|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Premium Agency||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jan. 20, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-8||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Death By Cube (DBC) is yet another analog stick shooter for the XBLA. While the console has seen a number of quality stick shmups over the years, Death By Cube is not one of the platform's sterling offerings. That being said, you could do a lot worse. In the end, the game is probably worth the $10 price tag because it offers a unique take on the genre and serves up a grueling challenge. On the other hand, when compared to some of the other top titles, Death By Cube doesn't quite uphold its end of the bargain.
In DBC, you'll play as a robot that has forgotten its memory. In order to reacquire the data, you'll have to shoot your way through level after level collecting chips. Along the way you'll acquire new upgraded suits, increase your firepower, unlock loads of levels, earn ranks, and set high scores. On the surface, DBC has everything an arcade shooter must have to keep the faithful glued to the game.
Gameplay in DBC is very straightforward: kill enemies and avoid being killed. You'll maneuver around the tiny arenas with the left stick and shoot at enemies in 360 degrees with the right stick - pretty standard stuff. Enemies consist of various cubes and robots, each with a characteristic threat behavior that you'll have to fend off. Whether shooting lasers at you or just swarming you incessantly, you'll be hard-pressed to get through levels without dying at least once. Thankfully, you'll have lots of lives and a few tricks up your robot's metal sleeve to get the job done.
Of course, your robot comes equipped with lasers of its own to blast through the waves of baddies, and as you advance, you'll even be able to unlock new suits that have beefed up stats or specialize in dealing with a certain game type. As you kill your foes (I say kill because they explode with red gore that looks an awful lot like blood), they'll drop power-ups that will level up your arsenal, making it far easier to unleash hot death. You can also activate a dash and shield power. Both powers can be used repeatedly but have a very short duration. Dashing at or away from enemies will let you bash into them and evade the swarm, but it will also leave behind a decoy that will confuse them. Confused enemies are slow and easy to kill, plus they'll help your point multiplier. The shield skill is a force field that surrounds your robot, allowing you to collect enemy projectiles and shoot them back at your foes. The combination of shooting, dashing, and shielding, as well as evading with well-timed movement, is the formula for success in Death By Cube.
Just when you start to get the hang of dealing with the massive amount of danger thrown at you, the game ups the ante with even more baddies. In truth, the game is extremely challenging. Getting bronze and even silver ranks in a particular level isn't too bad, but achieving gold typically takes umpteen replays and oodles of patience. This can definitely be a very frustrating game. At its worst moments, it doesn't feel rewarding or even winnable. Of course, diehard, highly-skilled arcade shooter enthusiasts will relish the challenge.
For the rest of us, if you persevere and continue to grind your way around levels, or even go back to previous levels you know you can easily dominate, you'll be rewarded with chips for your performance. As the chip totals accumulate, you will then have to decide whether you want to spend those chips unlocking a new set of levels, or if the currency is better off spent on an upgraded suit (which makes it far easier to open up silver and gold ranks in the current levels - further enriching your chip count). Typically, going for the suit option is best, as you'll save yourself a lot of frustration. While I enjoyed the challenge tough levels presented and the cat and mouse mental game of deciding whether I should advance or beef up my robot, after several levels it feels like I'm grinding with no real purpose other than getting strong enough to advance - almost like I was playing an old Final Fantasy title. Graciously, different victory conditions, depending on the level, tend to mix up the formula just a bit. Rather than just defeating all enemies, surviving with one life as long as you can, defending and attacking bases, etc. make the game somewhat more interesting.