Death Squared is a game about teamwork, communication, and timing. It is also a game about laughing, yelling and ruining friendships. Sydney based SMG Studio has crafted quite the interesting puzzle game, a co-op effort that sees you and up to 3 other friends controlling color coded cubes and attempting to get them to their equally color coded goals. Death Squared is also titled exactly perfect as your little cubed companions can find themselves dead in a heart beat with hidden traps around almost every corner.
Solving each of 120 main puzzles in the game, which consists of 40 for the 2-4 player party mode and 80 for 1-2 players via the story missions, can take quite a bit of patience and stone like grip, as the slightest movement via the Joycons can lead to disaster. Moving each colored cube, which can be decal’d up with designs and mustaches, can result in various outcomes across the map that usually will lead to a fellow cube getting ripped apart by lasers, stabbed with spikes, or shot off the map if you aren’t paying attention, and even if you are.
Each puzzle follows certain mechanics that make it somewhat easy enough to figure out what is needed to be done. There are stationary laser turrets, sliding spikes and a variety of other hostile consequences to having a cube in certain locations without first moving other cubes to safety. There are several puzzles where placing a colored cube in its goal will trigger spikes to spring up from the ground via the pathways that the other cubes need to travel through and may lead to death if those cubes just happen to already be in those paths, and thus having to restart the puzzle. You may also be required to stack cubes on top of each other or maneuver around a variety of colored lasers that will tear cubes of another color apart, and this gets especially harder later on when levels are surrounded by them.
While you can make a cube spin, dance, and give off a bit of a shrug, you really only can move the cube around and affect the switches and holographic cubes that are usually tied to its movement, so control of the game is rather simple to get the hang of. I did find that the Joycons can be a bit sensitive in regards to making subtle movements, but it was nothing that really broke the game in any respects.
Ever so often the game will introduce new puzzle mechanics to keep the game fresh, and sometimes you may go a dozen or so levels before you see something revisited so soon. The game also will pair certain mechanics together in ways you may not necessarily think about until you start trying to figure out where one cube needs to be in order for an another cube to get to where its intended goal is.
Death Squared, like many addictive puzzle games, will have you looking to tackle “just one more level” and then suddenly it’s 3 am and you work in a few hours. Several of the early puzzles can be completed in under a minute where many of the puzzles midway and towards the end can take ten to fifteen minutes with all the trial and error that is required to figure out what all the switches do and where certain cubes need to be in order to activate several of the mechanics in the level.
When playing with another player or a full party of four, you’ll need to ensure that you are communicating and not exploring the puzzle too fast. Many levels have traps, or other things that can wreck teams in a second. If players are not paying attention or are too close to one another, it can be quite easy to accidentally knock someone off the level. It’s smart to set up a leader in the group that can make the call of who goes where and when. There are times where you will be required to sacrifice two, or five, or ten cubes to figure out how to complete the level.
It’s also a lot of fun to just shove another player or two off the map. Just sayin…
There is a central storyline to the game, but it’s one that is entirely vocal and not really tied to any certain gameplay quirks or touched upon in any of the mechanics. You have a human, David, and a female AI named I.R.I.S who will talk over the puzzles and their dialogue may change briefly to discuss your efforts in the puzzle. They will often make jokes, and the AI I.R.I.S, is the straight-man to David, often shutting down his jokes. There are obviously bits that feel inspired by GLaDOS from the Portal games, but with a female AI, it is sort of expected at this point.
The levels themselves are fairly muted in color and this is intentional to allow the color coded cubes; Blue, Red, Green, and Yellow, to pop, and they do. The effects of seeing a cube get decimated by lasers is also a treat as well. The cubes, as I mentioned above, can be fitted with designs to give them a bit of personality, but once a mustache was an option, it felt right. I mean, who doesn’t love a good ol’ mustached cube?
Death Squared is a great time, but it does have a few issues that did in part stall the fun from time to time. I’ve had cubes not register and unable to move, Joycon’s bug out and move my cube on their own (note: My Joycon’s work perfectly and this game was the only time they ever felt haunted..), and the trial and error approach to several dozen levels can get a bit old in the late game.
There are special Vault levels that unlock when you’ve beaten the story and party modes and these are puzzles that are far harder than anything the 120 previous levels have offered. There are 30 of them currently with more promised post launch for the low price of free.
Death Squared at $14.99 US / $16.99 CAN offers around 8-10 hours of play across its various modes and can be played entirely in some form of co-op. You also can have a player use the Joycons and another on the Pro Controller, so there is always a way for people to play together. The game does shake things up by mixing and matching certain mechanics to keep the game somewhat fresh, but once you start hitting 50 or so levels in the story mode, it can start to feel a bit of a grind. There were also several puzzles where I had to check an online walkthrough as I hit a wall in a level and couldn’t even begin to figure it out.
All in all, Death Squared in one of the better puzzle games currently out on the Switch, and it’s also available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, but the portability of the Switch means you can pick up and play anywhere, and that easily makes this the best version of the game.
Death Squared was provided by the Publisher for the purpose of this review.
All Screenshots were taken on the Nintendo Switch.