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Wot I Think: Cubemen

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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.

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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?

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