Title: Death Squared
Genre: Casual, Indie
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch [reviewed]
Developer: SMG Studio
Publisher: SMG Studio
I find it a little strange that the first game I get my hands on for the Nintendo Switch is a third-party title, and a puzzle game at that. Console puzzle games have never been my cup of tea, feeling they work best on a portable device. So because this is the Switch and can be played as a portable, I suppose this all works out at the end of the day.
Jumping into the game is a neat experience as SMG Games have built a story mode into the experience that feels a little like that off Portal. The narration and setting really fit each other and helps give what would be your standard puzzle game a unique feel. The voice work the game employs also really helps to flesh out the experience and is funny enough to want you to keep playing to hear what comes up next.
The object of the game is to move the two, or more, square robots of red or blue color onto their respective switches as to trigger the next stage. It doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t in theory, but Death Squared will really test your brain right from the start. This happens because each stage will not only have you navigating around to your switch, but you’ll also be traversing obstacles and all manner of traps. There are also a lot of hidden instant kill areas which force you to try multiple times until you learn each specific stage.
This sort of Super Meatboy-esque gameplay isn’t usually my thing, but there is just something about how Death Squared is laid out that makes it work. The game isn’t actively trying to screw you over, rather it’s all done in a way that will have you laughing and cursing yourself for these silly sort of deaths. The gameplay also throws the complication that each cubes movement will affect other parts of a stage, be that something as simple as activating lasers or something more complex like altering parts of the board itself.
Chances are you are going to see what needs to be done, but finding the correct path and experimenting to find the correct order of steps to get from point A to point B is where the real fun comes into play. A level might be laid out in a very straight forward manner until you realize that moving one block activates and shift other blocks that can lead to your death. And because everything is in 3D you are going to have to think in a dimension that isn’t often at play in a puzzle game.
The story mode itself features 80 levels in total for you to get through. Funny enough, the stages don’t really feel like they do in something like Portal. There doesn’t really seem to be all that much progression from beginning to end in terms of rise in difficulty. This of course really depends on the player, but there were times when I found myself stuck in early stages and breezing through much later ones.
What Death Squared does do is keep all the levels interesting. You aren’t learning new moves or unlocking special abilities, but instead everything simply gets rearranged in really interesting and mind-challenging ways. If you are new to puzzle games Death Squared offers enough variety to keep trying that next level, and if you are a puzzle veteran, the random stages and shifting difficulty will keep your mind sharp.
All this would be more than enough for an indie puzzle game priced at $15, but the developers really crammed a lot of content into this title. On top of the really fun story based single-player, the game also offers up a wild multiplayer mode that your friends can join in on. The game plays essentially the same in the Party Mode, but instead of simply playing with one friend, up to four people can control four blocks to make things really interesting.
In fact, I truly feel that the Part Mode is the heart of Death Squared, and this is coming from a guy that hates most multiplayer experiences. The mode really encourages people to work together, but because of the nature of the game death is only ever one move away. Multiply that by four people and you have the makings for one of the best party experiences on any console. There will no doubt be a lot of yelling and cursing between friends in fun as you are working toward a shared goal.
But even if you don’t have any friends, the party mode can be played by a single person giving you another 40 levels to challenge your noodle with. And because these levels are built with four player in mind, they are really going to be the challenge for a single player. Likewise you can play all four cubes with only two player or in any combination so that nobody gets left out of the fun to be had.
And once you beat those two mode you can take a stab at Vault Mode that offers up some really insane challenges for only the most serious of players. Here you are going to be dealing with a lot more complicated stages that are filled with moving platforms and obstacles. If you are looking to wreck your brain, then this is the mode for you. But just remember to give it a go after you think you’ve mastered the Death Squared experience.
Visually, Death Squared is simply alright. Puzzle games are the sorts of games that focus of the gameplay first and foremost, and that’s also the case here. The cubes you control are all bright and colorful and contrast well against the metallic, industrial look of the test stages. Music also is on the bland side without a single tune sticking with me after playing the game. Still, these are minor issues with this sort of genre and don’t take away from the core gameplay experience.
Death Squared looks like your basic puzzle game, but it hides some interesting gameplay under the surface. There is nothing quite like seeing how each stage reacts to your movement and how the path of least resistance isn’t always the one you think it is. Experimenting is key to success in Death Squared, so if that sort of action puzzle game if your thing, this one shouldn’t be missed on any platform. And if you play it on the Switch like I did, you get the ability to take the game with you which makes this version the best of the bunch.
“Death Squared is a fantastic puzzle experience that is a must have on any platform for fans of the genre.”
A copy of the game was provided for review