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

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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!

Tower Defense: Lost Earth Review (iOS / Android)

Tower Defense is a popular app genre on the mobile platform, and for good reason – quick games with a lot of depth and strategy are a great platform for a game to go. A lot of the TD games available now are a simple variation on the basic formula, offering a different theme on a typically identical system. So it’s always worth mentioning when something comes along that shakes things up and introduces us to a new gameplay style. Tower Defense: Lost Earth, from com2us, is just such a game, bringing beautiful graphics and a whole slew of enemies and towers to combat them with. Is this enough to make a great game, or does it simply complicate things?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at the basics that Lost Earth brings to the table. The basic gameplay is there – you have waves of enemies trying to move on your base structure and destroy it, and you can purchase stationary defense towers to repel them. Killing enemies awards you with credits with which you can buy more towers or upgrade the ones you have, making them stronger.

However, Lost Earth isn’t content to rest on the genre’s laurels, and what’s been mentioned so far is just about all it has in common with every other game in the Tower Defense category.

For starters, the game has a great selection of game modes to try. There’s a full-featured campaign, spanning 40 levels and actually featuring some semblance of a story. In the future, Earth’s natural resources are dwindling close to nothing, and you are part of an exploration team sent to examine and colonize a new planet. However, this entails establishing bases across the planet’s surface and fending off the natural wildlife with – what else – towers. The campaign does a great job of showing you the ropes, teaching you something new every step of the way while avoiding the feeling of hand-holding. The gradual unlocking of additional tower types also keeps the entire campaign feeling fresh, and it never drags.

Unlike many other TD games available, there’s multiple ways for you to approach combat besides simply planting towers. Tapping on an enemy will have your towers focus on it; this is a great way to target down bigger, tougher enemies, and there are even some enemies that require this tactic, as towers won’t automatically fire on them. Most stages also include a super weapon you’re able to deploy once per mission. These weapons are usually tuned to the stage they’re on, such as a nuke for tightly-winding paths or carpet bombs for eradicating a group of enemies on a longer path. Used wisely, these weapons can turn the tide of a near-defeat.

There’s still plenty to do once you beat the Campaign. For starters, Challenge mode lets you compete on seven unique levels with the world, vying for the top spot on the global leaderboards. These levels are a cut above the Campaign in difficulty, and will definitely test your expertise with your full assortment of towers, as well as manipulating enemy movement with intelligent placement of your towers. Similar to Challenge mode is a selection of Special Missions that also support Leaderboards. There’s only two stages at time of writing, but more may be added later via in-app purchases.

TD:LE does a great job of showcasing the graphical power of mobile devices. The game’s graphics are all 2D sprites, but boast an incredible level of detail and some present the illusion of depth. Towers and enemies look unique and animate fluidly. Towers and special weapons unleash their firepower with spectacular intensity. All in all, Lost Earth is a treat to the eyes. However, its audio doesn’t quite live up to the same standard. The firing sound of each tower is appropriate to its level of power, and the main menu music is fantastically catchy, but otherwise, there isn’t much to speak of. The sound lacks punch, and enemies make generic snarling noises when defeated. The sound in-game serves a more functional role rather than contributing to the game’s aesthetic; if you don’t hear anything, it means nothing is happening. Otherwise, if a tower is firing, an enemy is dying, your base is getting destroyed, or a super weapon is inbound, you’ll know it.

Kudos to com2us for giving the game a semblance of a story and some great attention to detail.

Tower Defense: Lost Earth is an excellent example of where the Tower Defense genre can go. By taking the gameplay beyond the basic formula, Lost Earth injects a much-needed breath of fresh air into a genre generally lousy with carbon copies. With a generous campaign and loads of challenges to take on, Lost Earth is one of the best values you’ll find on the App Store or Google Play today.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5 / 10 = BUY IT!

Punch Quest Review (iOS / Android)

There’s a few household names in the mobile gaming market that have come out over the past few years – Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride, Monster Dash – most of these titles are instantly recognizable by anyone with a handheld device or smart phone. Whether it’s a certain aesthetic, a catchy game mechanic, or just that special something, these games have become hugely successful, and are invariably going to set standards in their genres. At face value, Rocketcat Games’ and Madgarden’s Punch Quest could appear to be based on many popular mechanics, like Monster Dash’s run-and-gun style of gameplay. However, after just a few minutes with the game, it’ll be plainly obvious that Punch Quest is a unique, innovative, and downright addicting game that’ll be more than just a passing entry on the Top 25 list.

