The problem with retro-inspired games is that they tend to be too similar to products I know and love. Instead of giving these titles a fair shake, all my brain wants to do is compare them to the games of the past. To make matters worse, these homage pieces don't get the benefit of rose-colored glasses. This usually leaves me cold; disappointed that the developers couldn't come up with their own ideas.
This fate nearly befell We Are Cubes, a Vectrex-style action game with more than a passing resemblance to Tempest. The first few rounds were met with a never-ending series of unfair comparisons, each taking me out of the game more than the last. Why are my bullets so slow? Why is everything so flat? Where are all the llamas?
It got to the point where I had to put the game down and do something else.
I'm glad I took the break, because We Are Cubes is ultimately worth warming up to. It has a simple concept that combines the aforementioned Tempest with Capcom's Buster Bros. series. The result is the kind of fast-paced shooter that Jeff Minter made his money peddling.
As a cube, you spend your time at the bottom of the screen shooting boxes, triangles and other shapes. Sometimes these bad guys will split into several smaller shapes, so players will need to stay on their toes from beginning to end. It starts out slow, but quickly ramps up until the cube simply can't take any more. The longer you go, the more chaotic the action gets.
We Are Cubes starts you out with painfully slow bullets. Missing your shot means that you'll have to wait until the bullet leaves the screen before shooting again. This can be especially frustrating when dealing with baddies closing in on your territory. Thankfully there are a few power-ups and items to get you out of those sticky situations. The laser, for example, cuts through a large group of enemies with no fuss. You can also freeze the enemies in place and push nearby shapes away. There are also faster bullets, though you'll have to make the limited supply count.
Beyond being a solid shooter, We Are Cubes also works as a competitive high score challenge. The game has a combo system that rewards players for being strategic. There are also faux-achievements and a number of unlockables scattered throughout. We Are Cubes also features the traditional Arcade mode, as well as the trickier Survival mode. And don't forget about the two-player mode. There's a surprising amount of content for not much money.
With its good looks and fast-paced gameplay, We Are Cubes is an easy game to recommend. It manages to pull ideas from some of my favorite arcade cabinets, while also maintaining its own voice. And unlike most of those old Vectrex games, We Are Cubes didn't leave me with a giant headache.
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