Love the Portal games? Love robots? Love comical robot death and cooperative multiplayer action for one, two or four players? Then you'll love Death Squared, the new mind bending puzzler from indie developer SMG Studio. Read more in our review!
Billed as a challenging and rewarding cooperative experience, Death Squared packs an awful lot into a small package. Whilst the game is available on several other platforms, the Nintendo Switch version benefits from portable, local multiplayer for up to four players, with all of the action taking place on a single screen.
The game features several modes, including a cooperative story mode for one or two players, a party mode for four players (there is no three player mode) and an additional challenge mode that can only be unlocked by completing the eighty level story. The action is slow paced but mentally challenging, and every level is expertly crafted to test your friendships to the very limit.
Death Squared is available now from the Nintendo eShop, costing £11.99 or $14.99.
It's quite rare for puzzle games to feature much of a story, and it's equally uncommon for cooperative games to focus on plot, because players tend to chat and skip past cut scenes or text. In Death Squared however, indie developer SMG Studio has absolutely nailed the delivery of a simple and extremely humorous plot that never intrudes on gameplay.
The plot itself, as well as the delivery of it, are clearly inspired by the Portal games, but because that approach was so unique and interesting, and because it has rarely been copied since, it feels great in Death Squared. Essentially, the plot itself is just a series of conversations between David (a technician responsible for testing robots) and the calculating AI that runs the tests.
Both characters are brilliantly voiced, and David brings with him a catalogue of human faults that make him endearing. Just as the player is in Portal, he is the perfect foil for the AI that simply wants to test and retest, and the evolution of each character over the eighty main missions is really interesting. One thing that makes this approach work in such a multiplayer focused game is that the majority of discussion takes place over the levels as you play. There are even some really well timed commentaries that enhance and expand the story, which I also really liked.
Gameplay is an area where Death Squared really shines. Play is split into basically three modes, the first of which is affectionately referred to by the game creators as "lonely co-op." In this mode, players tackle the same eighty levels as they might do in the cooperative story mode, but they do so alone, controlling two robots using each of the sticks. This adds a hilarious additional level of hand to eye coordination challenge, as often the actions of one robot affect the other quite directly. The real bulk of the game is found in the two player cooperative mode, and the additional Vault levels that are unlocked once you beat the main game. There are also a ton of four player levels to be found in the Party Mode, and let me tell you, Death Squared descends very rapidly into madness when four people try to play it at once, but it is a lot of fun!
No matter which mode you are playing in, Death Squared is a game in which each player controls a brightly coloured, blocky robot (which can be ingeniously customised with various stickers during an early level) through a short puzzle. Each robot must reach a pre-determined, colour coded destination panel, and there are numerous blocks, falls, spikes, skewers and laser traps on the way. All three dimensions of the world are used extremely well too, and players are often required to piggy back each other to reach new heights.
As with any decent puzzle game, the early levels are quite straightforward in Death Squared, but it isn't long before they begin to ramp up the complexity in cruel and unusual ways. It's not really the individual threats that each level might pose, it's about figuring out how to deal with three, four, five or more micro challenges within a bigger puzzle, in order to reach the end. Trial and error rarely plays a part, because there are very few occasions that are intended to surprise or shock the player. Instead, the focus in Death Squared is much more cerebral.
Take, for example, switches. Almost every level has them, and in most cases, standing on one will result in a way forwards being opened, but at the same time, spikes will pop up in the location where your partner is standing. This might be a nasty trick in most games, but Death Squared teaches you early on to test everything before you commit. It's a game of two steps forwards and one step back, but because death results in an instant respawn, and levels are so short, it's never a problem.
Ultimately, what really stands out about the gameplay in Death Squared is how accessible and simple it is to play, yet how rewarding it can be when you succeed with friends and loved ones. My fiancee is not a gamer, but she loves Death Squared, and we played it for several successive evenings without so much as a break. It forces discussion and cooperation, it causes laughs, groans, shrieks, and it is absolutely perfect to play on Nintendo's latest console. I even played a few levels in a Nando's restaurant with my colleague, just to show him what the fuss was all about.
Graphics and Audio
Death Squared is a simple looking game, but it is far from unattractive. The levels are predominantly made up of grey blocks, interspersed with more colourful ones that match those of the robots in play. There are also switches, levers, lasers and other things as I've already described, and they all add a bit of texture. The robots themselves are also small, colourful cubes, but they waddling in a really cute way, and have quite a bit of personality. There isn't much to else to report here as the only cut scenes are made up of almost plain text, but even these fit the aesthetic of the game at least, so can't be complained about.
The audio is another matter altogether, as I hinted at in the Introduction. Death Squared features superb voice acting, with both the male and female lead roles cast superbly and delivered with such a natural style. The script (which I guess is kind of covered by audio) is light, funny and really fitting, and it works well for the cooperative audience so that everyone has something to laugh about together.
In all honesty there isn't much to describe around in game sound and music, but it is fine. There is a quiet, unassuming score that sets of sort of tentatively scientific tone in each level, which is neither good nor bad really, but simply there. Actual sound effects primarily comprise of explosions, lasers zapping one robot or another and similar noises that signal someones downfall, and again they are just fine.
In conclusion, Death Squared is one of my favourite Nintendo Switch games. I absolutely loved playing through it in every possible combination of players – on my own, with a partner, or with a whole group of people. There is so much content to work through, and the level of challenge in each puzzle is just right. By the end, it is very, very hard, but it is never unfair, and because of a superb difficulty curve, noone will be left behind.
I can't honestly imagine any demographic of players who wouldn't enjoy playing Death Squared. It is hugely fun, hugely inclusive and rammed full of excellent content. It's also cheap, and because it relies more on bringing people together than technically impressive, I actually think that the Switch version might be the one to go for above all others.