Unity is Strength
Death Squared is a puzzle game where 1-4 players are tasked with moving cute, color coated robotic cubes to their respective colored areas on a multilayered 3D grid-like obstacle course. At first simplistic goals are given to the player(s) to acclimate them to the rules, but the deeper down the rabbit hole you go the more complex the playfields get. Sure, getting past a few traps will get you to think a bit, but throw a handful of lasers & spikes into the mix and your mind will bend in ways it never has before.
Released on the PlayStation 4 back in March of this year, Death Squared was well received, but with the portability and quick access of a 2nd controller, I believe it has found a perfect home on the Switch. If Death Squared would have been a launch game for Nintendo’s newest console I’d bet that it would have been front and center in their marketing strategy. It begs to be played in quick bursts and with a friend; making the portability of the Switch and it’s removable Joy-Cons the ideal way to play.
Death Squared’s campaign mode can be played with either one or two players. In two player mode each player takes control a different colored cube and they must work together in order to get the cubes to specific locations. Teamwork between the two players is the key to success, and if you and your partner don’t work well with each other, you’re going to have a frustrating time. For this review I was able to play most of the campaign alongside with my wife and we had a few teeth-grinding moments. These moments would sometimes lead to disputes and occurred when one of us had a different idea than the other, but in the end we were able to conquer each and every scenario after some strong communication. Due to its deep emphasis on communication, Death Squared would be an excellent tool for couples who are trying to determine their compatibility.
There’s No “I” In Team
Playing Death Squared’s campaign mode in single player is similar to 2-player mode, but the player has control of both cubes. This is done by putting the control of the separate cubes to the left and right analog sticks. I thought this to be easier at first, but once the later complex puzzles show their ugly heads, two heads prove to be better than one. I was still able to figure out a lot of the more complex puzzles on my own, but having another person there to work with was less stressful and a lot more fun.
During the later parts of the campaign a lot of moving platforms will populate most of the stages. Color coded tiles that the cubes can activate will shift platforms up and down, left and right. So it’s really important to see what colored cubes activate what platform before coming up with a plan to make it to your final destination. Additionally, there are colored lasers that will not harm cubes of the same color, but will destroy any other color cube that they come in contact with, adding another layer to careful planning. Knowing what platforms activate these lasers will also play into the player’s overall game plan. Again, the later levels are packed full of these deadly obstacles, so be sure to either have good communication with your partner, or be patient enough to figure them out on your own.
There is a story that revolves around the campaign mode and it’s done fairly well for a puzzle game. An A.I. tester named David was given the task to watch the cubes tackle all of the different obstacles thrown at them. He has an A.I. partner, Iris, who he discusses a wide range of work related and personal topics with. The banter is usually comedic and would fit right into shows like The Office & Parks and Recreation. The comedy really shines when it’s breaking the fourth wall. If a particular cube isn’t doing well David will dish out a snappy insult towards the player who is controlling the cube. During my review my wife was checking her phone while I was trying to figure out a puzzle. David yelled out “Come on, blue!” (the colored cube she was in control of). It had me chuckling, but she wasn’t too pleased. On some occasions it seems like David just likes to hear himself talk, and he can get to be annoying, but overall I enjoyed his snarky input.
If you happen to have 4 Joy-Con’s I strongly suggest firing up Death Squared’s Party Mode at your next gathering. Like campaign mode, party mode requires the colored cubes to make it to their final destinations, but 4 cubes are now involved. This is sure to be a hit at many game nights, but I can see it leading to some really heated arguments. Every player must be working together perfectly in order to conquer Death Squared’s more difficult puzzles. Even if one player is off a hair, the whole team will have to start the scenario over again. Party Mode can be played alone, but honestly it shouldn’t be. If a single player wishes to try it, certain bumpers must be held down while the analog sticks are moved. If you’re in for a real challenge, by all means check this out, but it’s really mind-bending trying to control all 4 cubes.
Insert Inspirational Teamwork Quote Here
If you’re super smart and think that the campaign and party modes are lacking in difficulty, take a trip to the Vault. It’s here that you’ll find 30 insanely tough levels that developer SMG Studios thought to be too hard for the main game. I tried a few Vault scenarios and I can safely say that they aren’t lying. These levels are pretty damn hard. I’m talking controller throwing hard. This mode should only be played if you’ve already completed the campaign and multiplayer modes.
While Death Squared does a lot of things right, it does have some issues that hold it back. Some scenarios will start a player off out of sight and the only way to figure out their location is by moving the joystick. This usually meant insta-death and felt completely unfair. If there was a way to rotate the play field all of these unfair situations could have been avoided. Another issue I ran into was the game’s repetitiveness. The levels really started to drag around the middle of the campaign with some scenarios feeling very similar in nature. 10 hours is a long time for a puzzle game, and in this case I wouldn’t have minded a shorter play time.
As I said before, Death Squared feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch. To be able to jump into a game while on the road was super easy, and the quick nature of the scenarios meant that I could promptly turn it off without losing a ton of progress. The communication and teamwork skills needed to complete every scenario is something that most AAA titles can’t even pull off, but Death Squared does it beautifully. With 80 Campaign scenarios, 40 Party Mode levels, and 30 Vault levels for you and your friends to solve, your brains will be begging for mercy. No pain, no gain.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: SMG Studios ; Developer: SMG Studios ; Players: 1-4 ; Released: July 13, 2017 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Nintendo Switch review copy of Death Squared given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.