The concept behind Punch Quest is pretty simple, and at its core not that new – you play as a muscle-bound Punchzerker on a VERY bad day. After busting through a castle door, your punching spree begins. Your character runs forward constantly, so all you need to worry about is how to pummel your opponents. This is done in two ways: a straight Dash Punch which can be mashed to increase your speed, and an uppercut / overhead smash combo that lets you soar into the air to deal with aerial threats or lay the smack down on your enemies’ heads. It’s a simple system on the surface but boasts surprising depth once you get to try it out. And you get plenty of opportunities to use your fighting skills, as just about everything can be punched – skeletons, zombies, orcs, bats, wraiths, torches, chests, vases, idols, and even food can be bashed around, among other surprises. Chaining strikes together and juggling enemies increases your combo, which is the key to racking up huge score combos. There’s a ton of surprises to be had too – branching paths, special mini-games with laser-shooting raptors, boss fights, traps, treasure troves, and more.

When the going gets tough, the tough punch things. A lot.

As you accumulate experience by pummeling enemies, a power meter on-screen will fill. As it reaches three milestones, you’ll unlock two Skills and a Super Move, in that order. These Skills passively enhance your skills, like making your uppercuts jump higher or improving damage of overhead slams, or give you entirely new moves to perform, like a block that reflects projectiles back at the attacker. Super Moves make you significantly more dangerous for a limited time and are potentially very over-the-top. Make your punches more damaging, literally throw punches, or even make defeated enemies explode. More and tougher enemies will start appearing as you gain experience, upping the challenge but also increasing the potential reward. Punching anything – enemies or otherwise – earns you Punchos, the game’s currency, which can be used to purchase a whole slew of upgrades and customization options. There’s a ton of stuff to purchase, so the game will keep you coming back again and again to grab as much as you can. There’s even achievements to be had on iOS for the completionist.

Punch Quest strikes a perfect middle-ground between the new and the old with its art and sound aesthetic, sporting an 8-bit visual and audio design highlighted by scintillating special effects and brass horn highlights. The game looks retro yet modern, sounds old-school yet delightful, and strikes every point just right. Anyone who’s played Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Street Fighter, or pretty much any old-school brawler will feel a sense of nostalgia from the get-go. The game can even be played in portrait or landscape perspective, and plays quite well in both, so it’s up to user preference which way to handle your device during play. Most importantly, though, the game has a unique charm that goes beyond the looks – the game’s quirky sense of humor is clever and cute, and despite being a somewhat inherently violent game, it’s got something for just about anyone, from the young to the not so much.

Need we say more?

Perhaps best of all, the game boasts a very consumer-friendly pricing model. The game itself is free, and Punchos are easy enough to come by through gameplay alone that most won’t feel the need to fork over real money to get some. The option is there, as well as a permanent upgrade that doubles all Punchos earned (not bought). It’s publically-known that Punch Quest isn’t earning Rocketcat a ton of revenue, but this leaves an interesting pivot point for players – the option of buying in-app content is more of a donation to the developers. Given the love and care Rocketcat has clearly put into Punch Quest, it’s a nice and very deserving gesture.

It’s very hard to find faults with Punch Quest because it’s a game that does so many things right – simple but engrossing gameplay with that “just one more” factor, an endearing and vivid aesthetic, tons of hooks and replayability, and best of all, provides the entire package in a no-strings-attached business model. If you enjoy the game (and you should – a lot), by all means, support the developer and make an in-app purchase! They’ve earned it, at least in this reviewer’s opinion. Punch Quest has earned its place in the mobile Pantheon right along Angry Birds and Jetpack Joyride.

FINAL SCORE: 10 / 10 = GET IT! NOW!

Split! Review (iOS)

Imagine if Army of Two was changed from the intense “bro-op” nature and placed in a hybrid strategy/puzzle world. Enter “Split!”, a new iOS title on the iPhone and iPad developed by Touchy Interactive. Trying to escape a high-security prison facility, you take control of two partners, Red and Blue. However, is this escape even worth giving a look at 99 cents?

When you start playing Split!, you will be treated to a tutorial so that you can get an understanding as to how the core mechanics work. You’ll have to draw out path lines along the map to tell Red and Blue where to go and ensure their survival. Guards are littered throughout the game’s 30 missions and all it takes is one mistake for you to be brought back to the beginning of the level. Your characters can take cover along the boxes placed throughout the map and it is here where the combat somewhat kicks in. You won’t be able to take guards head-on without actually dying in the process yourself, so you’ll need to be a bit more creative. Once one of your characters takes cover and sees an enemy within a short distance, they’ll begin shooting at each other. However, if the enemy is also near cover, then both your character and the guard will be endlessly shooting at each other back and forth. It is here where your second character comes into effect. While the guard is distracted by one of your characters, you can use the second character to flank around the enemy and take him out. The concept is simple, yet it’s the level designs that will become more complex and will force you to get much more clever with both of your characters’ actions.

