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'Rogue Cube' is a twin-stick shooter that’s kind of square

by Nick Black Disclaimer: This review is of the Nintendo Switch version of the game. When reviewing a game like Rogue Cube, or looking back on any particular memory, one of the first things that comes to your mind is frustration due to a psychological phenomenon known as “The Negativity Bias.” It’s the concept that positive experiences will have less of an impact on your memory and personality as compared to the effects negative experiences will have. This applies to all aspects of life, from hanging out with your friends to watching a movie to even playing a video game. Now, what does this all have to do with Rogue Cube? Simply put, Rogue Cube is a fun indie game that has a lot of passion put into making it, and you can see and feel that when you play it. I would probably recommend it depending on your tastes, but I most likely will never play it again, because of how frustrating it was to beat it.

Roguelike Rogue Cube

Rogue Cube is a top-down action adventure game published by Ratalaika Games and developed by Bipolar Dawn, it is available for Switch, PS4, and XBOX ONE. The game more specifically fits the roguelike genre of action adventure. Think Binding of Isaac; similar to that, in Rogue Cube you play from a top-down perspective using ranged attacks to defeat enemies. The game is randomly generated, so you don’t know in advance what specifically is ahead or what abilities you will get. And to beat the game you have to reach the last level of the dungeon by defeating the final boss like you're a kid playing Ghosts ‘n Goblins in 1985. What I mean by that is that the game can get brutally hard, and if you die, it’s straight back to level one with you.
Image from Nintendo
It’s a small game, with a simple goal and objective. You start out by picking one of three different colored cartoon cubes (along with 6 unlockable ones later in the game), each with their own distinct abilities, with a goal of killing every enemy on a floor. Repeat this for each of the three floors per world (with the exception of in between bosses and in the final world) and you win. The catch is, it has to be a clean sweep. If you die once, it is back to level 1 for you. This may make it sound like a short game; the campaign is only 11 worlds, four of which only consist of a boss room. But that is where the fun of the game comes from; it’s a quick game with a lot of replayability when it comes to how you want to beat it. Every run, you get to try different characters, weapons, and tactics. You can master all the characters and unlock every secret just for the sugar rush of dopamine it creates. I won’t lie, for a five-dollar game I was very surprised and happy with what was offered, especially in the music department. There are some pretty good retro tracks for anyone who likes the Roguelike genre. However, my grievances come from the fact that despite all that replayability, I’m probably never going to pick it up again now that I have beaten the whole thing.

Old-school shoot 'em up

As I mentioned before, the game is a top-down twin-stick shooter. Usually this entails a fast-paced, action-packed style of gameplay with an emphasis on getting better and better. And while the drive to get better is present in the game, what makes Rogue Cube truly stand out is its gameplay, namely its emphasis on analyzing, corner peaking, and playing it safe. The more I played the game, the more I realized certain strategies would get me killed faster depending on what character I was playing. Each character in the game not only has different starting stats but also, as you play through the game getting EXP, your level ups are different for each character. So, certain strategies will be more beneficial depending on your character — some characters will be stronger with certain weapon types and others get more health and speed bonuses. These differences in strategy based on character go towards the game's replay benefit when you also add its more than decent weapon selection.
Image from Nintendo
You can only have two weapons at a time, and the majority of these weapons are a whole bazaar bargain of guns in different categories that vary from realistic to wonderfully ridiculous. To get a new gun you have to find certain large, colored chests that randomly spawn around the level and sometimes in the wall. Because of the fast pace of the game, and the fact that you can get a game over so quickly, I felt really encouraged to experiment and try out different weapons. I was happy with the result, as there are some really creative guns in here (my personal favorite being the rainbow gun which can clear out some very annoying rooms early on). But as I kept replaying the game, I found after my second hour that there was really only one universal way to play the game. Two simple words: Be cautious. Running into a room of enemies is what gets you killed, and in the case of some characters, it will take only one or two bullets or hits to drop you. So, the strategy that will give the most long-term success is to camp doorways to rooms, and cornerpeak at enemies until the room is clear. And while I do enjoy the unique way the game works, it does mean that soon you will always play with the same weapons using the same strategy as late-game levels will spawn so many enemies that there is little incentive to play aggressive only to die five seconds after. I always knew what weapons to pick up on any new run if I was going to win: Shotgun for close range high damage and plasma cannon for high damage, plus the ability to ricochet my bullets to shoot behind walls. And trust me, the game knows these are the best picks because there’s even a hint on the loading screen that says “the shotgun is dope.”  Very similar to Binding of Isaac as well, you will soon realize just how bad some weapons are and never touch them. For example, melee weapons are never of use in this game; you will die in mere seconds if you try to use them. Even characters who get tons of bonuses for melee damage, like the ninja, aren’t fun to play with because of how fast you can die at any point of the run. On future playthroughs with other characters, I found I always just skipped weapons to get to the good stuff, and because of the RNG (Random Number Generator) of the game you can be stuck with trash for the entire run, which can basically lead to a guaranteed game over.

