Cubemen 2 (Wii U eShop) Review
While most real-time strategy style titles have traditionally suffered with the limitations of modern controllers, the Wii U’s touch-screen equipped GamePad seems like a perfect place for developers to experiment with pointer based strategy games. It is surprising then, that we have seen so very few touch-controlled real time strategy games on the Wii U. Enter Cubemen 2, a mix of tower defense and real time strategy genres from 3 Sprockets and Nnooo that does a great job of capitalising on the GamePad’s touch screen to deliver their unique take on these genres.
Cubemen 2 will feel familiar to fans of the tower defense genre. You are tasked with using a limited pool of resources (cubes, in this case) to defend your base tower. You can use these cubes to purchase various classes of Cubemen and place these around your base to protect your tower. The classes all have their own unique capabilities ranging from basic shooters, to long range snipers and rocket launchers.
Cubemen 2 differs from traditional tower defense games in some important areas, however. Firstly, you are free to move your Cubemen around the map as you see fit, they are no longer affixed to the ground like typical towers. This allows players to far more easily adapt to changing game conditions, for example by moving the men around to different chokepoints on the map, rather than having to sell and re-purchase static towers. Similarly, the Cubemen can be moved away from the action if they face an opponent that is sure to defeat them. The Cubemen can also be moved around to pick up power-ups to give the player an advantage, such as extra damage or a bonus set of cubes to spend. Your Cubemen can also be upgraded, giving bonuses like extra firepower and health.
Several play modes are possible thanks to these more adaptable gameplay options. The main single player mode is more of a traditional ‘defense’ mode, charging players with defending their tower from wave on oncoming baddies. The single player campaigns are reasonably lengthy, and should give lone players a lot to sink their teeth into. Other play modes are possible in multiplayer modes, whether with people online or computer-controlled bots.
Skirmish feels like a somewhat simplified MOBA style of game, crossed with tower defense. Each player’s tower spawns little defenseless Cubemen that will head to whichever player’s base you tell them to. They will need to contend with other player’s defenses however, so you will need to actively support them with your own armed Cubemen if they are to have any chance of making it to an opponent’s tower. At the same time, you need to make sure your own tower is well defended to prevent it being invaded by an army of other small Cubemen. With potentially up to 5 other players, it’s quite a lot to keep track of, and will surely satisfy if you like both strategic and fast paced thinking on your feet.
Other game modes make an appearance in multiplayer modes, like Capture The Flag where players must command their Cubemen to opposing towers to take their flag and return it to their own base, and Territory, where the Cubemen capture blocks of the map by moving over them and whoever has claimed the most of the map by the time limit is declared victor. Another mode is Rescue, where you must escort defenseless civilians back to your own base. King of the Hill tasks you with taking and holding certain points on a map. Defector is a particularly interesting gametype. Each player has a limited amount of each class of Cubemen to use, and cannot earn cubes to build more. Instead, your army is expanded by killing opposing Cubemen who will then defect to your team.
Cubemen 2 is played entirely on the GamePad, even the menus are only navigable via the touch screen. The TV can show a mirror of what is happening on the GamePad, but you really can’t play the game while looking at the TV. It would really only be useful to let other people spectate the game. Commanding your Cubemen is reasonably straight forward, tapping to select then tapping again to move or select a new target. Controlling the camera perspective is where I found a bit of a learning curve. You can slide the stylus across the screen to move the camera around, and use the ZL button as a modifier to make changes to the angle of the camera. It works, but can feel a little clunky to use the stylus at the same time as the ZL button. The camera can also be controlled via the two analog sticks and directional pad, but this too is an imperfect method as you can’t reasonably have thumbs on the analog sticks and use a stylus at the same time. Both of these control issues are more the fault of the GamePad itself and it’s hard to think of a better solution to camera control but regardless, the gameplay can feel quite clunky as a result. Finding a camera angle with a good view of the entire battlefield and sticking to it seems to be the best way to play.
The online multiplayer of Cubemen 2 is particularly interesting, as it is the first Wii U title to implement cross-platform multiplayer. Playing on a Wii U, you can play in the same game as players on PC, Mac, Linux and iOS platforms. This is a remarkable technical achievement, and a feature that is rarely seen in the console space, let alone in the indie space. The online multiplayer worked perfectly while we were playing it too. There was no voice chat or similar, but it was easy enough to join a game and gameplay was never interrupted by network issues. With 3 Sprockets putting all this time and effort into well implemented cross-platform online play, it is a shame that online games are hard to find. I never found an open game online, unless I organised it ahead of time with a friend. With any luck, the online community could expand as time goes on, but for now it is rather barren. This is a real shame, since the multiplayer is great fun when you have an opponent or two to face off against.
Another impressive aspect about this game is it’s level creation and sharing tools. An level creation tool allows players to create their own levels for the various modes of play, and this editor is quite capable. These levels can also then be shared online for the world to see and play on, and these levels are ranked in game based on popularity. You are of course limited to the cube based terrain, but some of the levels that have been created and shared in Cubemen 2 are quite enjoyable to play. A fan favourite is the re-creation of Mario Kart 64’s Block Fort which works surprisingly well for Cubemen. These player created levels mean that if you are lucky enough to find players regularly, it’ll be a long time before you tire of all the levels available for play.
Visually, Cubemen is not going to blow any minds, but it never really aimed to. The entire game world is made up of small cubes, including the terrain and eponymous Cubemen, and has a similar visual appeal to titles like Minecraft. Both the Cubemen and the terrain can be customised, with a large selection of skins to give your team a unique identity in multiplayer matches and you can entirely change the look of the levels by changing their themes. If a level has been created with a specific theme in mind though, the game will ask if you’d like to use that instead of the theme you’ve chosen.
In the sound department, Cubemen is serviceable, if not particularly interesting. You can choose between a selection of six music tracks to accompany your game, and these all serve well enough to set the mood for the game while not being particularly exciting or memorable. The sound effects in game can also be confusing, with sounds playing to accompany successful shots and attacks on bases. The sounds for each event are all the same whether the damage is inflicted on yours or your opponent’s Cubemen, so it is often difficult to work out whose soldiers are being attacked, or whose tower is being damaged.
Cubemen 2 is an interesting take on the tower defense formula. The different game modes add some spice which really differentiates it from other more formulaic defense games, and the competitive multiplayer aspect can be quite exciting to play, should all the stars align and you find a match. If you’ve grown tired of all the me-too games in the tower defense genre, Cubemen 2 is well worth a try. It has it’s share of small audio and control niggles, but these shouldn’t dissuade you from giving the game a try.