As human beings we have an infatuation with what’s new and different, and I think it’s this infatuation that has caused the roguelike genre to thrive. By relying on random maps, a multitude of enemies and weapons, and different playable characters, there is always a sense of newness. And the popularity of them has led to a steady increase of games within the roguelike genre. The aptly named RogueCube fits the bill.
There are a few playable characters to choose from starting out, all of which are cubes of different colors with different abilities. The most basic of them can dodge while others have the ability to innately do more damage, or have a preference for certain weapons.
As the game progresses there are more characters to unlock and they don’t even have to be cubes, like a duck named Beak. Each of these characters will introduce new abilities and playstyles. For example, Beak can encase himself in an egg. While the Ninja can only use a sword and has the ability to teleport short distances.
The playstyle is fairly typical of a top-down roguelike dungeon crawler, where you start with a weapon and as you defeat enemies they drop health and items. Each level consists of a random variety of enemies to fight and once they are all defeated a gate spawns, allowing you to progress to the next level. After every few levels you’ll progress to a new area, and these are interspersed with the occasional boss fight.
There is a neat leveling system where you gain XP from picking up drops and once you level up it will grant a perk, like increased health or damage. And the game has a good bit of challenge, but the more I played, the harder it was to know whether to attribute that to the game design or game mechanics.
Right after starting RogueCube the first thing I noticed was the aiming felt off. The aiming reticle remains stationary as the character moves around it, which means the only way to aim properly is by constantly adjusting the reticle. This is something I was able to get used to but the reticle seemed to rotate awkwardly, which I didn’t care for at all. However, after going into the settings and reducing the axis deadzone and screenshake to zero, the game seemed to play smoother.
Something else I didn’t care for is when damage is taken, a game like this would typically incorporate invincibility frames, which is when you get a brief moment of invincibility after being hit so the damage doesn’t just snowball and immediately kill you. RogueCube isn’t very generous with this and it’s very easy to get caught in a toxic cloud and then just die immediately, even at full health.
Speaking of the damage system, I never know how much damage an enemy is going to deal. Sometimes I’d be at full health and then get hit once and be basically dead. Really, I would much prefer a system that has lower total health but each hit does a consistent amount of damage.
Another quirk is that the starter pistol does not have unlimited ammo, which again is not innately bad. Where this becomes an issue is that many of the weapons share the same ammo reserves, such as the pistol, shotgun, and assault rifle, which means if you are using any combination of the two you’ll run out quickly.
When a weapon does run out of ammo the next attempt to shoot automatically drops it and replaces it with a stick that does a weak attack until you find more ammo. So, depending on how unlucky you are with your ammo drops, you might just be forced to resort to melee. Another option is to pick up a melee weapon so that ammo is no longer a factor.
Besides the stick, the melee weapons I came across were a broom, a chainsaw, a pan, and a Fantasy Sword. There was also the Ninja katana but that seemed to be unique to the Ninja character. The pan feels like an ode to PUBG but the Fantasy Sword is literally Cloud’s Buster Sword from Final Fantasy. I’m all for references to other games, but when the pool of melee weapons is so small that most of them end up being reference items, it just feels a bit lazy.
Out of all the melee weapons, the chainsaw was the worst though. Not because it’s a bad weapon or hard to use, but because I managed to find it three times during my playthroughs and each time, without fail, it caused the game to crash as soon as I tried to progress to a new level. It even caused a FATAL ERROR (see image above) to popup because of an issue with the coding that seems to occur when the chainsaw is in the player’s inventory and they try to progress.
It’s upsetting because the game provides a decent challenge. There is even a co-op mode that will let you play with your friends. But it would be hard to convince a friend to join you for a session when there are plenty of games in the genre that are done better, and feel much more original. The only real reason to pick up RogueCube on Xbox One in lieu of another roguelike is for the easy Gamerscore. It’s just hard to recommend a game when it has odd mechanics and might crash whenever a specific item gets added to your inventory.