Cubetractor is a great concept for a game – an absolutely wonderful concept, in fact. It's a great concept that is torpedoed by one catastrophic flaw – terrible controls. The game is fresh, clever, colorful, and charming, but too often, it is totally infuriating. So no matter how much you want to enjoy this innovative strategy/action title, the fun never lasts long before the game makes you want to snap your controller over your knee.
If you are fond of the 2D retro trend in games right now, then Cubetractor’s style should also appeal to you just fine. Its graphics are colorful and pixilated, and the music is decidedly old school. This combination of nostalgic presentation and lighthearted dialog between robots makes Cubetractor a charming experience when it wants to be. One graphical issue with the game is that it only comes in 4:3 and no widescreen. I can understand the retro appeal, and I can understand having to sacrifice graphical fidelity if you have a tiny team making a game, but not using up the whole screen with the art assets that you have built seems like a bit of a waste. This complaint is a minor one though – Cubetractor, as a whole, is not hindered by its production values.
Not just content to be a tower defense game, Cubetractor fashions itself as a sort of “tower offense” game. You play as a blue robot, Endroi, and your job is to destroy all of the enemy installations on each screen. To do this, you build tower defense-type items of your own, like turrets, missile launchers, blockades, and power plants. To build units, you pull blocks towards you so that two of them collide. What gets built depends upon what two types of blocks you get to crash into one another. Thus, through various combinations of just three building blocks, you can build six different unit types. This might not sound like a lot, but it is a great example of elegant simplicity. Cubetractor gets a lot of mileage out of its easy-to-learn mechanics by giving you a wide variety of challenges and a lot of freedom when it comes to solving them.
Enemies have the same weapons as you, though, and there are roaming enemies that chase you around the map too. Enemy turrets and missile launchers can destroy everything that you build, and they can kill you in a few hits if you aren’t careful. The challenge to the game comes from figuring out how to either take out enemy defenses piecemeal or build units fast enough to keep pace with them getting destroyed. This combination of building units while avoiding enemy fire makes for a very unique action and strategy experience. It would work out wonderfully, were it not for the major control issues that drag down the game once the challenge level ramps up.
The major control problem is that in order to pull a block towards you, you must either be moving towards that block, or at a complete stop and pointing at that block. You also must be either perfectly parallel with or perfectly perpendicular to that block. Then, you must move to another location and pull another block towards you so that the two blocks collide. There isn’t much space on every level, so you often need to do this very quickly and in tight quarters while dodging bullets, enemies, and missiles. The inability to pull a block while moving away from it makes the game incredibly frustrating, and this issue becomes a major one before the game is an hour old. In this game, you will constantly find yourself constantly failing to pull blocks, pulling the wrong blocks, and crushing yourself with blocks that you accidentally pull because of this terrible control scheme. You may start dodging a block right before you pull it to you, accidentally pulling a block that is in the direction that you dodge instead. You may find yourself not perfectly aligned with a block soon enough to pull it so that it will combine with another one. You may even find yourself accidentally pulling a block right behind you because of that tendency that your controller has to snap back from movement about a micron past the center. Whatever the cause, you will repeatedly find yourself getting killed in all kinds of ways that leave you feeling as if you got totally screwed.
The control issue wouldn’t be a big problem if Cubetractor wasn’t also an action game, but it is. There are way too many hazards on each level and not nearly enough margin for error to make this game’s control problems tolerable. Giving you the ability to target and move in different directions, ala a dual joystick shooter, would have made this game a lot less irritating, and a lot more fun. Unfortunately, that is not the game that developer Ludochip has made for us. What they did make is a game with loads of potential that is tantalizingly close to greatness, but brought down by one flaw that can't be ignored. It is almost an excellent, thinking man’s action game with unique building mechanics, but its controls don’t facilitate the level of challenge that it presents.
A game shouldn’t be criticized for being hard, if it was purposely designed to be that way. Cubetractor doesn't feel like a game that falls into this category, however. It feels like a game that was designed to challenge you more with its strategy elements, and less with its irritating control issues. The strategic part is still fun, but the action fails badly. With that said, I never wanted to walk away from the game completely, nor did I ever have to browbeat myself into playing it. The game works on some level, so you may get more enjoyment out of it than I did. I don’t wholeheartedly recommend that you avoid this game, but you should exercise caution if you decide to take on its challenges.