Most top-down shooters use a D-Pad and button setup to create tense, pixel-perfect moments where players dodge a barrage of enemy attacks while taking down their foes. MIXI challenges that notion, bringing a gyroscope aiming system into their newest game, Cubic Stars, which is also a spin-off of its signature Monster Strike series.
If the challenge of fending off surrounding enemies isn’t enticing by itself, then Cubic Stars’ chibi 3D models and retro environments might attract players interested in traditional JRPGs, which the game is fond of referencing through its visual and audio presentation.
Unfortunately, though Cubic Stars brings an interesting control scheme uncommon to the genre, the gyroscope function is poorly executed in practice. Without other features that take advantage of this control system, Cubic Stars comes off as inferior to other polished shooters that focus more on delivering a cohesive, engaging combat experience.
▍Combat and Gyro Controls
In Cubic Stars, the player controls their character through their Strikeship, which the player moves by tilting their device; a steeper tilt speed up movement, and turning the device on the side allows the player to drift. Attacks are fired automatically, locking any enemies within a certain distance around the player. Dodging enemy attacks can be performed with a quick dash, but this has a short cooldown to prevent the player from spamming it.
The player can also activate their currently controlled character’s Skill, which can be activated to provide a variety of effects at no cost, other than having to wait for it to go off cooldown. With enough time on the field, a character can even unleash a powerful Strike Skill to inflict massive damage, or provide some much-needed support to allies!
Team members are active members on the field, firing their own attacks and skills at enemies to assist the player during battle. Adding a bit of strategy into combat is the ability to combine each member of the party into a single moveable tank, with the player at the helm.
While this ability relies on moving over special tiles, being able to corral the team into a single spot can be useful if there aren’t any sources of healing available. However, it’s extremely easy to separate the team into individual units by pressing the Dash button, which might lead to accidentally separating the team with how often it’ll be pressed in gameplay.
Players can go through quests together with random people or their friends, as the multiplayer option is available right after completing the tutorial. While this feature relies on players who are on the same quest as the host, it’s a helpful safety net for struggling players.
The gyroscope controls are a gimmick that helps the game stand out, but this feature hurts the game’s playability, rather than helps it. Devices that have a damaged or faulty gyroscope sensor won’t be able to play the game, as the ability to switch to a D-Pad set up in the settings can only be done after completing the first part of the tutorial. Cubic Stars’ gyroscope sensor must also be reset if the player pauses the game and places their device down, as this will confuse Cubic Stars’ motion sensitivity.
▍A Lighthearted Tale Bordering on Silliness
Cubic Story begins when Pandora’s Box suddenly opens, absorbing monsters and characters of the series before closing itself and cutting off contact between the survivors and those trapped inside. With no other choice but to go after their missing friends, the survivors prepare for the rescue by building spaceships to quickly traverse the unknown world. The survivors have their work out for them if they want to save their friends, as the titular monsters are suddenly replaced by aggressive, cube-shaped enemies!
As a spin-off of the Monster Strike series, Cubic Stars borrows an isekai-style plot to introduce the player to the game. Though it isn’t the most serious or complex of plots, the plot fits well with the game’s casual tone that’s best enjoyed when playing with friends.
Cutscenes are fully voiced in Japanese, and character portraits are static images that move to express emotion. For a game that relies on simple environments and visuals, it was a pleasant surprise to hear each line be voiced by each character without any issues.
▍Mixed-Currency Leveling Slows Down Progression
Strengthening your characters in Cubic Story isn’t simply a matter of leveling them up to the max and being done with them, as each character has a Skill Bonus board to fill. Leveling a character needs both Coins and Character EXP, but the latter is only obtainable through completing quests; players cannot power-level a weak character by bringing them to a difficult fight.
As for a character’s Skill Bonus board, each cell can be activated by paying Coins, SP, and potentially farmable materials. SP points are limited to the character’s max level and cannot be refunded once used to activate a cell, so careless players might end up locked out of a powerful bonus if they recklessly activate smaller bonuses.
Like any traditional RPG, a character’s equipment is important in improving a character’s performance. In Cubic Stars, a character’s Strikeship provides raw stats and passive buffs to the character equipped with it. However, there isn’t any way for players to farm out more powerful Strikeships early on unless they are willing to spend gacha currency on the banner.
Players looking to maximize their characters will also need to invest in Chips, which provide small stat bonuses to whoever has it equipped. Chips play a small role in a character’s overall performance, but they can also be leveled up just like characters using Coins and Chip EXP.
The amount of grinding needed to empower even a single character conflicts with the casual tone that Cubic Stars initially created, which I assume was intended to have the player improve their skill instead of relying on raw stats to complete quests. Unfortunately, getting hit by even a single attack in the first chapter can knock out a good amount of HP. With the number of attacks that can come from enemies, an ally can drop very quickly if the player isn’t careful!
▍Visual Bugs Ruin Nostalgia-Inspiring Presentation
Cubic Stars looks to have cut some corners when compared to other mobile games released this year, and the shooter’s performance doesn’t help its case.
The gacha screen would fail to display the visual preview for its first two banners, leaving players who cannot read Japanese unsure about what they would be rolling the gacha for until after they spent their currency. Curiously, the banners that consume paid currency and tickets are just fine.
Cubic Stars also has some difficulty handling many attacks on-screen, dropping the frame rate of the game for a moment before returning to normal. It sets a discouraging precedent that this happens even on the lower-end settings, despite the shooter’s simplistic 3D visuals.
Trying to access the Shop was impossible, as you would meet a black screen and couldn’t interact with anything until the game is restarted. I can only assume that it was a compatibility issue, but it’s disappointing to see that a Samsung S21 FE would be experiencing graphical difficulties given the game’s low-performance requirements.
▍Cubic Stars Has to Go Back to the Drawing Board
Cubic Stars ends up being an unremarkable game mixed with a few interesting ideas. Using a D-Pad takes much less effort for the same level of performance, and the gyroscope sensitivity ends up woefully underused for a feature that was given a lot of focus. Monster Strike fans who are excited to try out this spin-off will likely end up disappointed, as this shooter doesn’t provide much else to players outside of paying homage to the characters of the main series.
Players who are genuinely curious about trying out Cubic Stars should temper their expectations before beginning the game. I would give Cubic Stars a rather low rate in its current state, as the inflated number of currencies to grind for and the poor performance issues give the impression that this mobile game by MIXI is just a quick cash grab.
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Cubic Stars Review – Ambitious Clunky Gyroscopic Shooter
The Monster Strike spinoff Cubic Stars brings an interesting gyroscope aiming system uncommon to the shooting game genre, but the poor execution makes it hard to shine.
Operating System: iOS, Android
Application Category: Game