The rise of indie roguelike titles has been substantial this generation. More and more games are adopting this concept of dying and losing everything, save for a couple small things and the experience you gained as a player. Ideally, the next run goes a little better, and the one after that goes a little better too.
Eventually, through either skill or sheer luck, you make it to the end. Or, more likely, you die and start over. Survive! Mr. Cube is a roguelike from Intragames, a Korean studio that brings us a title which embraces the concept of the genre wholeheartedly. Does this game push you to see it through to the end, or will you leave Mr. Cube to his fate?
A Light and Simple Loop
I have mixed feelings about roguelikes, but I have played plenty of games that strike a balance between the permadeath elements and mechanics that carry over into each run. For me, there needs to be some sort of ongoing element that makes me feel like I’m making tangible progress through each run.
Survive! Mr. Cube has an interesting premise but it doesn’t follow through with the story until the game’s end. You play as a newlywed man who, after a night at the pub, come across a stranger that offers him a pill. Without any explanation, our character decides to take the pill.
When he wakes up, he’s in another dimension with only a strange merchant. It is here that you begin your journey to escape this strange world. What’s odd, is that after each death, you start again as a new character. There’s no explanation as to who these people are, or if they are all variations of the the original Mr. Cube.
A small cutscene plays between each of your deaths, and while it’s the same every time, it once again brings up more questions than it answers. The concept of constantly waking up as someone new is actually really interesting, and it could have brought about some compelling story elements surrounding the origins of these characters or perhaps the fact that they are all parallel version of the this Mr. Cube, but none of these things are really explored.
WIthout a story to carry things forward, it’s up to the gameplay to keep you coming back. Survive! Mr. Cube places you in the shoes of a fresh character each time you die. These characters are randomized and come with one of many different weapons.
A small gravestone next to your starting point offers an item from your last character to get you going, and the aforementioned merchant will sell you an item before you head into the gauntlet. The only thing that really carries over from run-to-run are the coins you’ve gathered.
Even if you make it to the game’s later realms, complete with new hubs, you’ll still find yourself all the way back at the beginning when you spawn again. After getting through the first world and defeating the boss, I was shocked and disappointed when the game took me all the way back.
I know roguelikes are meant to be permadeath, but I think a checkpoint between each realm would have been reasonable from a pacing perspective, especially because the path through each realm is far from linear.
As you explore the randomly generated areas, you’ll come across enemies, treasure chests, and towers that become portals when destroyed. These portals take you to other areas of the realm, and some areas have multiple portals. Since there’s only one path forward, I found myself running into some dead ends, which again, would be fine if there was any kind of checkpoint after each realm.
Hardcore roguelike elements aside, Survive! Mr. Cube has a simple twin-stick combat system that actually worked pretty well for me. By aiming the right stick, you can swing, stab, slam, or shoot enemies from all sides.
It’s a little clunky when enemies come at you from diagonal angles, especially if you’re stuck with a spear, which jabs wildly in a single direction, but overall I liked the combat system. Chests often contain potions as well, which restore health or stamina and even add buffs on movement speed or strength. You can even find health and stamina upgrades during your run.
Most of the enemies are pretty easy to take out, depending on your weapon, but other cube people will pose the largest threat. These enemies have a lot of health and do a lot of damage, so they can quickly put an end to your run.
All of these elements are a little clunky, but they work well. In fact, I found myself playing for long periods of time with this simple and fun gameplay loop. Unfortunately, it all kind of breaks down when you consider how much of it is based on luck.
Since there’s no way to know which weapon you will start with, some of your runs are doomed from the get-go. When you do receive a strong weapon, it’s surprisingly easy to cleave your way through the game. This element of chance could have worked well if there was more balance to it, but as it stands you’re just going to have to hope the game doesn’t shoot you in the foot before you even start.
Plenty of Cubes to Go Around
Survive! Mr. Cube uses a voxel art style that relies on simple geometry and fairly barren environments with simple set dressing. It looks fine and it runs well, but the language barrier quickly rears its ugly head.
Text in the game is often rife with typos and confusing grammar. I try to be as forgiving as possible with this kind of stuff, especially with smaller studios, but there are moments when a bad typo can ruin the immersion.
In this case, typos appear in loading screens, cutscenes, and even in the game’s trophies. It doesn’t directly affect the gameplay in this case, but it’s a flaw with the presentation nonetheless.
Despite these issues, I did have a good time with Survive! Mr. Cube. It has the elements of a really unique roguelike, but it makes a few too many missteps to be a solid recommendation. That being said, if you’re curious and you find it on a sale, it may be worth a look.
Final Score: 6.0/10
A copy of Survive! Mr. Cube was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 8/18/18