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Cubetractor (PC) artwork

Cubetractor (PC) review

"I was immediately fascinated by the overhead, SNES-style, 2D graphics, its lush lakes, meadows, and cutesy characters reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda and the like. Though, on closer inspection, I did find it amusing that the backgrounds consist of sprites taken or edited from a RPG Maker tileset."

I've taken a liking to the tower defense genre... from a distance, and I say that because, whenever I actually play one, the intrigue slowly dwindles away. It's probably due to the fact that I've always been a more hands-on guy in terms of action, wanting to be the person kicking your butt, rather than build a bunch of automated something-whats that do all the work. So it usually takes a certain type of gimmick or unique draw to get me playing any tower defense title nowadays, and without even knowing it, Cubetractor did just that when I was scrolling through Steam's strategy catalog. At first glance, I was immediately fascinated by the overhead, SNES-style, 2D graphics, its lush lakes, meadows, and cutesy characters reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda and the like. Though, on closer inspection, I did find it amusing that the backgrounds consist of sprites taken or edited from a RPG Maker tileset.

Of course, no acknowledgement of this is given in the credits. Go figure.

The thing that made me purchase the game, however, was the unusual method of attacking: your blue, four-legged, mailbox-shaped robot of a protagonist has the ability to pull cubes towards him. I was curious how something like this could even sustain gameplay over a period of time, and once I finally realized this was actually a tower defense game, I was like, "I gotta see how they make this work, if at all." And you know what? It's pulled off pretty well, and only because specific aspects of the tower defense formula is modified. The basic template is here, where you must erect turrets and such to annihilate the opposing forces, but there's a catch. Instead of waiting for them to come to you, Cubetractor reverses the trend by dropping your character at the enemy's defenses!

With the concept of having to build structures against opponents that fire when anything get in their sights, the difficulty is already up there, but the devs, Ludochip, stack another challenge on top of that. Creating turrets and other objects is not as simple as selecting an area and hitting the button, and this is where the whole pull mechanic comes into play. In order to make any item, you need to pull two cubes together, and different combinations form different creations: two Spine cubes make a turret, a Spine and an Earth cube morphs into a Power Plant that provides faster firepower to turrets, and so on. With a good eye, too, you can easily pull cubes into enemies, if a hill or lake isn't in the way, that is. Pulling things around might sound easy in writing, but having to execute the task is much harder, since cubes are placed in specific spots on a field that usually require precise timing with the pulls. This is all while the enemy is firing away at every opportunity, mind you, and suffice it to say, you really need a controller for the game.

This restructuring of the tower defense formula gives Cubetractor a very puzzle-esque aura to it, and if the field designs weren't up to par, this would have been a messy, frustrating title to go through. Thankfully, the majority of puzzles are smartly programmed to where they're quite a challenge, but not to the point where your brain implodes. There's a small number of stages that have questionable design choices, though, and this is often because the task of getting rid of a specific turret or barrier begs for super precise timing with certain factors, like creating turrets when an enemy isn't firing and such. It's harder than it sounds when you consider some of these mind-benders also feature roaming enemies that spawn infinitely, just to bug the ever-loving out of you.

One other issue some players might have with the game is that, visually, variation is nonexistent. Yeah, the layouts are obviously different with every puzzle, but for 40+ stages, you're going to be staring at the exact same hill, grass, water, and character sprites; it would've been nice to have some change of pace, even if it's minor. If you're not one to be hung up with that qualm, Cubetractor's puzzles are solid enough to provide you with entertainment for five or so hours, and more if you're obsessed with getting the best rating. Personally, when I first started the game, I figured I would play a stage or two and save the following puzzles for a later, longer playthrough, but I was surprisingly engrossed with the simple, yet challenging gameplay to the point where I went on for two straight hours.

It may not shower you with much variety once you settle into the pull mechanic and reverse tower defense gimmick, but Ludochip seems to get "it" when it comes to making a nice, fun puzzler that's commonplace in games coming from companies like PopCap. The silly, cutesy story about a robot that goes on a misguided trek to ride the land of evil and the catchy, retro soundtrack also lends Cubetractor its nostalgic charm, as if you were playing an under-the-radar SNES release from a small company. The devs already have a follow-up planned, so hopefully, they can greatly expand on what's already a fun, little romp.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (September 16, 2013)

You have no idea how close I was to using a Cool as Ice quote for my Riding Hero tagline...

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Suskie posted September 17, 2013:

I was actually assigned to review this at a different site having never heard of it, and it wound up being probably the most pleasant surprise of the year for me. I'm kind of shocked that someone else wound up playing it, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, playing it for the first time and quickly unearthing all of the different layers these guys mined out of a seemingly simple concept is great. Charming, unique little game.
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pickhut posted September 18, 2013:

Yeah, it was just one of those things I decided to take a chance on, since it looked like it might be a good game. Glad it turned out that way, since a lot of chances I take on games turn out to be garbage, or at least average.

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