There’s a point when a genre moves from tried and tested to tired and tested and, for me, the ‘sokoban’ crate-pushing game is definitely in that category. There’s only so many ways that you can push a crate around another crate.
It probably doesn’t make me the ideal person to review Cube Raiders, which is – at its cubic core – a crate pusher. But we’re ready to leave our notions at the door and, regardless, Cube Raiders brings some new ideas to the table. Or, more specifically, old ideas repurposed from a PS1 favourite; Cube Raiders raids from Devil Dice, and replaces the sokoban-style crates with dice. So, instead of moving crates around a grid, you are pushing or rolling dice, and your aim is to connect the dice together with the same number on the upward faces. It feels intensely familiar, probably because it’s sliced two established games down the middle and glued them together, but there’s enough alchemy between the genres to make it worthwhile.
There are a fair few modes in which Cube Raiders can be played. The first is Adventure, which offers a generous 100 levels, and is effectively the solo puzzle mode. Then there’s Cooperative, which is a puzzle mode for two, and Duel, which is a real-time fight to create more connecting dice than your opponent. This is the most Devil Dice-like of the bunch. Finally, there’s an Endless mode, which takes the Duel mechanics, but pits you against the clock.
Adventure mode is where the effort has been focused. You’re given a small-ish grid, some dice and a move-limit. Moving the dice isn’t about highlighting it with a cursor; instead you’re in control of a little hobbit-like character who can jump onto blocks to roll them, or step behind them to push them. You’re told the number that all the dice should display, and then you’re away. Pressing Y resets the puzzle and RT switches to a reasonably unhelpful bird’s eye view.
Progress far enough in the puzzles and things start to shift up. New blocks appear, like ones that can’t move unless a switch-plate has been pressed, or different coloured dice. New terrain unlocks too, as you move into lava levels (chucking fireballs at you), and ice (sliding dice from one end of the arena to the other). It’s a healthy offering with 100 levels split into Backpacker, Scout and Cuberaider difficulty categories.
With this embarrassment of puzzling riches, it feels rude to say that the Adventure mode fell short. One reason is the controls, which are missing core features that would have made the game moreish. It’s lacking an ‘undo’ or ‘rewind’ function, which would have made longer puzzles more forgiving, rather than constant replays back to the start. Some puzzles need dozens of moves to complete, after all. The character is sloooow, so returning to previous progress is laborious, and there’s an increased sensitivity to the controls that makes it easy to goof when you didn’t intend it, again leading you to a long-winded restart. For a game where you fail, and fail often, these all combine to make that process infuriating.
Perhaps it’s our bias against crate-pushers, but Cube Raiders felt wearying. While the terrain shifts every twenty levels or so, it’s just not enough – every level, a new grid will appear that’s only moderately different from the last, and you’ll feel like you’re in a loop. Ultimately, the solution is going to be pushing this crate rather than that crate, and it just didn’t sustain our interest.
Progression needed to mix things up more. We were excited to move to the lava terrain, only to find that it drops fireballs on you occasionally, and that’s it. Great: we’ve only gained a new way to fail. If the terrain shifted up the mechanics dramatically, there was a chance that the 100 levels wouldn’t feel like such a chore.
Presentationally, it’s also a little lacking, with no personality to the two hobbits you pick between, and no background differences level-to-level. The music is twee and repetitious too, so we soon gave the audio slider a heave to the left.
It’s not all bad, and it’s easy to overplay the issues. The puzzle design is occasionally rewarding, as you try out something new and you find yourself at the solution. It can make you feel like a puzzling maestro, and there’s joy to be had in that. Cube Raiders can feel a bit like a double album with too much filler, but there are some really good tracks in there.
We suspect that most people won’t reach the various difficulty categories, let alone the end of the game, mainly because Void Games have been so restrictive with how they want you to progress. There are no helpful hint systems, you can’t skip a puzzle, and you can’t play any other difficulty modes until you’ve finished the previous ones. It creates the common situation where getting stuck means you can’t do a single other thing in the game mode. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by other puzzlers and how much they want you to play them, but Cube Raiders just feels a bit too old school in its approach.
The Cooperative mode, as with most games, makes the game more enjoyable, as you get to bounce off each other. It adds some nice new parameters too, as you can freeze friends to make them into blocks, and other neat touches. But the issues we’ve mentioned are worse in two-player, as one person making a mistake causes infuriation for both, and you’re both wheeled back to the start. Still, the puzzles are made from the ground up for co-op, rather than regurgitated from Adventurer, and there’s more than you’d possibly need (although we did find that achievements were borked and wouldn’t unlock in this mode).
The other two modes, Duel and Endless, are crippled by the addition of new dice being so slow. It’s fine for the latter stages, when your grid is full of dice and you’re looking to pull off super-combos, like a Tetris player who’s holding out for a line brick, but in the early game it sucks. Games take way too long to get going, and we soon got impatient with them.
Cube Raiders on Xbox is a choc-a-block package, with more levels and modes than you’ll possibly need. As sokoban-style crate-pushers go, it’s well-designed too, with a punt at originality by incorporating dice. But it needed way more oomph and variety to break the feelings of repetition. Hundreds of levels won’t mean much when you roll out well before the end.