There’s a famous saying that I picked up somewhere, and it goes like this: “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king”. Now bear with me here, because I’m going to work the spirit of that saying into my opening for CUBERS: Arena, a new game from TomiGames. Now, as the name suggests, the majority of the inhabitants of the world of this game are cubes, except for the character we play. Our character is a sphere, and is called Baller. And “In the land of the cubes, the round man is king”.
So, the developers describe this game as “an electrifying arena brawler/twin stick slasher game”, and to be fair that is a pretty good description. Being a ball, Baller can use his shape to his advantage in battle, allowing him to roll in one direction while attacking in another – a feat his more cuboid enemies find tricky. You see, Baller has decided that he’s had enough of being a slave, and would quite like to win his freedom. The only obstacle to him achieving this is a pile of enemies and bosses, if he can beat those, he can go free. What could be easier?
Well, as it turns out, rocket science and brain surgery. Starting off with only basic weapons, Baller must enter the variety of arenas, all with their own peculiar foibles, and dispense spherical justice to all comers. Hitting enemies with a sword will do to start, but soon he will need not only better weapons, but better armour and attacks as well. Luckily, as Baller battles through the various waves of bad guys (usually three waves of enemies per level), he will receive gold at the end of each wave, alongside some arena tokens. Now, as luck would have it, just outside the area where Baller does his battling there’s a blacksmith selling new gear, and a nice snazzy set of armour, a shield and a dirty great axe are pretty much what the doctor ordered. Once enough arena tokens have been amassed, Baller can use these to upgrade the gear he currently has, so sometimes it’s better to make your existing gear stronger than it is to buy a new set, for instance.
In addition, as Baller gains levels and gets stronger, there is a bloke who will teach him new moves once he gains a high enough level. The first of these is unlocked from the start, and is a kind of ground pound move that damages multiple enemies. Getting all the enemies chasing Baller in a certain direction before unleashing this attack is a bit of a pro tip, so give it a try. With new attacks ranging from this ground pound to a rain of fireballs, getting Baller stronger is certainly the key to success.
This then is the sum of the single player game. Fight in an arena, gain coin, buy better gear, fight in an arena again, rinse and repeat. Well, that is, except for the bosses that you have to face, one for each of the four arenas. These are typically screen-filling affairs, and a real step up in difficulty; don’t expect to take these guys down easily. In order to beat the first boss, I had to go back a few steps and grind the easier levels, even though completing a stage again gives only half the amount of EXP and gold. And it’s here that the essential sameness of the single player campaign begins to bite, as once you’ve fought in one arena you’ve really seen all the game has to offer. I mean, sure, there are different amounts of enemies, and various arena layouts with traps and things to overcome, but there is no point where I had to stop and say “This is awesome!”. Instead, it was more a case of tedium setting in, to be brutally honest.
Luckily, there is a multiplayer aspect to CUBERS and, as is so often the case, this does add a little spice to the proceedings. There are two types of multiplayer in this (as in many games) – co-op and PvP. Playing co-op allows a friend to sit on the couch next to you and battle the hordes of enemies with you. This can make some of the tougher levels a lot easier, even if you do then have to compete for the many power-ups that the crowds throw in. The second type of match, PvP, sees you fighting against your friend, either in a sparring match, which is pretty much deathmatch, right up to playing Dodgeball. These multiplayer modes expand the life of the game, there’s no doubt.
Graphically and things works well, with an almost Minecraft look to the enemies and allies outside the arena. Everything moves at a fair old lick too, without slowing down, even when several hundred cuboid enemies seem intent on stomping Baller into the arena floor. The sound is pretty much as you’d expect – whistling swords and meaty thumps as Baller lays the smack down, and it all does a reasonable job of making you want to have one more go, for a while at least.
In conclusion, CUBERS: Arena on Xbox One is a game that, while not setting the world on fire with innovative ideas, does just enough to make it onto the “recommend” side of my personal gaming scales. If you have a friend to play with then you are sorted as it is best played in company, but the single player campaign can be fun too, if a trifle repetitive. It’s pretty much the definition of “middle of the road” gaming, but it’s fun for short blasts.