Cubemen 2 Review (Wii U eShop)

At first glance, Cubemen 2 doesn’t look all that great. The same goes for the second and third. Actually, the fourth glance looks pretty good, but the fifth onwards goes back to being generally unimpressive.

The first thing I noticed when starting up Cubemen 2 was that pressing buttons on the GamePad did absolutely nothing. Save for one or two buttons, the game can only be controlled using the GamePad’s touchscreen and the analog sticks, which is a rather frustrating reminder of the Touch! Generations era of gimmicky DS games that utilized weird controls just to seem different. While off-screen support is definitely appreciated, the touch-based control scheme forces the player to focus entirely on the GamePad and even then this mode takes a considerable resolution hit–more so than most Wii U titles. Plus, given the game’s grid-based movement, there really isn’t any reason it couldn’t be controlled similarly to Fire Emblem or Advance Wars. How about using the triggers to switch between units?

Sadly, Cubemen 2 just lacks the needed intuitiveness and fun factor that makes other games of its genre, well, playable.

Since the game claims to be a hybrid of tower defense and real-time strategy, I expected the game to have some of the common trappings of games like Starcraft and Command and Conquer, or at least the more basic functions. This, however, is not the case. Unlike those two series, most tasks need to be done in a painstakingly slow fashion. Want to move your units closer to an enemy’s base? You need to select each one individually and move them one at a time. Have enough resources to upgrade your units? Gotta surgically pick each one out and upgrade them–again–one at a time. Need your units to target a wily intruder from encroaching on your base? Yep. One at a time. In a turn-based game–or even a standard tower defense–this sort of input would be totally fine, but when you need to start rapidly rattling off commands the controls quickly manifest themselves as a peskier adversary than your actual opponents.

While a number of these issues affect Cubemen 2 as a whole, the game’s individual modes are varied enough to constitute an explanation of each, which will better clarify my more specific complaints and provide some better overall context to the most glaring, overarching problems.

“Defense” is presumably the primary game mode since the game’s two rather short campaigns consist entirely of defense maps. As you might expect, these play out more or less like a standard tower defense game where you place units to stop waves of enemies from approaching a base. Since there isn’t any need to move units after placing them in this mode, it’s probably the most controllable game mode, though it’s still far from perfect. While unit pathfinding works very well (units will always take the shortest past to a selected point, even if that means using a teleporter) their ability to aim is generally poor. Without fail, units will aim for whatever is at the very edge of their range even if there are closer things to worry about. While you can target specific enemies by tapping a unit and then tapping the enemy, this hardly alleviates the problem since the time it would take to make three of your units target an approaching one is often enough time for the approaching unit to reach your base. On top of that, a single misclick–which happens frequently since picking a specific point on the map is probably the closest you’ll get to a Wii U needle threading simulator–will instead make your unit walk toward the enemy instead of attacking it. It’s one thing to lose a game due to a lack of planning, but it’s another thing entirely to lose because your dopey units are looking in the wrong direction.

“Rescue,” the other single-player mode, somehow feels even more confused than Defense. Rather than defending a base, this mode has you defending nomadic civilians that move from one base to another. By starting the player off with just enough currency to make a small army and no time to prepare, this quickly turns into an unmitigated trainwreck. Whether the player tries to cover the entire path taken by the civilians or tries to deliberately move their units with each respective civilian, most attempts at this mode inevitably end in total frustration.

The remaining five game modes are the game’s multiplayer modes, which are supposedly cross-platform with Steam and/or iOS players. However, nearly all my attempts at playing online resulted yielded a barren wasteland of a lobby. The few times the lobby wasn’t entirely deserted, however, attempting to join a pre-existing game rerouted me back to the title screen. And so, my only multiplayer experiences were with cold, lifeless bots, which is disappointing since playing with actual people would be an entirely different–perhaps even fun–experience.

“Skirmish,” the first and simplest of these modes, is honestly a pretty creative take on tower defense. In it, each player’s base sends mobs (smaller, weaker Cubemen) to opposing bases, while players can send out their larger units to defend their base or turn the tides of battle. Sadly, this mode still suffers from many of the mentioned problems found in Defense mode, along with an issue only present in multiplayer: the only way to get new units is by defeating enemy units, meaning a single conflict early in a game often determines the outcome of the entire match. The latter issue is at least somewhat alleviated by crates that appear randomly around the map, giving the player who pick them up a bonus.

