Title: Death Squared
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: SMG Studios
Publisher: SMG Studios
Official Site: http://deathsquared.com/
Release Date: July 13, 2017
Played On: Nintendo Switch
It’s considerably difficult to make a puzzle game in the current market that will stand out. Some try to be intricate, while others suffer from simplicity. While the premise of Death Squared is simple, its methodic level design is anything but.
Like most games in the genre, Death Squared tasks the players with getting to the end of the area, overcoming growingly difficult obstacles as the game progresses. Instead of one player though, two different cubes (Red and Blue) are tasked with reaching their color specific buttons to finish each maze.
Red and Blue are mapped to the left and right thumbstick, so their actions are autonomous. Yet that doesn’t mean one’s actions can’t have an effect on the other. While moving throughout each level, not only do Red and Blue have to avoid individual traps like color specific lasers and floor tiles, they also have to be careful not to set off triggers that harm the other player.
Many of the levels feature spikes or lasers that will activate once either Red or Blue have made it to their specific end tile. To avoid these, actions have to be taken ahead of time. Before Blue can get on their tile, Red has to be in a specific spot to avoid the traps.
While this design is simple at first, traps and timing get more difficult to overcome with each new level. Other color distinct buttons begin to appear that make platforms move up, down, around, and over to different spots. Some of these will help transport the cubes, while others will bring out more traps.
These obstacles require a fair amount of trial and error and planning in order to overcome, especially since it feels like some rules aren’t necessarily a constant. While one button may bring a spike up in one level, another may move a platform. It’s not too big of an issue, but the lack of distinction certainly resulted in a fair amount of deaths.
More often than not, I found myself wishing that there was some form of a soft guide for the harder levels. Yes, the point of a puzzle game is to rack your brain in order to figure it out. But after 22 minutes and 45 deaths later, I resorted to looking up a guide for Level 58 (Break). When I finally did complete the level, the main issue didn’t come down to not knowing what exactly to do – though I’ll admit I’m not the Picasso of puzzles – but instead occurred because I didn’t have a great view of the obstacles and cubes.
A couple of levels had this issue. Inactive lasers would dip out of view, only to turn on once a cube hopped on a button, killing one of them. A few instances even required Red or Blue to go under or around obstacles, vanishing from the line of sight, only to fall to their deaths. This definitely adds another element of puzzling, but I wouldn’t have minded at least a little control over the camera to see different perspectives of the maze.
As frustrating as some of the design can be, there no doubt it’s meticulous. Outside of cheesing a maze here and there, each level had a beautifully concise structure and format. I remember the first time I figured out I could stack Red and Blue, a huge smile lit up on my face. Finishing levels felt satisfying as a result.
One of the more surprisingly satisfying elements Death Squared came in the form of its personality. While the main purpose of the game is to get Red and Blue from point A to B, its Portal-esque backstory is marvelous.
The narrative follows David, a lazy level 1 OmniCorp employee who oversees the progress of the A.I test subjects over the course of each level. While his job can be a bit boring, it’s not lonely, as he works with a witty virtual assistant named Iris. While David himself can be a bit grating at times, his banter with the virtual assistant is hilarious. It’s not hard to see that SMG Studios was heavily influenced by GLaDOS when creating Iris (Or Omnicorp), as both are hilariously dry-witted, though Iris is definitely less bloodthirsty.
Death Squared also gives the ability to customize the look of each test subject with the use of hats. Personally, I went with Cake and Dog.
Single player works fluidly, even when controlling multiple Reds and Blues simultaneous, but there is no question that Death Squared is best experienced using co-op. The game allows up to four players simultaneously. Just like with most of the other games on the Switch, they can all be played on one screen, with four Joy Cons. The simplicity of the movements mapping makes it so that anyone can pick up the game quickly. Just beware that cooperation and patience is key if you and your friends ever hope to beat the 80 main levels and 40 Party puzzles.
Verdict: Death Squared is an addicting puzzler that can be played alone or with friends, with each having their own draws. While a lack of control and advise may frustrate, nothing will beat the feeling of overcoming the game’s obstacles. Its systematic level design and witty personality will have you saying “just one more level” more often than not.
- Meticulously designed levels
- Addicting gameplay
- Humorous personality
- 4 player co-op
- Lack of control or guidance
- Rule inconsistencies