Now, the game doesn’t hold your hand by any means. It is an incredibly challenging game that will require a great deal of trial-and-error at times. Should you fail a mission, it’s back to the start point all over again. Now some of the levels can take up to a minute to complete, if you know what you’re doing. However, most of the time, you will be spending upwards to six minutes trying to carefully complete a mission and it’s when you fail at that very end of the level from the slightest mistake where you’ll get infuriated with the game. Interestingly, as many times as you fail, you will find yourself coming back at another go.

Split! isn’t without its faults though. The biggest issue is the path detection in which you have to plot out for Red and Blue to follow. On numerous occassions, the path detection would get caught on a wall and resort to you having to remap your direction. While at most times you’re plotting path lines while you’re already in cover or away from danger, it is still an annoyance that can cause some unnecessary frustration. The other issue is that the camera can’t be zoomed out while in action, forcing you to stick with a closed-in camera. While you can definitely function with the camera in place, being able to zoom it out a bit to work within your confines would’ve been more convenient than to have to pause the game to zoom out the camera. Each mission also has three “starred” boxes that can be collected to earn badges. While the game has this extra incentive to replay levels, there’s really no “reward” to this. The game isn’t even connected to Game Center, which feels like a wasted opportunity to try and compete with friends, seeing who perfected which mission.

Visually, Split! looks a bit like an old Metal Gear game (the MSX, NES or GBC editions, not the PS1 and beyond era) and is pretty pleasing on the eyes. While it’s not meant to be a graphic powerhouse, it certainly works well and runs smoothly in action. The audio was the main draw for me personally. While there’s only a handful of songs in the game, they work incredibly well in conveying the sense of intensity. The sound effects are pretty simple and work effectively.

Overall, Split! is a pretty solid game. Aside from some spotty touch screen controls where precision is absolutely integral in this game, the concept is neat and provides a nice challenge. The visuals are clean and the soundtrack is pretty good, capturing the setting of the game. Any fan of strategy and/or puzzle games should definitely give it a go, especially at its incredibly reasonable asking price of $0.99.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thanks to Freeform Communications for providing us with a review copy of Split!

Battleheart Review (iOS/Android)

Gamers looking for strong titles on their iOS or Android devices really have a mixed bag. With casual gaming so prevalent, it’s hard to find really solid games that can keep a player hooked for hours. That’s why it’s especially nice to find games such as Battleheart, an Action RPG developed by Mika Mobile. Battleheart lets you create a party of up to 4 adventurers, and through battling monsters level up and acquire loot. The centerpiece of the game lies in its control scheme: while in battle, you can move your characters around the screen by tapping and dragging from the character to where you want them to go. Attacking is just as easy, by dragging a line from your character to the enemy you want him or her to attack. While the game does reward strong micro-management skills, it’s approachable enough to be picked up and played by just about anyone. The game features a broad cast of characters as well, spread out between 10 unique character classes, each with its own unique skill tree which you can progress in as the character levels up. Using each character’s skills is easy as well – just tap on the character and their skills will appear in the top-left corner of the screen, which you can tap on to activate.

The sheer amount of classes available allows you to build a party of adventurers to suit your own personal preferences. Knights, Paladins, and Monks can act as tanks to take damage that might kill your weaker party members. Damage dealers such as Rogues, Barbarians, Rangers, Wizards, and Witches can kill off enemies and support your party in surprising ways. Meanwhile, support characters like the Priest and Bard can keep your party alive and make them stronger. You’re given free reign to construct your party however you want, and the game rewards experimentation. Battles consist of moving your characters around the screen to attack enemies and avoid their attacks. Most battles last about 5 minutes on average, and consist of waves of enemies you’ll need to defeat. Some battles have you fighting special boss enemies, which will require special tactics to defeat. Winning a battle rewards your (living) party members with experience, gold, and loot, which you can equip them with to make them tougher and deadlier. And if you’re feeling lucky, you can take your party to one of the game’s Arenas, where you’ll find endless waves of monsters to earn rare loot, depending on how many enemies you slay. Between battles, you can hire new party members at the Tavern, assign skills at the Academy, outfit your party in the Armory, buy and sell loot at the Merchant, and swap active party members at the Keep.

As far as the game’s presentation, the art style is cute and clean, which suits the game’s whimsical charm. Being a fantasy game, the musical score is appropriate, and while you won’t necessarily be listening to it out-of-game, it helps with immersion.

Mika Mobile has created a rare treat on the mobile platform, an action game that appeals to casual and hardcore gamers alike. Battleheart is available on the iOS App Store and the Android Marketplace for $2.99. Although there is no trial version of the game, it’s hard not to recommend, especially at such a low price for all the entertainment you’ll get out of it.

Verdict: Buy It!