Wot I Think: Cubemen

Cubemen has been out on Desura and Steam for a while, but it’s currently very cheap indeed.

There’s something pleasing about a cube. And something pleasinger about cubes that go pop when exposed to in-game forces of craft or peril. Cubemen understands this, and that’s why the understated visuals of this clean and precise tower defence game hold a simple allure. Being curiously unable to resist either tower defence or cubes, I was drawn in to take a closer look. A brief summary of wot I think about Cubemen follows.

Not too bad looking, for something with almost no content, eh? Yes, it’s naked geometry over content here in the world of Cubmen, and that’s no bad thing. No matter how busy the maps become, it’s impossible to really get confused about what’s going on – even when some of the 30 maps become swamped with marching creeps and defending men.

The cubemen, then, are your towers. There’s a cheap chap with a pistol, a more pricey one with a flamethrower, and then one with a mortar, rocket launcher, freeze-beam, laser-beam, sniper rifle, and so on. Each has a different range and a different overall area of effect. So far, so tower defence formula 101. Here, however, the path to the base of Cubemen’s fundamental design becomes a little more circuitous, and exposes us, oever so gently, to some other ideas. The men are not towers, after all, they are men, and as such they can be moved around to change the defensive formation you are employing. Relatedly, they are also fairly vulnerable to attack. Having towers destroyed by creeps is not unusual for a tower defence game, but here the men are quite fragile, and you’ll find yourself bolstering a damaged line through any given game.

All this works well, side-stepping the “just sit back” stage that many TD games reach when you hit a certain point on the map. You can always be adjusting. The men can only shoot from specific nodes on the blockular maps, however, so you find yourself with the same limited number of emplacements, and the same issue of making sure your ordnance can actually reach the intended targets.

The basic defence game mode will be one that you have already seen in countless tower games: set up a defence along the route, and try to keep the buggers out. It’s comfortingly familiar, but at the same time it’s unlikely to seriously engross anyone, thanks to that sheer lack of novelty. The skirmish mode, however, is a little more interesting. You can play versus AI or other humans here, because it’s a symmetrical battle to take on the other chap’s base. This is where things get a lot more stimulating, to my mind. Perhaps its just my competitive hunger taking over rational response, but as soon as I was presented with an opponent to beat who was my equal in the sense of what abilities he was able to deploy, I became even more engaged. The battle here rages back and forth, with your stream, and the enemy stream, pushing one way and then the other, trying to take the opposing base.

All that said, it feels like skirmish needs a bit more work. It’s not quite as fluid as the defence, and the pace of it can end up being slower. Perhaps it’s the map design: the places you can put your chaps is even more limited, not least because the opposition can place men on the same cubes that you can. This leads to a sort of spam battle for area domination, which can be offputting. But all this aside it’s nevertheless an enjoyable challenge.

Right now though, the appeal of the game runs dry a little too quickly. Cubemen is pleasingly basic in some ways, but that also means you end up feeling like the discovery of new things is over in minutes. It needs a map editor, I think, and possibly even team modes on the skirmish, to really liven things up. Given how it looks and plays right now, however, I am not sure that really matters. It’s a pleasing diversion of a game. Like a freshing pop drink.

And it’s currently astonishingly cheap on Steam and Desura right now. As cheap as a pop drink, almost. Hell, you’ve probably got something better to play, anyway. But, well, why not?


  1. InternetBatman says:

    I like the just sit back point of a lot of tower defense games. There’s something really satisfying about making an elaborate mob trap. It’s even more satisfying when the game is Orcs Must Die.

  2. SkittleDiddler says:

    The tower defense genre is now at the same point as the FPS genre: a glaring lack of anything ingenious, original or appealing. I suppose there’s not much you can do with the base idea anyway.

    I think I’ll go play a bit of Plants vs. Zombies now.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I disagree. The tower defense genre is exploding in all directions. OMD and Sanctum are going towards FPS, DOTA (and Dota-alikes) are going towards competitive fighters, this one seems like its going to a purer strategy kind of stand-point. Some of them are going towards having you attack the tower, like Fortix and Anomaly Warzone. Many of them have RPG mechanics.

      I think there are still a ton of interesting directions to go to as well. Three dimensional tower defense, a minecraft tower defense where you build the towers and maze, a dota style game where one person is the strategic commander, a sim style game where the towers draw a population of refugees living under it, etc.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        All that doesn’t necessarily add up to variety though; for me especially, virtually all tower defense games have a very bland feel to them. I suppose it’s just one of those genres that doesn’t get my brain working, which makes me a bit biased. Revenge of the Titans was the last TD game I played, and it bored me to tears.

        Since when are DoTA games considered tower defense? I must be out of the loop here.

