Death Squared SMG Studios’ debut outing on consoles is a solid and enjoyable puzzle/ platformer, and another great addition in the silly science experiment sub-genre of physics based puzzlers.
Death Squared sees players solve a series of artificial intelligence experiments as part of a group of four cuboid robots under the supervision of David; a slacking, sarcastic drone working for futuristic tech company Omnicorp.
It’s a simple premise and the narrative and gameplay marry up well, as each player takes control of one of four brightly coloured bots (apart from in single player in which you take control of two, using the left stick to control one bot, and the right stick to control the other Brothers style). Each player must guide their respective coloured cube to the correspondingly coloured goal. It starts simply enough with player having to little more than guide their robot to the other side of the level, but the complexity soon ramps up with the addition of buttons, lasers and other contraptions which will often have fatal consequences for our square squadmates. Lasers, spike traps, and a shifting environment are just a few of the hazards players can expect to overcome during the blocky bots quest to prove their (artificial intelligence) and avoid life as an agricultural bot.
What Death Squared really excels at though, is its ability to easily integrate new layers of complexity into each successive level with simple, clear signposting. Every interactive element of a level is colour-coded, effectively introducing new mechanics and obstacles with no explanation required. For example, a blue button only activates when the blue bot touches it (or a red button only works with a red bot), while translucent coloured blocks only allow the corresponding-coloured player to pass through while acting as a barrier or platform for differently coloured bots.
As a result, the game’s 80-level story mode feels well-paced and flows well, while maintaining a consistent level of challenge throughout.
Although the narrative doesn’t go anywhere in particular, the light-hearted banter between David and his AI co-worker is pretty funny, it does occasionally fall flat in places but is generally enjoyable throughout.
Death Squared is the antithesis to more frantic, action-packed co-operative games like Overcooked. Instead, providing a much more methodical and cautious, yet ultimately satisfying experience when playing with friends. Don’t worry if you prefer to play solo though as the puzzles are just as fun and challenging to tackle by yourself. (Though the twin stick controls do take a little getting used to.)
The blocky little bots have a good sense of weight, though their heft can occasionally lead to them tumbling off the side of the level with the tiniest provocation or movement of the analogue stick. This can be especially annoying when you are inches away from victory and your robot bumbles off the edge of a platform or gets accidentally nudged into the abyss by another player
However, this is all part and parcel of the trial-and-error nature of Death Squared. Though you can get through quite a few of the levels in one go, the ease with which your bot can get trashed and the unforgiving nature of each level’s numerous traps and pitfalls mean that often times, you’ll be seeing your little cuboid bot blow up again and again.
But that’s kind of the point, Death Squared is a game about experimentation; a theme which runs through both the gameplay and the narrative with players revealuating their tactics with every death and chipping away at the levels until a solution is found. Though repeat failed attmapts can frustrate at times, executing a successful run always feels very satisfying. Especially in the game’s trickier later stages.
However, once you’ve worked your way through Death Squared’s ten-hour story mode, the remaining modes aren’t quite as engaging. There’s the challenging Vault mode that contains 30 challenging puzzles which SMG has promised to update with even more brain teasers post-launch and Party mode which allows up to four players, to tackle some specially designed puzzles. but neither are as entertaining as Story mode and probably won’t hold players attentions for very long.
Death Squared is a solid, fun and challenging physics based platformer with a great sense of humour that is enjoyable both with friends and on your lonesome. Its light-hearted, lengthy story mode, and great couch co-op modes make for one set of tests you’ll actually enjoy sitting.