3 Sprockets, App Store.
Refreshingly complex and challenging; longevity; networked multiplayer
Redundant soundtrack; minimalist art design
Developed by 3 Sprockets for the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad, Cubemen is a stripped-down strategy and tower defence game. The geometric cubemen of the game’s namesake are divided into two competing forces that do battle on grid-like, multi-dimensional levels. The goal of each stage is to defeat the enemy forces while defending your spawn point.
Despite the game’s simplistic art, there’s a reason why the app won’t fit onto your iPhone: Cubemen requires a great deal of precision to play and that means fully using the iPad’s screen to see the entire scope of the battlefield and deploy your little murderous geometric troops.
In the game’s classic tower defence mode, for example, you must deploy your troops from their spawn point on the map. This requires you to tap your finger on the destination of your new soldier, an exacting gesture that would likely be lost on a smaller screen. Enemies will appear in waves from red spawn points and knowing where to deploy your troops to maximise their abilities is key to your survival.
You’ll have seven unique soldiers to use in battle, ranging from quick and disposable pistol infantry to valuable and expensive “Lazlo” soldiers armed with powerful heavy weapons. The seven soldier types provide plenty of variety, though some are more useful tactically than others. Flamethrower troops are great in close combat but useless when not hidden by cover and the aforementioned Lazlo troops are the most powerful units in the game – if you’re producing three or more of these, you’re usually on your way to victory.
Unlike most tower defence games, however, you’re able to redeploy your troops at will. You earn more troops by destroying enemies, so refortifying positions with more advanced troops is a must. The game is sufficiently challenging with the enemy AI to keep you entertained for hours. But be warned – the redundant soundtrack and minimalist art design almost necessitate short play sessions.
The skirmish mode pits you on equal footing with your enemy: Both you and your enemy spawn waves of grunt soldiers, while you can also augment your army by buying troops. The resulting game resembles the famed World of Warcraft mod “Defense of the Ancients” in its gameplay. The strategy lies in destroying the enemy grunts while securing your position and earning currency for more advanced units.
The catch with skirmish mode is that you can only deploy your soldiers to spaces not currently occupied or not tagged for occupation by your enemy. So if you want to deploy a soldier two spaces from your spawn point, but your enemy has already sent a trooper to that exact point, you’re out of luck. (This grows increasingly frustrating if the enemy’s soldier hasn’t even arrived yet but is on route.) I’m not sure I qualify this as a flaw in the game, but it’s certainly a tactical consideration the player must be aware of – and it does, of course, cut both ways. I’d often send waves of flamethrower troopers toward the enemy base, hoping to clear out many enemies at the same time.
There’s dearth of good strategy games on the iOS and Cubemen is refreshing in its complexity and challenge. Succeeding on even the medium level of difficulty requires more than a single try and the more advanced missions require some real cunning. The game’s controls are up to the task for the most part, recognising most of my tap commands even when they were initiated in panicked moments of battle.
Aside from challenge, the game provides some elements of replayability thanks to networked multiplayer skirmish feature and the occasional appearance of coloured crates that grant the player bonuses. These crates can often swing the course of battle so they’re very useful, if rare.
Cubemen is a quality game that ultimately may be looking for an audience. It’s too challenging to be a casual game and its lack of polish may turn off some shoppers. But despite its quirks, fans of strategy games and those “core” gamers out there desperately seeking a challenge on the iOS may have finally found it – only in cube form.