Design Bites: Cubetractor

The "Design Bites" series is about learning or appreciating just one design element of one game. It's about applying an analytical eye, even if it doesn't touch on everything.

What's Cubetractor?

Cubetractor is a tower-building action puzzle game with bullet-hell elements developed and released by Ludochip in mid 2013. The player character pulls cubes along the ground, combining them into structures like turrets, barricades and many others. The goal is to destroy all enemies, either with turrets or by crushing them.

What's Awesome?

Games with levels will often feature a grade system, where the player gets a star rating or grade letter at the end of each level based on their performance. This feature is often used to motivate the player to replay levels to beat their old performances. Most of the time this amounts to encouraging players to take on restrictions to increase multipliers, or find point-maximising strategies. Cubetractor makes great use of this feature with cleverly designed optional mechanical difficulty. Here's an example:

Early Cubetractor towers fire very. slowly. So their bullets are very easy to dodge. Because of this, it's trivial to get past most of the early levels with a little patience.

But if you want to get that Master Rating, you're going to have to live a little more dangerously.

Pulling the cubes in quick succession, all while dodging the odd tower shot, makes Cubetractor a lot more challenging. Moving cubes hurt you if you touch them so you essentially create more projectiles for yourself to dodge - especially true in later levels where the hail of bullets really kicks in.

The key here is that the level is not hard on its own, instead it becomes hard when the player chooses to make it so. It's not a discrete difficulty setting - the player makes a choice to increase the mechanical difficulty for themselves and they feel damn cool doing it