“Capture the Flag” actually plays less like the game you know and love and more like a multiplayer version of the mentioned Rescue mode and, unsurprisingly, it’s not very good either.

“Territory” is another mode where the game’s AI works against the player more often than not. While the goal is to have your units walk across as much of the map as possible, the efficient pathfinding mentioned earlier works against it. Without fail, units take the fastest and least effective path when moving anywhere, meaning that on some maps making units cover new ground means needing to move each of them one grid square at a time. If there was a simple setting to make your cubemen choose the road less traveled, this mode could be fairly neat or, dare I say, unique. As it is, though, it’s yet another exercise in unnecessary micromanagement.

Like Skirmish, “King of the Hill” relies more heavily on the game’s tower defense roots, and is actually one of the more interesting ideas for a multiplayer mode. As the name suggests, in this mode players fight to control a single base for as long as possible. However, even against four other computer players, I found that this mode was disappointingly one-sided–once a player secures the base, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone else to take it from them. As mentioned earlier, the game’s resources or “cubes” are given to players based on how many enemies they defeat. By being the first to defeat another player’s cubemen–often achieved by spamming the game’s cheapest unit–a player not only gains more cubes, but also takes away the opposing player’s means of procuring cubes, creating a resource gap that only widens as the game progresses. While a player can try to collect item crates to gain the upper hand, reaching a crate before other players is almost left entirely up to chance, and even then might not help at all since upgrading all units isn’t very useful when you only have one unit and four cubes. While this could be a rather fun game mode if it were balanced in favor of the attacking player–possibly by giving attacking players additional cubes or more powerful units–but as is it’s just mediocre and mostly one-sided.

The final game mode, “Defector,” is the only mode that doesn’t suffer from the resource issue mentioned earlier since it’s the only mode that doesn’t use cubes at all. Instead, players are given one of each unit, and gain other player’s units by defeating them until one player owns all units on the map. By starting all players off with the exact same units, this mode doesn’t let players rely on spamming cheap units or other similar tactics and instead rewards careful unit placement and thoughtful strategies. While the game’s questionable controls definitely hurt here–especially in late game when you need to keep track of 20+ units–this is still my favorite mode of all, and might even be fun to play against others if anyone actually played the game online.

Alongside the actual game, the most heavily touted feature in Cubemen 2 is the ability to make and share custom levels. While the editor is rather simple to use–I was able to put together a playable level in a matter of minutes–it’s not exactly perfect. Of all the functions to not include, the editor doesn’t have any kind of undo function, which, when combined with the game’s sensitive controls, can have disastrous results, but the tragedy doesn’t even stop there. To publish a map, it must have exactly six bases, and it can’t be designed for specific game modes.

While this does mean that players can play any game mode on any map, it creates a jack-of-all-trades scenario where an otherwise two-player map has to either be haphazardly expanded to accommodate all six bases, resulting in horribly unbalanced games with a larger number of players. With these limitations, most of the maps from the campaign can’t even be created in the editor and, if they could, they would likely make for outright unfair multiplayer maps.

All of this is presented in a package that seems to be completely falling apart at the seams. The music sporadically stutters when returning from the Home Menu and also in purely random intervals. And then there’s the two-part tutorial which is lacking, mentioning how units and mobs are different or something, but never actually making the distinction between the two. The menus and UI are littered with typos and glitches, and–again–the GamePad is used for little more than mimicking the touch/mouse controls the game uses on other platforms. As a whole, Cubemen 2 occasionally thinks outside the box, but its lackluster execution rarely strays far enough from its tower defense roots to be unique or innovative or even a competent tower defense game.

Cubemen 2 Review (Wii U eShop)
Gameplay4
Presentation5
Replay Value7
Pros
  • Pretty decent level editor
  • A few interesting multiplayer modes
Cons
  • Frustrating controls
  • Meager single-player campaign
  • Poorly balanced (and all but dead) multiplayer
5.5Overall Score
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About The Author

News Reporter/Game Reviewer

Jacob Rifenbery is a content writer for Always Nintendo. While first and foremost a fan of strange rhythm games, he enjoys playing and writing about a wide variety of titles.