Cubix: The Worst Pokémon Wannabe

Cubix Robots for Everyone: Showdown was a 2003 video game adaptation of the animated show “Cubix.” It was a Korean show which was dubbed by 4Kids. I don’t remember why or how, but I came into possession of the game on the GameCube and played through it numerous times. Even as a child with next to no taste in any form of media, I knew this game in particular was something of a train wreck, and I had a strange fascination with it. There were numerous reasons I will only touch on, like its poor animation (special mention to the way they animate talking), since I want to exclusively discuss the gameplay and how it fails in almost every way of being a fun Pokémon-type game.

I don’t even talk about the “outrageously fun 4-player mini-games” in this piece. Trust me, they don’t fare much better than the main game. Also, I hate when titles are written in different ways. The title on the side has a colon but it doesn’t on the front of the box. How annoying.

The general way the game worked is as follows: In the overworld you solve block puzzles and other such puzzles to advance in various locations. Doing so you will find haywire robots that you battle. After beating them, they join your team. Using a team of three robots of your choice, you’ll make your way to the end of an area where you’ll fight a boss, typically a creation of the game’s villain Dr. K. That’s about the gist of it.

The first and most noticeable failing of the game is its battle system. On paper it seems to emulate the tried-and-true Pokémon formula decently well. You and an opponent both have three robots; with each robot having a type that is strong and weak to other types. So far, so good. The catch comes with the combat itself. Every robot has three attacks—max—and they’re selected from randomly. The player has no input into what attack the robot uses. Some of the attack animations are inordinately long, to boot. Heck, I’m not even sure if different attacks do different amounts of damage or if they’re just aesthetic changes; the game certainly doesn’t say.

So there’s no strategy with choosing certain attacks. They’re always the same type as the robot, which is very limiting. “How do you know if a moves hits or not?” you might be asking. In Pokémon and other turn-based RPGs, it’s not uncommon for stronger moves to have less of a chance of hitting. Every move’s accuracy in Cubix is decided by a roulette wheel. On your first attack 50% of the wheel is in your color which allows you to attack. If you miss, the opponent attacks. Every consecutive attack you make diminishes the amount of your color on the wheel or speeds up the spinner. I cannot stress how bad this is. Instead of utilizing a strategy with your team and the moves you’ve given them, you basically just have to get good at stopping spinners—that’s what all of combat boils down to at the end of the day.

Let’s discuss the robots themselves next. Their designs are pretty appealing for the most part. This credit can’t be given to the game designers, though, since all these robots come straight from the TV show. Even as a kid I knew there was something unusual about the robots’ attacks. What I felt was how many of these attacks were a stretch. Most of the robots in the show had mundane jobs they performed, like Mozzarellix the pizza delivery boy robot. They didn’t translate towards battle particularly well.

Cubix. I don’t think the robots have the best designs in the world or anything, but look at this guy. It’s fun!

The biggest problem with your robot selection, though, is that they don’t have any stats. Not that the player can look at, anyway. Every robot has HP and a type, and that’s all you’re given. I’m unsure if robots with more HP better in other areas or what, but it really makes the robots feel interchangeable for gameplay purposes. There’s only 5 elemental types (Power, Fire, Water, Electric, and Radiation), so there isn’t a wide variety. Since speed, attack, and strength aren’t really things in the game none of them feel unique. I can’t build a team that’s fast and strong but with little defense, for example, which is one of the draws of a Pokémon-type game: building a team that appeals to you.

I think they might have noticed this, so they gave each robot one more aspect to them: an item. Instead of choosing what items to give to your team, each robot was one item (called an EPU chip) that they come pre-installed with. Because you have a team of three, that means you start every battle with three of these chips. There’s also only a handful of these to choose from. They are admittedly the most strategic aspect of combat and teambuilding. Is it better to pick a robot with an item you like with lower HP than one with a less good item and higher HP? This is a question you’ll have to ask yourself when deciding who to bring into battle. And once you find your answer there’s no more questions to ask afterwards.

