Friday, June 7, 2013

Review - Cubetractor

Cubetractor is a new 8-bit-inspired action puzzle game from indie developer Ludochip. This company is just two dudes working together, but they've got almost a decade's worth of game design experience between them. So I had high expectations going into this review.


In the game, you play as Endroi -- a robot that decides that life as a servant just isn't for him and he takes off on a grand adventure -- much to the chagrin of his designers who just want him to manage some cubes.

Instead, he strikes out into the world heroically accepting and overcoming challenges from the other robots.

Luckily for him, Wultch and the Cubemaster forgot to install a self-destruct button. So they can only sit back and lament his disruptive behavior while praying that he'll screw up and smack himself in the head with a cube.

The storyline is delightful. You spend your time trying to liberate "imprisoned" batteries from their red meanies and setting up towers to destroy the enemy infrastructure.


As simple as you can get, which is a mixed blessing. I wish things like volume were on slider and while I recognize that this game was inspired by 8-bit design, there's no excuse for not including proper aspect ratio and game options in your settings menu.

In terms of difficulty, the game only has one setting.

Movement is based on the arrow keys and you only ever need the "x" key to remove your towers if you need the resources elsewhere and the spacebar to tractor your cubes.

Mechanics and Units

You spend most of your time pulling blocks together to form towers and barricades. That's the predominant game mechanic.

However, this is deceptively simple. You have to constantly be in motion -- avoiding bullets and tower blocks that will reduce your health if you get hit.

If you need a breather, there are strategically placed rocks to hide behind. However, remember that the timer is ticking away and if you want any achievements you better keep moving.

The game gives you easy guides to help you determine which blocks you're going to move even when across the board. These guides are simple and well designed.


There are no cutscenes; only well-written whimsical dialog that gives you updates on Endroi's "waesome" life. Graphically, the game is based on 8-bit design -- so it's very blocky and the audio is tinty and reminiscent of old NES games. But it works because the nature of the game is about moving objects across a grid without actually seeing the grid. The blocky style of the graphics helps make this intuitive.


Endroi's path to greatness is just that. You get a branching path at the start of each round that grants you access to what appears to be a total of 88 different levels.

If you want to skip the dialog, you can simply hit the "x" button. Bravo to Ludo! This feature comes in handy later if you want to replay the level.

Then, you're launched into the level and the timer starts. From there, you must avoid some creeps who you can easily outrun but will aggro you if you get too close. You also must avoid bullets from towers, any obstacles that are in the way, and the very blocks you're trying to manipulate -- as they are always flying straight at you until you move out of the way.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it's not. There's a lot going on all at once and each level is designed to put you into the crossfire of multiple elements.

Though only being at most four or five minutes in length -- the levels are hectic and they get your pulse pumping. And there are times where you see the level at the beginning and think, "Oh, this will be easy," and then it turns out you have to rethink your entire strategy later on because in theory your plans sounded great but in practice they were absurd.


Replayability is going to be all about the timer. The game remembers your best time and then you can try to beat it later if you so desire. Also, there are various gold, silver, etc. achievements on each level that will challenge you to take no damage or collect all the batteries, or other such restrictions.


    The story was a blast. I was hooked on my little robot's life before we even finished the tutorial. Gameplay is fast and tricky; this is not a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination and you're going to earn your way to the end. Sometimes, the simplest solution is to pull five cubes into a tower. But because you are always thinking about building towers, some levels that take five minutes could take 30 seconds if you just think about them a little differently. I like that the game asks me to think smarter and not necessarily harder.


    Yes, they are teaching you something, but none of the tutorial levels need to be called "tutorial". Also, the naming convention of the levels is quite odd. I can see where trying to remember or tell your friend which level you were playing could be a problem. I feel very strongly that there should be aspect ratios and other graphics options in the game. I recognize they were going for a retro feel, but as game developers they need to anticipate modern needs. When you pull a cube and run behind it, you can run into it and it will harm you. You should be able to touch the cubes from behind as they're moving away from you.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes neophyte game designers use "retro" gaming as an excuse to create simplistic games using crappy graphics. I avoid such games like the plague.

This -- is not that kind of game.

This game was right up my alley: a little bit of nostalgia mixed with an engaging story and some tricky puzzles. I'm looking forward to playing more of this one and to future games from the duo at Ludo.

You can pick this game up on Steam and I would highly recommend it for anyone. This game is absolutely worth $10.

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