        • DrGonzo says:

          Dota is arguably a form of tower defence I think. Having a commander player is a really good idea too.

          • jrodman says:

            I don’t see it. Sure, there are towers in DOTA, and you are defending. But the core ideas of tower defense are absent.

            – Construct a set of towers in the locations you select
            – Watch them auto-defend against an advancing horde.

            In DOTA they don’t get to your towers without player intervention, and no one makes any choices about tower strength or location or style. Ever, really.

            Obviously some ideas are recycled but I can’t see it as a similar game or genre game at all, really.

          • InternetBatman says:

            To be fair, you don’t really get to chose your tower location in a lot of Tower defense games. The environment is altered to prevent or strongly encourage ideal placements. I see it as a piece on the edge of a huge continuum, but that’s just me.

        • InternetBatman says:

          I also found Revenge of the Titans really boring. It supposedly had an adaptive difficulty, but that just meant huge spikes for me. The uneven pace and the glacial progress on the tech tree made me quit the game pretty quickly.

          Orcs Must Die is a great game and a good example of how the genre is successfully converging with other genres. It definitely shows off the advantages of tower defense gamedesign more than Revenge of the Titans or Defense Grid.

          I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve always considered Dota games heavily modified tower-defense games. The steady streams of enemies, the importance of towers, and the fact that you lose when your final structure is taken always made it feel that way to me. I don’t know if that’s a widely held belief. I see it on a continuum; a multiplayer two-sided version of the tower defense games where you control a character on the ground.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            I’ve actually been curious about Orcs Must Die for a while, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. You may have convinced me to spend some money!

    • MondSemmel says:

      Patently false. After all, Defender’s Quest was released roughly at the beginning of this year! That game feels like one possible pinnacle of the tower defense genre, but it also tried very specific things – it won’t be easily replicated, but it also means the genre can grow in other directions. And it’s getting an updated version later this year, too…
      I spent ~19 h on that game. I highly recommend you try it out. It’s one of those games that constantly shows it respects the player’s time – and their intelligence.

      That said, there’s tons of garbage in the genre, too. TD games, like RTS games, are hard to balance, and so I assume lack of polish/knowledge during development ruins them easier than other genres. I’ve certainly seen tons of mediocre tower defense games, too.

      EDIT: And I have certainly seen nothing about Cubemen that gave me any desire to play that, either. But I am glad (for other people) that some TD games attempt to add proper multiplayer modes to the genre – I just hope one of them gets it right sooner or later. I tried Sol Survivor, and that game’s singleplayer mode felt fundamentally broken due to lack of an option to increase game speed.

  3. 7hink says:

    I think this article might’ve broken their website.

    Edit: It seems to work again now.

  4. explodeydendron says:

    “the opposition can place men on the same cubes”

    You mean can’t, don’t you?

    edit- Oh wait I get what you’re saying. I guess it’s implied that you can’t occupy the same cube at the same time as your opponent.

  5. Jimbo says:

    Dibs Castro.

  6. scorcher24 says:

    I got the game since a while and I say the concept is rather unique and the game is really well made.
    It runs smooth since the last patch and it is fun to watch and play.
    And it brings some fresh wind to the TD genre imho.
    And the current price is a bag of chips..

  7. cptgone says:

    my resistance was cubile.

  8. Xzi says:

    I admire what they’re trying to do by getting their game in just before the Steam summer sale. I enjoyed tower defense a little more when I was playing it as custom maps in Warcraft 3, but then again, I enjoyed everything in my life more when Warcraft 3 was still a highly populated game with a large variety of custom maps being hosted.

    But I digress. I’m definitely willing to shell out $2 in support of an indie developer. Here I go…shelling out in 3, 2, 1…

    • trjp says:

      Weird thing is, it’s been on steam for 3 months (says Steam) but I really don’t remember it arriving (and I generally check out the New Releases regularly).

      The price drop has brought in new players I’m sure – and I think they’re promoting it after having had a bit of a nightmare with their database hosting (which probably drove away a few players I’d guess)

  9. Stephen1212 says:

    I just got this, with a mate. Its €3.20 for 2 pack, and it would be silly not to get it. Skirmish against him was a good deal of fun. For the price everyone should buy it. Everyone.

  10. baby snot says:

    Hey Jim. Have any of you chaps had a chance to check out Sky Alchemist? It looks like a novel take on TD gameplay and I’ve been hoping a WIT would pop up. More at Indiedb.

  11. SeonR says:

    Just an update, as Jim may have reviewed the older version of Cubemen, not the latest version that is on Steam right now.

    The new version (v1.12) has 6 way online games (Mayhem Mode) including individual and teams based games with the option of mixing AI into the 6 player combination.

    6 way online TD is definitely something very new for TD.

    Cheers :-)

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