You’re never going to get particularly attached to any of these robots. The game doesn’t even feature any sort of experience or level up system. It never feels like the robots are improving. It also means that you won’t feel like you’ve put any ‘time’ into a particular bot, so when a better (read: has more HP and is of the same type) comes along, there’ll be no hesitation to replace it. While this might not mean as much to some players, levelling up and replacing certain mons is a big part of the journey of these sorts of games, and without it the adventure feels hollow and shallow. Also, you can’t nickname any of them.

It also doesn’t feature any sort of evolution feature or something akin to it. These are a pretty standard concept in games in which you must capture a multitude of creatures. Pokemon has evolution, Shin Megami Tensei has fusion, Yo-kai Watch has both. The closest Cubix gets is the titular robot himself. Every level has little Cubix cubes scattered around. If you collect enough of them, Cubix can transform! This transformation acts as a separate robot you can use in battle. Quite frankly, these transformations are all downgrades in terms of coolness. The base Cubix form is a bipedal robot with a lot of charm. His transformations are “Cubix Jet,” or “Cubix Drill,” which might have been cooler in the show. I imagine being able to ride on Cubix is pretty fun, but in game all of these forms barely animate and there’s no face to look at for Cubix. The only thing the game has going for it is how long and opulent the attack animations get, and these transformation fail at that since Cubix can’t animate during them.

He just floats around. The only piece of this form that I think actually moves is his little blue thruster at the top. It can rotate. As a kid, this is was a major upset.

Instead of Pokémon Centers scattered throughout the world for healing, you can heal your bots at any time in a separate menu. In order to do so, you must use up your battery. One point of your battery is one point of HP. You collect these battery points in the overworld; they’re typically laid out in the open or in harder to reach places you’ll have to figure out a puzzle for. This sounds like an interesting concept, and works with how different the Cubix overworld is from the Pokémon one. You’re in short puzzle-focused areas with obstacles, and not exploring a larger world, going through various towns, routes, and caves. The problem comes in what might honestly be an oversight: the room reset button. Because every room contains a puzzle, the developers realized that it’d be nice to give the player the ability to reset the room with a single button push in case they screw up and make a puzzle unsolvable. Whenever you reset a room all the batteries return as well. Instead of having a limited amount of batteries that you need to hold onto to give the game some much needed difficulty, you can instead quickly and easily completely replenish every robot in your party after every single combat encounter.

Turn-based RPGs typically provide challenge through resource management. When you’re in a dungeon you have to take into account your party’s HP, MP (or PP in Pokémon), as well as how many healing items you have. Cubix has absolutely none of this. Moves never deplete, healing is infinite, and there aren’t really any dungeons. Instead, every level consists solely of avoiding robots which damage you (with your health bar being donuts of all things), and pushing blocks. This game has so many blocks to push. That’s what every single puzzle is. I’m not kidding. Cubix, the titular robot, is composed of blocks, so they must’ve figured that blocks in general must be what the entire game should be centered around. You push blocks to reach platforms you can’t jump on. You push blocks with electricity inside them onto specific tiles to activate doors and such. Some blocks have wheels and only stop when they reach a wall. Others are cylindrical and must be facing the correct way so they connect two tubes together. The entire game is comprised of pushing blocks and stopping spinners correctly.

So, what have we learned from this game? Well, I learned that I like bad media, as this was my first taste of it. Nowadays I mainly stick to terrible movies, since awful video games tend to be more frustrating—you actually have to play them. But on a larger scale, we’ve learned that making something different for the sake of that alone isn’t a good idea. I’m sure the developers really wanted to differentiate this game from Pokémon and other games of the sort, so they designed this whole spinner combat system. What they should’ve done is thought about whether this idea was worth it. Being different doesn’t automatically make it better, sometimes something is in place because it works. Oh, we also learned that I apparently played this game way too much as a kid since I remembered it so clearly; I remember this game more than I remember my grandmother’s face. I think I had bad priorities.

Cubix: The Worst Pokémon Wannabe.