If there is one thing that the Switch feels built for, it is local multiplayer, and if there is one thing Death Squared is built for, it’s tearing relationships apart… plus local multiplayer. Unsurprisingly then, the puzzle game that taught me how short my patience can be has been ported to the switch, and it feels right at home, only not in my home.
Death Squared is the story of David who is a tester at his job at Omnicorp, testing out AI’s ability to function with his assistant, an AI, IRIS. He is presenting puzzles to the AI boxes to test their capability to learn, and that is where the story ends. This is good as it means the puzzle game can be a puzzle game, with no wasted time in cut scenes, yet brimming with personality. David and IRIS have plenty of jokes between them, with many times being genuinely funny such as David’s questioning how it feels to be an AI watching AI. That joke stuck with me for a while, even on my second playthrough.
The gameplay involves each player, either two or four players, navigating a cube around a puzzle, moving their cube to its corresponding coloured circular button. When each person’s cube is on its matching colour, the level ends and you are dropped into the next puzzle. The puzzles themselves are brilliantly designed with multiple players in mind, varying drastically from requiring a player to be in a certain position to assist or trigger something for the other player, to requiring both cubes to move in unison to ensure success. A single person could potentially beat many levels, but when it requires both to move together in different directions, I couldn’t see anyone short of an ambidextrous genius beating it.
Puzzles are filled with challenges such as lasers, transparent cubes, and buttons, all of which are colour coded to act differently for each cube. For example, a red transparent cube is solid to the blue cube meaning it can be a path to be slid along, or a wall in the way for one cube, and the opposite for the other colour. A blue laser for example will destroy a red cube, but a blue cube can protect red by staying between the laser and the cube, then to throw a spanner in the works the lasers will move requiring some precise united movements.
This is where the game shines. Some of the not so difficult tasks can be exacerbated if you and your partner can’t quite get your timing right, but the creators of Death Squared don’t want it to be too easy for you, so they throw some brilliant, yet unfair, elements your way. An example of this is buttons which when activated usually do something such as lifting a platform, or when the level designers were feeling sadistic, raising spikes in specific places, regularly resulting in your partner’s death, or occasionally moving a block to knock your partner off a perch. This means there will be a lot of trial, and even more error, when you are scoping out any new puzzle.
It’s crucial that you plus whoever you play with are in the right mindset as I felt myself getting super frustrated at one point, only to put the controller down, remember it’s a game, then pick it back up to keep having fun, and this is from someone how very rarely experiences game rage. Also, if the puzzles killing you aren’t enough, don’t worry, the game keeps a death tally for each person to make sure you don’t forget who keeps failing, if you’re lucky they will be even.
The only problem I had with the game was occasional camera angles, mostly on puzzles which involve going behind blocks. The bulk of the game doesn’t have this issue but some levels require you to go behind a block, drop down and move behind other blocks regularly obscuring your vision. Despite the game being full of unfair deaths, this is the only time I felt the game gave me a cheap death, dying out of vision or because of movement out of vision.
Death Squared is an outstanding couch co-op game and a perfect fit for the Switch. Puzzles regularly keep the goal in sight but use complexity and brutality to keep it out of reach. With the right partner or group this game will be a blast, if you don’t mind your team mates killing you, as intentionally or not, they will kill you.
Released: July 2017
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Developer: SMG Studios
Publisher: SMG Studios