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Hands-on: Death by Cube (XBLA)

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It's possible that you'll be put off by Death by Cube when you notice the phrase "twin stick shooter" in its description; however, quick-to-judge players will miss out on one of the most creative titles in the genre's recent history. While Death by Cube doesn't revolutionize an overdone genre, Square Enix has provided one of the more memorable experiences I've had on XBLA since first playing Geometry Wars.

Gallery: Death by Cube | 17 Photos

Where Death by Cube differs from a game like Geometry Wars is how the enemies react when they spawn within the battle arena. While, in GeoWars, some enemies behave differently and creating obstacles for the player, every enemy in Death by Cube rushes directly at the player at top speed. Death by Cube utilizes a dash ability that leaves an outline of your character in its place, leaving these attackers stunned and vulnerable to quick execution. When I graduated to enemies with weapons, holding down a shield button allowed me to catch enemy fire and send it hurling back at them, before the entire collection overloaded and killed my character in the process. These two features provide you with clever and fun strategic options at all times.

Each room in Death by Cube is a crisp, white, top-down grid. Usually this wouldn't be notable, but here every defeated enemy bursts into a cloud of dark blood (or perhaps they have a penchant for fueling up with spaghetti sauce). The look of each clean room, padded with crimson memories of each downed enemy, looks fantastic. Sadly, the marks of anarchy do disappear quite quickly.

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Beyond regular challenge rooms, Death by Cube also features protection levels -- where you're tasked with protecting a tower from a horde of enemies -- and destruction levels, where you'll through enemy waves to destroy a home base. As you progress, you collect points which can be used to unlock new levels, one of which -- later in our demo -- introduced a giant death-dealing laser power-up.

Twin stick shooters might be the "World War II setting" equivalent of downloadable titles on Xbox Live Arcade, but spending time within Death by Cube's adorable, somewhat twisted rooms only whets my appetite for more.

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