I had power over nothing. That’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive.
-Chuck Noland, Cast Away
“The following is a contributor post by the ABXY Mage.”
Survive! Mr. Cube describes itself as a rogue-lite. For those who don’t know, rogue-lites are similar to roguelike games, retaining certain elements of the latter while often being less tactical, less punishing, and with varied art styles. However, the “lite” means even more with this game. Much like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is basically a JRPG for beginners, Survive! Mr. Cube is essentially a rogue-lite with training wheels. Well, most of it, but we’ll get to that.
An important thing to remember about Survive! Mr. Cube is that it is the first game independently developed by Korean developer Intragames, and was created by a very small team of just three people. So, no matter what you or I might think of it, it’s still an impressive accomplishment.
The game begins with the set up of the story. There is very little. Basically, on his way home one day, Mr. Cube stops at a pub and meets a mysterious stranger. This stranger offers him a pill of some kind and Mr. Cube, for unknown reasons, is compelled to take it.
He wakes in a strange world with no memory of how he got there and no idea how to get out. He finds a sword and a portal, and imagining his wife at home waiting for him, he enters the portal in the hopes of finding his way back.
The 8-Bit Review
The game is made in a boxel (box + pixel) art style to give it more of a retro feel. Unfortunately, having you and all the enemies made out of squares and rectangles makes a lot of things look a little too similar, even with the usage of different colors. As far as the usage of different colors goes, there isn’t enough. Each of the four stages look mostly the same throughout, and with each stage being made up of twenty-five areas, that can get boring. A lot of the enemies are also reskinned and reused in later areas which can also lead to a repetitive feel. The game kind of has a “cutesy” feel to it, which I think is supposed to make the simplicity more charming. It’s not ugly by any means, but nor is it an ocular treat.
The best part, visually, are the bosses. Since they don’t follow the box design, they really stand out. The attention brought to these designs is a double edged sword though. While it successfully highlights the bosses, it also spotlights the simplicity of the normal baddies, and leaves you disappointed when you have to go back to fighting them. The bosses also aren’t always the same. There are multiple bosses for each playthrough of each stage which means they feel less repetitive as well.
Personally, I think most roguelikes and dungeon crawlers seem to lack in the music department, especially more in the 2000s. I can only speculate as to why, but if I were to, I would say that those kinds of games are usually going for a darker and more realistic experience. Therefore, they just need the music to be brooding and overall just be a depth-providing background to the sounds of the action.
With Survive! Mr. Cube presenting a softer, retro-inspired look, you might expect the soundtrack to be a bit more colorful, fun, or catchy. Maybe something that harkens back to games like some of the Gauntlet series, or maybe an homage to the epic highs and sweeping lows of soundtracks like Baldur’s Gate.
The soundtrack for Survive! Mr. Cube, as far as I’ve been able to determine, is three songs. Once again, the bosses get the long end of the stick and enjoy the most interesting music in the game. In no way is the music offensive or annoying or abrasive at any point, it just doesn’t add much to the game. Chances are you will either tune it out after a few minutes, or you will just put on some music of your own to listen to.
Many of the enemies don’t make any noise. Some only make noise when they die and these death sounds are either a chirping sound, a dog whine sound, or a human death sigh. You will hear these sounds a lot. While the attacks all have their own, unique sound effects, chances are you will find and stick with one or two weapons for very long stretches of time. That means hearing the mace smash, lightning staff zap, magic bullet pew-pew, arrow explosion, etc. over and over and over again.
Survive! Mr. Cube is one part hack n’ slash action and one part roguelike. The gameplay is intuitive for new gamers and nothing new for veterans. While it might take a moment, at first, to get used to using the right stick to attack, the real challenge in mastering it comes from the fact that aiming is not as precise as you might expect from using the right stick. Several weapons are rendered all but useless because of this, while other weapons become more desired because of their ability to overcome this flaw.
From the very start, your objective is made clear: find a way out. While you don’t know where to go, you know you need to continue. So, if you find a dead end, you turn around and look for another way. Eventually, when you reach a boss portal, you realize that those are what you’re really looking for in each stage. This means you won’t always have to go through all 25 areas of each stage. However, if you’re unlucky enough, you might still have to.
At the beginning of each playthrough (after each death) and in between each stage (after each boss), you find yourself in a very small area with just a portal, the grave of your former cube, and a merchant. If you’ve just respawned as a new cube, you can check the grave for an item or potion. The merchant will sell you random items (potions, permanent upgrades, and weapons), at increasing prices, for the gold you acquire throughout the stages. This gold is the only thing that carries over to your new cube, and these are the only chances you have to spend it. So, good luck.
