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Death by Cube

The square root of pain.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Back in the giddy early years of the British home computer revolution, like so many of my generation I was lured into the world of BASIC programming by the ZX Spectrum and those voluminous type-in listings from Sinclair User and Your Sinclair. My enthusiasm for coding petered out before my 12th birthday, but I did manage to save two wonky homebrew efforts to a C30 tape before my interest in the mystic runes of GOSUB and INKEY waned.

The first was a crude text adventure called Worm (it was about a worm) and the second was Beat the Blockoids. In this homespun classic of user-defined graphics and rudimentary processing you had to guide a tiny stickman across an empty screen. With every step, a scowling Blockoid spawned somewhere on the map, occasionally blocking your path but just as often appearing on top of the exit or directly underneath you, ensuring that victory was almost completely random. I was very proud of myself.

I don't know what twist in space-time made it possible, but somehow that dusty old cassette must have made its way to Japan, and the offices of Premium Agency and its publisher, Square Enix, because the annoyingly capitalised DEATH BY CUBES is nothing if not Beat the Blockoids re-imagined as a twin-stick shooter. It's not just the recurring cuboid motif that tips me off but the fact that, against all logic, the developers have retained my naively awful gameplay mechanic of repeatedly killing the player by spawning lethal enemies under their feet with no warning.

Well, at least they're honest.

The story, such as it be, is that you are LEO, an amnesiac robot. All he knows is that he must rescue his beloved, SELSIE. He does this by fighting through seven worlds filled with malevolent cubes (and some other robots but obviously DEATH BY CUBES AND SOME OTHER ROBOTS doesn't make for a snappy title). There are various level types to battle past. The bread-and-butter levels require you to defeat successive waves of enemies. Others ask that you defend towers from relentless attack. Some are simple survival rounds where you last as long as you can with one life.

All are blighted by design that is punishing rather than playful, exhausting rather than exhilarating. The game brings new meaning to the word "spam" as it constantly hurls dozens of enemies at you from all sides, each capable of taking off huge chunks of health with each touch. Then there are the enemies that shoot at you as well, filling the screen with waves of deadly projectiles, some of which have homing capability.

By way of defence you can use the left trigger to perform a dash move, which makes you temporarily invincible and leaves the enemies in your wake in a state of brief vulnerable confusion. The right trigger activates a shield that can absorb enemy fire and then spew it back out again once the trigger is release. Slurp up too many shots without discharging and you explode, losing one of your six lives.