GAME NAME: Cubetractor
PLATFORM(S): PC, Mac
GENRE(S): Puzzle, Tower Defence, Strategy, Indie
RELEASE DATE(S): 2013-05-30
If you’re up for an overhead-puzzler romp with cute graphics and off-the-wall dialogue, Cubetractor, by indie developers Ludochip, might just be worth looking into.
The game functions thusly: players control a self-aware and irreverently-inclined robot named Endroi who, besides inexplicably possessing a massive pair of lips, is given the role of Cubetractor. This entails pulling cubes from one part of an overhead map to another. While Endroi may seem to be little more than a fiendishly simple one-trick pony, this sole mechanic, in fact, opens up many avenues for strategy, as cubes can be directed to collide with enemies and hazards, or merged to form turrets. This all gives the game some semblance to differing genres, such as tower defence and strategy, ever so subtly implemented.
Figuring out which cubes to pull and how to best combine them is a mental exercise that holds the player’s interest throughout. It’s made all the more interesting by the fact that misplaced cubes can easily destroy one another, leaving players defenseless and perhaps a little wiser for their misfortune.
The gameplay deliberately counters a more natural impulse, which is to push. Having to think in terms of pulling requires a new mindset, particularly when accomplishing specific goals which require the player to be in harm’s way. In addition, moves have to be more precise, because a player has to calculate where exactly two cubes will collide, which makes object-placement a more passive and thoughtful affair. Ultimately, the game isn’t actually about pushing blocks; it’s about split-second dodging, destroying enemies and breaking through barricades, all done indirectly of course.
Apart from the aforementioned simplistic towers, Endroi may also construct barriers to offer rudimentary protection and power plants to power his devilish cubic constructs. Trying to arrange cubes properly while dodging an incoming barrage of bullets offers an exhilarating experience that occasionally borders on the frustrating, but thankfully, this is largely consigned to the latter levels. Unfortunately, the latter levels come all too soon and you’ll find yourself done in a few short hours, even with the occasional hindrance. There is a star system and optional side-missions to entice players to return, but these are the sort of things that will only apply to the most obsessive of completionists.
The short game-time and lack of replayability give Cubetractor the feeling of a title that would be better suited to the iPhone or Android than the PC or Mac. This is further enforced by the art and music direction; graphics are clean, pixelated and retro, yet lovingly-crafted and more than functional. Sound effects are cut from the same cloth and wouldn’t be out of place on the old Gameboy, though the music is on the slightly more annoying side of the chip tune genre. There isn’t much of a story to be told, apart from Endroi’s initiation into a cubetractoring career and the amazement and disbelief of his observers. Dialogue is pretty funny, with goofy made-up words and the occasional sly innuendo.
The current state of presentation is all well and good, but Ludochip are promising an enhanced, high-definition version of the game in the future. While this hypothetical incarnation of Cubetractor has yet to leave the drawing board, it would be interesting to see how this game makes the leap.
Cubetractor’s unapologetic 16-bit style, witty dialogue and clever extension of minimalistic set-pieces make it quite different from pretty much anything else on the market right now. It’s an endearing game that will whet the appetite of puzzle enthusiasts, but it could have been much more. A slight lack of depth, polish and some very frustrating levels pull down what is otherwise a fine experience. Everybody should give it a go, but perhaps wait for a sale before you decide to spend your cash all willy-nilly. If you’re a retro-junkie itching to play something that would have been perfectly at home on the SEGA Megadrive, then it comes wholeheartedly recommended.