“Welcome to Death By Cube,” a feminine robotic voice says when I first start the game. Pressing “A” to continue not only brings up the menu but splashes red oil all over the on-screen robot. The music and presentation are very atmospheric and I get excited to begin. Unfortunately, that feeling of excitement quickly fades and transforms into dismay. Death By Cube is one of the most frustrating and brutally painful games I‘ve played in a long time.
Leo is a robot who wakes up and has lost his memory. All he knows is that he must reboot the heroine robot and hopefully regain his memory along the way. I know, yawn. The game description reveals the premise, but you won‘t learn much more while actually playing. Premium Agency used the cliché of amnesia but forgot that they should include a story that’s slowly revealed as we progress in the game. The damsel (robot) that needs a reboot is also mostly missing from Death By Cube. It's possible they do so if you get all gold medals on the levels, but the extreme, unchangeable difficulty level made it impossible for me to accomplish that feat.
Who needs story, though, when it’s an arcade shooter? Let’s move on to the action. If it’s a polished experience that is compelling and rewarding then we’ll quickly forget the premise anyway.
Control Leo with the left thumb stick while you shoot in the direction that the right thumb stick is pointing. Dashing (left trigger) stuns enemies and makes them easier to kill while also making you invisible. Then there is a shield (right trigger) that will collect incoming projectiles and shoot them back at your enemies. It’s very limited in use because it doesn’t protect Leo from explosions or enemies that just run into him.
Levels are bland and typically square. The only thing that might change is how big that square is. The 2D surface you fight on is floating through boring space. It reminded me of the Windows 95 space screen saver with dots that fly past the screen. Enemies contain little details but are easy to distinguish from each other. Each unit you destroy spews red oil (looks like blood) all over the ground and up on the screen. Destroy enough at once and you’ll be swimming in a sea of red. Sadly, that is the only real color that’s put into this title.
Death By Cube awards chips in direct relation to your performance in a level. The chips you earn are spent on upgrades. When I heard upgrade I thought I would be able to improve Leo’s shields, health, speed or attack. That’s not the case and the term is actually a misnomer. Instead of upgrading Leo, I could only buy entirely different controllable robots that specialize in one ability.
Be careful not to spend all of your chips on “upgrades” because you’ll also use them to unlock new levels and worlds. There are 7 worlds in Death By Cube, each containing four or more levels. You’ll be shooting your way through a variety of types: destroy everything, survival, attacking or defending bases.Certain robots are more suitable for various level types but be ready to die. A lot. By World 2 or 3 it becomes nearly impossible to last very long without taking damage. This is exacerbated by certain units that can destroy you with one hit of a giant level-spanning laser. Others will drop mines that detonate and destroy you if you are in the blast zone. What makes it worse is that dying resets the score multiplier. Since clearing a level is dependent on a high enough score that is only available via a large multiplier, instant death means instant frustration.
The music is the best thing about Death By Cube. It fits the action and sci-fi feel. However, the incessant “pause and restart” because you died makes it impossible to enjoy the entire score. I did enjoy leaving the game on the menu just to hear the music; that’s probably the best return for your investment for this game.
I tried on several occasions to find an Xbox Live multiplayer game but none were ever available. Don’t expect to play this online unless you call a friend in advance and set up a game yourself. There are a few different online modes, but it will be difficult to find any available. As such, don’t purchase this game expecting an online multiplayer component since most (if not all) players have abandoned this ship.
Death By Cube had great potential for enjoyable mayhem. It even flies under the Square Enix umbrella. The problem is that it’s just not fun. Acceptable descriptions might include an “exercise in patience” or “painful” but rarely fun. There are a few glimpses offered at enjoyable ideas but they are pummeled by everything else that goes wrong. Spend your Microsoft Points on any of the better alternatives out there and save yourself the endless frustration that is the sole offering of Death By Cube.