Where it really lacks, however, is in the multiplayer. There isn’t any, but there should be. I think the addition of multiplayer would make the game much more fun. Local or via internet, it’s the kind of game that’s begging for a multiplayer function and, actually, you could do co-op or competitive multiplayer for even more variety.
Thanks to its simplistic style, the game is very accessible. It’s also not bloody or gross, which means it’s plenty appropriate for most ages. Depending on your age, it can even give you that old, classic feeling of “easy to play, hard to master.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t give that feeling enough. The map helps you know where to go, the items are all self-explanatory, there are no friendly characters and no dialogue to keep up with.
The challenge of this game is hard to explain and hard to put into a score. That’s because much of the game is based on luck; the luck of the character you start with when you respawn, what weapons you get, what rival cubes you come across, how much of the stage map you do or don’t go through, what and how many permanent upgrades you find. Some of this is under your control, however. Don’t like the character or weapons you spawned with? Just die and draw again. There’s no penalty for starting over again immediately. Keep doing this until you’re happy.
For the most part, you will naturally come across several permanent upgrades and hearts (lives, essentially) while exploring to find your way to the next stage. While they seem not too important early on, as the game starts off fairly easy, if you fail to get basically as many as possible before you get to The Frozen Ruins, you will stand no chance.
This is for a few reasons. First, while the first three areas slowly ramp up in difficulty, never seeming too difficult if you have weapons you’re happy with, the final stage increases the difficulty at an explosive rate. Second, graphical glitches that may or may not present themselves in the third stage, The Flaming Canyon, are abundant in The Frozen Ruins. This includes trees and rocks disappearing, causing you to become stuck on things you can’t see. Projectile attacks also begin to disappear, making it harder to avoid them from enemies, or to land your own.
Finally, and this happens so frequently that I’m not sure if it’s a glitch or if it’s on purpose but it’s very frustrating, there are demon-like enemies that will suddenly, “attach” themselves to you, and follow you no matter what you do, like your party’s angels in EarthBound, until you stop. Then they attack. It’s enraging.
The trophies are insanely easy to acquire though. I had about 80% of them in less than an hour and had the platinum in my first or second session.
Basically, some things and parts are overly simplified and too easy, and some aspects and possible problems make it overly difficult.
The game’s main driving force is getting to the end, to find a way out, and possibly to discover where you’ve been and why. Unfortunately, this means that there isn’t a whole lot of replay value in the game once you’ve beaten it. Of course, I have not yet beaten it as The Frozen Ruins destroy me every time I get there. So, some of this is based on some speculation. However, having played a dozen or so hours, I can say the game gets a bit repetitive. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the game has more playability than it does replayability.
Survive! Mr. Cube doesn’t try to do anything unique. Sometimes, when you really love a game, series, or genre, you don’t want to blaze a new trail. Sometimes, you just want to make a game that you can enjoy like you enjoy those games. This game plays like a softer and less complex Diablo. However, as I stated before, it’s a good rogue-lite game to get a youngster started with. It would likely be unique to those under a certain age, which is who it would appeal to most, anyway.
My Personal Grade: 4/10
Survive! Mr. Cube is almost a really good game. It feels not quite finished, though. It doesn’t have enough depth. The usual drive to find new and better weapons almost doesn’t exist, as it’s rare to come across new and better weapons. The cutesy style appeals more to the young than the seasoned player. Without experience to gain, there isn’t much to get you to explore beyond those few things. Since the common treasure chests, skull chests, only contain potions and gold, there isn’t much to keep you searching for them. So, you spend the majority of your time in each area looking for the special chests, the mini-boss enemy, and/or the rival cube. Rinse and repeat until you find the boss portal.
As someone who grew up with the likes of Diablo II and who recently, thoroughly enjoyed Rogue Legacy, I just don’t think I am the target audience for Survive! Mr. Cube. However, for someone who might be too young or inexperienced for those or similar games, Survive! Mr. Cube would likely be a very good introduction to the genre.
Having said that, if this release were treated a bit more like a beta, which I suppose it’s too late for, and certain elements were added, such as more varied and frequent weapons, maybe armor and/or accessories, and a multiplayer function, even if only local. These would make this game far more appealing to a wider and more experienced audience.
We are happy to thank Intragames for reaching out to TWRM at the cusp of their branching out into the North American region and for offering us a copy of their game for review. We hope they continue to find success across the world
Aggregated Score: 5.0
The ABXY Mage leads a double life of unfathomable smoothness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can find this hip cat as ABXY Reviews on Twitter and on YouTube.
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