When the robot just hates you

Image from Nintendo
Let’s talk about that Random Number Generator, by the way. The majority of the game's biggest flaws come from its RNG system. The game can spawn next to no enemies or 500 on any given floor; you can never predict how many will be on a floor or in a room no matter how small the space is. Thus, depending on what character or level you are playing, that can put you into some really unfair situations. Sometimes you won’t even get a weapon with which to fight. I once got as far as the end of the second world before getting a gun chest. I don’t care if I just need to “get good” in that scenario; in fact, I got through it and was able to beat the boss after, but I knew while I was playing that the game was progressing not as intended. Remember when I said chests sometimes spawn into walls? That is also quite a prevalent issue. While ammo is readily available (that is, depending on the RNG), you can get destroyed by not having certain ammo types spawn. This makes checking every chest at the end of a level a must so you have as many resources as you can. But what makes scavenging annoying is when locked doors don’t have chest keys spawn on either the same or previous floor, leaving it perpetually locked and teasing you. Or when the level exit spawns and just straight up cuts into a hallway leading to a chest, siphoning a potential weapon you may have wanted to try. But those are just minor nit-picks with the RNG, right? Even Binding of Isaac has annoyances because of its RNG, and sometimes the game just doesn’t let you get abilities or upgrades that are anywhere close to good. Not going to lie, that can be really frustrating and discouraging in any game that relies heavily on a randomizer-based system. But what makes me want to quit playing the game and throw the controller across the floor is when the RNG kills me as soon as I start a level. Sometimes you will spawn in a level directly in the line of sight of enemies in another room and instantly die, as health carries over from floor to floor. So, if you have one to three health left, you can instantly die in some cases without getting a fair shot. And this is not a one-time scenario — all of the previously mentioned scenarios are regular occurrences. All of them have a strong chance of happening on a good margin of your playthroughs. Plus, that’s not even mentioning some of the bosses who can just instantly end runs depending on the weapons you have. Even then, the first two bosses are really easy, it’s only the last two that really give an interesting and fun challenge. But depending on the character, the first two can be really bullet spongey, so that can also degrade interest in repeat playthroughs since the bosses are always the same. It’s funny, I gifted this game to some friends on Switch and we all found that we got so tired of the first two bosses that we all picked the riskiest character in the game to get them over with as fast as possible. Everyone picked the Purple Square for his flat triple damage across the board. Who cares if he can get one shot by any boss? The Purple Square cuts enemy health like a hot blade going through melted butter, beating bosses in less than ten seconds. In fact, we realized we could probably beat the entire game in less than ten minutes if we got the right weapons fast enough. Which ended up being the case for me, and this was good because I only had one run left in me after getting shot through a wall on the last level before the boss.

End cap: end game

With all of that said, and I can't stress this enough, I actually had a really good time with it. I was happy and satisfied when I beat the final boss; I felt great that I completed it. It’s a game that pushes you to improve and get better, and I always enjoy games that can give me that drive to beat it. However, I had no urge to continue on after I beat the final boss; once the credits scrolled I had no drive to try again. I think with everything I’ve said about the RNG and the way the game rewards the stay-safe and play patient strategy, I felt I didn’t need to play through it again. Every run is bound to be similar, right down to what upgrades I would get depending on my character.
Image from Nintendo
Now this can be considered a plus to the game, considering that in something like Isaac the game can give you junk and practically force you to play the game in a low power state. But Isaac has a plus with its RNG in that every run can feel unique. In Isaac there is no one true strategy; the strategy forms from what you get and how you adapt. Rogue Cube is very one note — it’s the same gameplay style and same all-around mechanic in very specific orders. Every character will start with the same stats, same power-ups, and go through the same gimmicks. The variety is somewhat lacking, but still commendable considering the size and price of the game. However, it is a problem when it comes to the game’s longevity. The game has daily challenges and even a challenge mode, but I know it’s going to feel like the previous campaign, just with a few extra gimmicks or tricks. It’s not enough for me to want to complete the whole thing, challenges and all. I think if the game allowed you to keep EXP after you got a game over and extended how many levels you get from its cap of nine, it could have really helped the game attract me to play it longer. It certainly would have at least encouraged me and my friends to try characters other than Purple Cube.
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