Cubemen 2 is slowly bringing its unique brand of tower defense gameplay to various platforms, first beginning on the PC/Mac through the Steam distribution service and later coming to mobile platforms. In each iteration, developer 3 Sprockets has done a fantastic job of not only breaking into the TD genre with their own unique twists, but also providing an extremely fun game with a ton of replay value, thanks in equal parts to its Multiplayer offerings and its robust yet easy-to-use level editor, allowing players to share their creations with others. Late last year, we reported that Cubemen 2 was slated to come to the Wii U. Now, it’s finally arrived, thanks to Sydney-based developer Nnooo, and promises to be fully optimized for Nintendo’s unique platform. However, after a several-year’s run, is this enough to keep interest, or is Cubemen 2 finally hitting a wall?
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 three 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. A later patch has also added another unit which can counter Waly and Milo, re-opening paths and safely disarming mines. 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. The unique qualities of the Wii U’s controller add a bit of extra functionality to the game as well, allowing players to simultaneously cast the screen to their TV and game pad. Not only does it make the game great for showing off to friends and family, but also has off-screen play built in without any extra user intervention. The game doesn’t look half bad on the tiny Game Pad screen, but it looks absolutely gorgeous on a big-screen TV. All of the controls can be manipulated from the touch screen as well, which makes for a nice control scheme where you can control the camera with the left thumb stick while making tactical decisions with your right hand (and optional stylus).
Players can get acclimated to the game through the included Defensive Campaign, which sees the player go through traditional tower defense scenarios on 15 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 an additional pack of 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. Impressively, Cubemen 2 is cross-platform compatible with its sister versions on Steam and mobile platforms. Latency wasn’t an issue and matches ran smooth as butter, even with six players throwing down in intense battles with cubes flying everywhere.
Just like in the original, Cubemen 2 features a simple yet robust level editor, though this time it’s included out of the box at launch. The editor gives players a lot of freedom to design the level of their dreams, allowing for multiple cube heights, walls, free-floating tiles, base location, and teleporter and regenerator placement. I feel like the Wii U’s gamepad and stylus are particularly well-suited to this purpose, allowing for greater precision and control in creating levels, but this could just be the undeniably-similar feel of using a tablet and stylus with a CAD program. There are some constraints that the player needs to follow, such as a maximum of 1,500 tiles, placing all six bases on the map with at least 10 spaces between each other, as well as ensuring there is a path to and from each base. There’s still a lot of flexibility to be had while playing by these rules, and once finished, maps can be saved privately for testing or published to the internet on 3 Sprockets’ user map directory, where other players can download, play, and rate your map. Every map needs to be run through a rigorous test before publishing, so you can be sure that it will play in every game mode with any amount of human and bot participants. It’s pretty hard to get bored of Cubemen 2 with an endless supply of maps to play on, and you’d be surprised by some of the crazy ideas that can be had when the editor is fully-utilized. Players on the Wii U platform, in particular, seem to have taken heavy inspiration from Nintendo’s main franchises. If you hit the map repository, you’re sure to easily find a Block Fort remake from Mario Kart 64, as well as pixelated Link holding up the Triforce.
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 while presenting plenty of pleasing, voxel-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. 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’s even a more expanded list of skins than in previous iterations, allowing players to get some of the previously DLC-only skin and map texture packs for free. 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. It would have also been nice to be able to re-name or delete maps you’ve published online. There’s also no voice-based chat in multiplayer, which is only really an issue in team-based games. Otherwise, though, it’s very hard to find any flaws.
Cubemen 2 is an excellent downloadable title for the Wii U, and Nnooo has done a great job of maintaining the fun and feel of the game’s other incarnations. 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 Steam Library’s Favorites section.
Cubemen 2 is currently available for PC on the Steam platform for $7.99, with Mac and iPad apps on the way.
Final Score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!
Special thanks to Nnooo for providing us with a review copy of Cubemen 2 for the Wii U!