You can also upgrade LEO with different abilities, such as a spread shot that fires weaker bullets in an escalating arc around you, or reverse shots which fire in the opposite direction to the way you shoot. You can also unlock different balances between offensive and defensive capabilities, and boost your abilities in-game by collecting icons dropped following combo attacks.
It all sounds like a game with lots of theoretical depths, but the crudely frustrating gameplay steamrollers all nuance under a barrage of infuriating mayhem. This isn't the mercurial lunacy of Jeff Minter's divisive Space Giraffe, where there were at least solid rules and compelling gameplay rhythms behind the weed-tinged psychedelic smokescreen, but a bludgeoning sensory assault where luck overrides judgment at every turn.
It's not even that the game is poorly balanced, but that there's often no balance at all. Adding insult to injury, the visuals look ugly, cheap and bland rather than stylishly simple, and the decision to spray the entire play area with incongruous splashes of gore renders the already-unavoidable enemies and projectiles even harder to spot as the chaos escalates.
This immediate brick wall is made all the more off-putting thanks to design that favours mindless grinding over skill-based progression. After each round you earn coins. If you want to play the next level, you need to pay for it. Want to unlock the next gameworld? Pay for it. Do you need a different ability to beat a level? Hey, what a surprise, you'll be paying for that as well.
You earn 1000 coins if you manage to achieve a gold, silver or bronze medal, but once that's done you can only ever earn scraps from replaying that stage. A five-minute war of attrition can net you just a few hundred coins, and in a game where almost everything is priced in the thousands that means one purchasing mistake, such as unlocking an untested ability, can lead to a joyless trawl as you hammer the same brutal sections over and over to rebuild your reserves and unlock the thing you actually needed.
Don't go looking to the multiplayer menu for a respite from the sophomoric design either, because the absence of balance breaks even this element. If you don't have the homing attack upgrade then you might as well not even bother playing, as you'll be pulverised in seconds. If you have got this upgrade then you end up doing what everyone else does: bunkering down in a corner of the map and blasting anyone who comes near. That's assuming you can even get a game started, since the servers are already a ghost town just over a week after release.
Taken along with the equally wonky 0 Day Attack on Earth, which also wrongly assumed that shooter fans enjoy mindless repetition and sadistic difficulty spikes, it seems Square Enix doesn't understand this genre. The best shooters are a dance of destruction, transforming the player into a graceful ballerina pirouetting through curtains of laser death with studied poise and flair. DEATH BY CUBE instead turns you into a balloon animal and throws you into a moshpit filled with rusty nails.
The sad truth is that there are better looking, better designed twin-stick shooters on the Indie Games channel for a fraction of the price, produced by inspired individuals who have moved on from Beat the Blockoids. Give them your Microsoft Points instead.
3 / 10