Simplicity is the key when it comes to modern shooters on the Xbox Live Arcade. Concepts evident in the likes of titles such as Geometry Wars have proved to be a winning formula and generally more successful than the more complex perceptions (Rocketmen: Axis of Evil springs to mind). Another attempt at an Xbox Live Arcade shooter comes in the form of Death by Cube, brought to us by Premium Agency and Square Enix.
Players take control of the game’s protagonist, Leo, a robot who awakes to find that he has lost his memory. Leo makes it his task to reboot the heroine robot SELSIE, as he sets out on a mission hoping to regain his memory, having to overcome battalions of enemy robots. Enemies, if you couldn’t tell from the title, consist of cubes and bots, ranging in difficulty, with the general rule being: the bigger the enemy, the more hits they take to kill. Bots are defeated through the player using the left thumbstick as a form of movement and the right thumbstick to fire bullets in the intended direction.
The game provides a range of level types for players to venture through, offering a slight variety in gameplay throughout. The most common level type requires players to destroy all the enemies and/or to destroy as many enemies as possible within the time limit. Whilst they do provide players with sufficient enjoyment, often increasing in difficulty rather well, they can get repetitive very quickly. Regrettably, the same can’t be said for the remaining level types.
Survive does exactly as it says on the tin, requiring players to survive for as long as possible against the on-going spawning of enemies. At first, the level type seems a bit tedious and fairly frustrating; nevertheless, once players get into the swing of things, it can prove quite satisfactory.
The final level type involves the use of bases – consisting of both destroying enemy bases and protecting your own. Standing within a short distance of the base, increases the base’s health as the game’s enemies look to protect/destroy the appropriate base/s, as well as eliminating Leo. This is the weakest of the level types on offer as the core concept of destroying the enemies merged with the bases becomes more of a chore than a delight.
On completion, each level offers a bronze, silver or gold medal which, when gained, rewards players with chips – the game’s currency. These can then be used to purchase new worlds and levels, as well as to upgrade Leo. Upgrades boost player’s abilities in the specific areas of: Shooting, Dashing, Shield and Defence. Regrettably, many of the upgrades prove irrelevant as only one can be used at any point, so players will often pick their favourite and stick with it throughout. On the other hand, each of the different abilities has its advantages and disadvantages in each of the level types previously mentioned.
Upgrades can also be used in the game’s online play, which supports up to eight players. The game modes on offer are: "Death Match", "Base Battle" and "High Score Scramble” replicating the single player games well. Alas, like many Xbox Live Arcade titles, finding a player in a lobby is like looking for a needle in a haystack – there just never seems to be any hope in finding anyone.
Another way in which players can eliminate enemy bots is through using Leo’s dash and shield functions. The dash function, activated through the left trigger, causes the opposing robot to go into a state of “mass confusion,” causing them to temporarily remain static – allowing the player to easily destroy them. As for the shield function, triggered using the right trigger, this consumes fired enemy bullets for a short period of time which can then be used to the player’s benefit and shoot back towards the enemies. Each of the functions, when used properly, will almost definitely work to the player’s advantage, especially in the game’s later stages – where the main gripe with Death by Cube comes in. The game’s difficulty setting is something that the more casual gamer won’t appreciate, more specifically in the Survival games, as it often feels like an impossible task as players are forced into many attempts at succeeding: this is where the game’s upgrade system becomes a necessity.
Graphically, Death by Cube’s modernised robotic style suits the game’s approach and gameplay – making the title a one-of-a-kind. The sheer amount of blood, splashing out across the clean, white surface is pleasantly astounding, if not slightly disturbing. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the audio which fails to match the robot effect and will no doubt have players muting their speaker set.
To conclude, Death by Cube is a surprise hit. Whilst there are better titles of a similar nature available on the Xbox Live Arcade, the game provides great enjoyment amongst a vast amount of frustration, mostly caused by the high difficulty setting. If you enjoy the trial, Death by Cube is a worthy purchase, even at 800 Microsoft Points.