Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Death Squared tries to do a lot of different things, and for the most part it succeeds. It wants to be a single player game, but it wants to be a party game as well. Death Squared tries to be approachable to newcomers, but it wants to have puzzles that will bend even the most puzzle-solving mind. In trying to be all of these things, Death Squared does just enough to stand out from the puzzle crowd and merit notice, even if it is not the most original title.
I really wanted to love Death Squared, but I came away just liking it a lot. The premise is simple but amusing as you take over some AI bots that are under the watchful eye of robotic tester David. David is an employing for a futuristic company called Omnicorp. David then runs his little AI pals through a series of tests. In multiplayer modes – up to four player – each player controls a single differently colored block. If you are playing the game in single player mode, you leverage both control sticks to manage two different blocks at a time.
As with almost all puzzle games of this nature, things get off to an easy, almost tutorial-like start where the physics at play are incredibly basic. The further you delve into the game, the more nuance there is to how the movement of your block impacts the field of play. The blocks themselves are not just colored for the sake of differentiating them from one another, because there is a color association that takes place with many of the puzzles. A green button means that the green block has to hit it. This makes it easy to understand what is being asked of you on new stages, even if the solution to get there is not so obvious.
When looking at multiplayer versus single, it is interesting to note that the single player requires a little more physical dexterity as you control two blocks yourself, while communication is absolutely key in multiplayer. There are two player and four player options, and the latter is certainly the more chaotic, making Death Squared an amusing party game. You have to work together to be successful, and while it can be frustrating to have a team’s careful plan nixed due to one ill-fated or clumsy movement, it is fertile grounds for laughter and more than a little bit of finger pointing. This is not so much an action-packed game where you are battling short times, but a more thoughtful title that encourages planning ahead. To that end, the puzzles are interesting enough, but not terribly original. While the party play and single person controlling two characters aspects are entertaining, this is the kind of physics based puzzler we have seen numerous times before. While the controls are responsive, one could almost argue that they’re too responsive as it is easy to accidentally press just a bit too far / hard in one direction and fall to your doom.
Thankfully there is enough polish at play here that Death Squared stands out from an otherwise very crowded field, if only a little. The visuals are bright and pleasant, and it is easy to distinguish items of note on the field of play. The music is entertaining enough if somewhat forgettable, though there is plenty of dialog between David and the AI that is chuckle-worthy. Rice Pirate provides likes of quality quips along the way, and while not all of them stick the landing – the majority do.
There are plenty of levels here, but they tend to go to variants of the same well over time. You can easily spend a dozen hours playing through all of the different stages, including some hidden gems along the way – but about two-thirds of the way through I began to experience that sense of having been here and done that when presented with new stages. While SMG Studio has a good eye towards creating challenging puzzles, the core mechanics remain relatively unchanged by around the midway point, so they are essentially slapping new coats of paint on existing ideas. It works, but the luster is a little less shiny by the end. After all we have seen lasers, transparent floors and button presses in this type of game before.
Death Squared is one of those unique titles that is able to wear a few different hats, as it is a uniquely challenging single player experience that also works as a party game. Usually titles like this only excel at one and tend to be lacking in the other, so kudos to SMG Studio for striking a great balance between the two. There is an undeniable charm to the presentation that helps to make Death Squared stand just enough in a very crowded genre.Score: 7 / 10