When the chance came to review Cuboid Keepers, it was something I decided to jump at. Though all my skills circling and using my fingers in tandem in a coordinated manner didn’t translate all that well from my private life, the beautiful display had at least granted me a small pleasure. It made me sort of good at twin-stick shooters. Opening up the Steam page of Cuboid Keeper, I was met with images of colourful shots that filled the screen, in what promised to be a challenging, bullet-hell-like game. Having already decided I was interested, that was the moment I accepted the challenge. And challenging it was.
In Cuboid Keeper you must dodge, shoot, and blast your way through a series of arena-like levels. With every stage you’re put in a chamber and your goal is simple, survive. What at first might seem simple, quickly scales up, and soon to say your opposition swamps you. That would be putting it nicely, which, after a couple dozen deaths on one of the later stages, you might not be so inclined to do. You’re not given much time between rows of enemies come at you from all directions and you must quickly clean a way out of the rapidly approaching enemies, dodging, weaving, and causing chaos in your wake, as you burst holes in their formation, a temporary reprieve as your shots pierce them, and your movement never halts. It’s nerve-gripping, it’s sweat-inducing, and it’s, above all else, great fun.
There are some games which require a great deal of skill, thought, and planning; there are others that require dedication, patience, and spare controllers, and then there’s Cuboid Keeper, where thinking will get you killed, and dedication will dampen your chances. Cuboid Keeper is not a game where pondering is important, Cuboid Keeper is an experience in instinct and reflexes where the mind must be occupied by shapes, sounds, and shots, and the thumbs must move automatically. Mindless is often used as an insult, but it is the biggest compliment I could possibly give Cuboid Keeper. It’s mindless, it’s pure consumer grade reflex-honing, balls to the wall, action. Everything in the game pumps you up to go ballistic. And I love it for it.
Story is important to me, though it can often be inconsequential. I’ve admitted before that I play a lot of platformers, and if story isn’t there, it’s no big deal, but a good story pulls me in, and hooks me. Cuboid Keeper’s story kept me playing through the game, doing what it could to make me play stage after stage after stage. It was a tale that knew just when to cut – baiting me into unlocking the very next part through beating a stage. The amount of character, wit, and lore displayed through every set of lines unlocked by beating the next stage made what seemed like a slow beginning worth getting through. Though I wouldn’t call it deep, there’s a charm and premise that pushed me into reading it. What was at first flavor text, easily skippable or forwarded through at the beginning of stages, soon became a reward all unto its own.
What defined my time with Cuboid Keeper, was not the interesting story, and perhaps that’s what surprising about my time with it. While the story was good and kept me coming back, the gameplay was what actually turned the time I spent with Cuboid Keeper fun. Those brief moments of pause between levels didn’t give time for literary analysis, and the moment the stage started, my hands were moving, and the focus was not on the justification on what I was doing, but rather the action itself.
The game really recommends a controller, but in my mad dash through stages, in my constant repetition of the game, I did just fine with keyboard controls. It says something about the quality of the game that either control method works, and both of them engaged me such that I did not feel the cramps and numbness set in. While my hands would eventually tingle, such was the speed of my fingers, there wasn’t any regret on my part.
Cuboid Keepers was sold to me as a bullet-hell kind of game, and while it’s not as complex as some other entries in that genre, if I was looking for bullets that filled the screen in patterns, I was not disappointed. Mostly reserved for boss fights, those rare events made me clamp up. While they were the part of the game I was looking forward to the most, I won’t lie and say that the change in pace, carefully maneuvering, and positioning myself so as to not get caught in the crossfire, didn’t strike me as something I found as enjoyable as the rest. Don’t get me wrong, it still filled me with a sense of pride, a sense of satisfaction that would be hard to deny. It probably speaks more of my irreverent lack of thinking things through, that I want to go and cause mayhem or fall down trying, but those slightly slower moments, while still testing my skills, didn’t test my reflexes.
The main gameplay innovation over every game of this genre is the ability to customise or build your ship, it’s like the Gummi ship from Kingdom Hearts. It’s as customizable as a stage editor, you can add or remove blocks, which you get by grinding away in the game, unlocking more and more blocks to add to the ship. The parts are either more shooty bits or life bars to place on the ship, something I ended up not investing too heavily into it.
While the temptation to build a guns-a-blazing monstrosity that rains down death, or to make the Guardian, your ship, into a shape found in every male public bathroom. I decided to keep it small, bigger doesn’t always mean better, as some might claim, in more ways than one. Overcompensating teetered on the risky because by increasing your firepower you also increase your size and was expensive to get the parts. Small but accurate, as some felt the need to dub my reference game, was deadly. There’s no right or wrong way to play Cuboid Keeper, there is an effective way, and a less effective way, but one can make their own tactics.
Cuboid Keeper holds itself as, above all, fun. Hours passed before I noticed. The action is so engrossing and engaging I forgot I needed to take screenshots or notes about the game I was reviewing. I don’t begrudge it for that, while every level has an Easy Mode and a Hard Mode, what they both have in common is this one thing, it’s a fun game, and, above all else, an even better escape.
Cuboid Keeper was developed and published by Ottropi Games
It’s available on Steam for $6.99
A review copy was provided by the Developer.
Mcportugalem has awarded Cuboid Keeper the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.