breaking situation. All of these units can be upgraded for a variable Cube cost, upping their damage, range, and fire rate, as well as fully restoring their health. 3 Sprockets has done a great job of streamlining the unit selection in Cubemen 2, making every purchase purposeful and allowing for a lot of strategic options.

Finally, the long-standing feud between Knights and Luchadores is settled.

Finally, the long-standing feud between Knights and Luchadores is settled.

Players can get acclimated to the game through the two included Defensive Campaigns (one of which is new from the computer version of the game), which sees the player go through traditional tower defense scenarios on several unique maps. Each stage records your score on a playthrough, allowing you to go back and play the campaign again if you want to try to improve on your score. However, there’s plenty of alternative content included in Cubemen 2 to keep you busy. The game comes with additional maps which can be played on a multitude of game modes. The single-player offerings include Defense (your traditional TD game type) and Rescue, which has your AI mobs trying to rescue allied NPCs from enemy bases, requiring you to build units to protect them. Three additional modes can be played single-player against bots, in multi-player against other human players, or any mix of the two, and include: Skirmish, which is similar to Defense mode but requires players to attack as well as defend, sending out units to destroy their enemies and guard their mobs toward their bases; Territories, a spin on King of the Hill which requires players to send out units to capture most of the stage for their side; and a traditional Capture the Flag mode. Skirmish and CTF are tons of fun, but Territories is definitely the most exciting addition to the game with a ton of depth. The winner is only declared once the timer runs down, so players can either expand outward early and blitz the board, or bide their time, build up their forces, and steamroll their opponents closer to the timer. All game modes are highly configurable with options such as time limit, number of waves and opponents, solo or team options, and more.

The game’s AI is certainly competent and will put up a fair fight, but even on the highest difficulty, players will eventually find their skills are no longer up to snuff, so eventually you’ll want to spend more time in Cubemen 2′s multiplayer mode. Up to six players can face off solo or in teams on any of the 3 multiplayer modes. This is truly the way the game is meant to be played, and other players will put up a nice challenge and use tactics that the AI simply can’t do. Glacier928 and I had an awesome time facing off against each other and in teams, and even though I’m more of the strategy buff (while he goes more for action games), he found Cubemen 2 to be a beginner-friendly yet exciting game. Latency wasn’t an issue and our games ran smooth as butter, even with six players throwing down in intense battles with cubes flying everywhere.

The excellent level editor featured in the PC version of Cubemen 2 has made its way to the iPad version of the game; unfortunately, iPhone and iPod Touch users will be out of luck here. If you’re playing from an iPad, you’ll find every bit of functionality featured in the PC version of the game. Tons of options are available here, from raising and lowering terrain and creating floating tiles, adding in spawn points, teleporters, and regenerator squares, and even setting the recommended texture for the level are all options available. Once a level is finished, you can upload it to 3 Sprockets’ public server for other players to try. A rating system helps players gauge if a map they’re about to download is fun or not. As a side note, if you happen to own the PC/Mac version of the game but don’t own an iPad to play on, you can create a level there, upload it to 3 Sprockets’ server, and download it to your iPhone or iPod Touch.

The level editor gives players a lot of freedom, even allowing for the remake of this N64 classic.

The level editor gives players a lot of freedom and creativity, allowing for the remake of this N64 classic.

Cubemen 2 has taken cues from the original in terms of visual and sound design, and while there haven’t been any major leaps forward in the game’s engine, it still runs at a brisk pace on every modern iDevice, and features plenty of pleasing, block-based visual effects, including ambient lighting around players’ bases and light flashes when weapons are fired which help to spice up the action a bit. As an important note, the game is only supported on the latest Apple devices, including the iPhone 4S and up, iPad Mini, iPad 2 and up, and the iPod Touch 5 and up. The game does run on older devices, but is a much more stripped-down experience, including poorer performance, some audio and video stutter, and the complete removal of all multiplayer modes. Buyer beware, trying to play on an older system is not the way Cubemen 2 is meant to be played.

3 Sprockets has greatly expanded on the options presented to the user to customize the game their way as well; while players could originally choose a color for the levels and Cubemen, as well as a basic skin for the latter, Cubemen 2 has greatly expanded on this, offering all of the classic color options as well as full-fledged skins for units and levels. There’s a pretty expansive offering here – from soldiers, orcs, and ninjas for Cubemen, to Minecraft, lunar, Egyptian, and a Tron Grid-like look for levels (just to name a few), it’s easy to customize the look of the game to your liking. There are many more skins to choose from through downloadable content, and 3 Sprockets intends to add even more to the game over time. The game also features a more varied soundtrack compared to the original score, sporting a different theme for the title screen and most of your units. These songs are essentially different takes on the same basic melody, but with different tonality and feel to suit each character they’re named after. Ricky’s Theme is a personal favorite of mine, but you may choose not to use it everywhere like I did and instead take advantage of the game’s sound options, letting you play a separate theme for the title screen and each gameplay mode. These songs have taken a step up since the first game too, sounding a bit more grand and dramatic, which really helps the immersion factor during a game. It’s nice to see 3 Sprockets listening to their fans and incorporating some of their suggestions into Cubemen 2′s initial release.

So, is there anywhere Cubemen 2 falls flat? Honestly, not in a lot of places. You can’t pick campaign stages to play on, requiring you to replay the whole thing if you want to get to a specific stage. The game does have a couple of minor bugs and kinks to work out as well, such as incorrect information in some in-game menus. It would have also been nice to be able to re-name or delete maps you’ve published online. And of course, 3 Sprockets will be looking into keeping the game balanced so that cheap strategies don’t reign supreme. The upcoming Engineer unit is sure proof of this. If you happen to be playing from an iPhone or iPod, the lack of a level editor will be sorely missed.

A friendly game of Territory in the medieval countryside.

A friendly game of Territory in the medieval countryside.

Cubemen 2 for iOS does a very good job of bringing the desktop experience to a portable platform, and in the case of the iPad version, doesn’t sacrifice anything for it. Cubemen 2 doesn’t do anything radical to change the formula, but instead makes the game fresh through a tweak in the gameplay dynamics, improvements to user customization, and by featuring an excellent online mode and level editor. With plenty of updates and patches in the pipe, Cubemen 2 will only get better over time, and is sure to be a long-standing member of your iDevice’s home screen.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

Special thanks to 3 Sprockets for providing us with a review copy of Cubemen 2 for iOS!