Death By Cube lives up to its threatening name. Premium Agency's two-stick shooter for Xbox Live Arcade is so brutally tough in spots that it is likely to chase away all but the most determined players. Worst of all, this Robotron replica makes a terrible first impression, smacking you with a handful of masochistic levels right off the bat. The learning curve does smooth out after this initially rough ride, but you will still have to deal with a lot of repetition, and the later levels swing wildly between insanely hard and laughably easy.
At least conceptually, not much separates Death By Cube from a pile of similar XBL games. Just like Geometry Wars, Zombie Apocalypse, and their many, many friends, this is a top-down shooter where you move with the left stick and shoot with the right. The protagonist is an amnesiac robot looking for clues to his missing memory, which can apparently be regained only by gunning down mostly cubelike mechanical adversaries in gridlike battle arenas. Levels come in a few different flavors, and while different scores will earn you bronze, silver, or gold medals, the main goal is always to kill everything that moves. Having to defend a base, attack an enemy base, murder waves of enemies, or survive nutso robot assaults with just one life doesn't alter the core character of the game, which is to run and gun until your thumbs ache. There isn't much variety. Baddies come in just a handful of forms, mostly big slow cubes, tiny fast cubes, and rotating gun turrets that fire either laser blasts or homing projectiles. Robots have a few special attacks, like a shield that absorbs shots, a quick dash, and the ability to momentarily confuse enemies by dropping decoy targets. They can also be upgraded, although the extra options available are predictable variations, such as faster shots, increased shot power, and shooting backward. Computer chips are earned in each level to serve as the in-game currency, allowing you to buy these robot upgrades as well as access to individual levels and whole new stages.
You see nearly everything that the game has to offer in the first few levels,so not only do you know what's coming, but you've seen it all before, in much better games. Even worse, some aspects of the design are more or less broken. The start of the game is an absolute mess. You're presented with just four missions in the first stage, two of which are spectacularly hard with the wimpy starting robot and the cheap upgrades that you can afford early on. It's easy to get stuck here for quite some time. The weak-sister robot upgrades cost 800 chips apiece, and access to the next level costs a whopping 2,500. That's some serious dough when you're earning 100 chips or less each time you fail the tough levels. The only way you can deal with this is to beat the first two easy levels over and over again, earning more chips by pumping your score into silver and gold territory. After you get past this hump, the difficulty fluctuates all over the place. It's almost as if somebody threw all the levels into a hat and then drew them out randomly for inclusion in the stages. Some levels are impossible to beat with two dozen tries, while others can be crushed in a single attempt. These easy levels also unbalance game progression, because all you need to do is replay one of these cinches again and again to stockpile enough chips to buy your way past the toughies.
Other aspects of the game are sterile. The multiplayer modes are lifeless variants on deathmatch and base defense. None of them seem to have caught on, because it's almost impossible to find an opponent for an online match. Visuals are a mix of the bland and inappropriate. Level floors seem to have been crafted out of the graph paper that old-schoolers use to map D&D expeditions, yet both you and your robotic enemies explode into absurd slasher-flick smears of bright red blood when killed. Audio is very sedate for a game where a few hundred robots blow up in every level, so most of your feedback comes from the strong gamepad rumble effects.
Amateurish is probably the best way to describe Death By Cube. While the action can be gratifyingly frenetic for a few minutes here and there, the overall game design is simplistic and repetitive, the varying difficulty is incredibly frustrating, and the look and sound of the game are too primitive to hold your attention for long. With this many flaws and so many superior rivals to turn to, it doesn't make sense to spend 800 points on this subpar dual-stick shooter.