Game: Death Squared
Developer: SMG Studio
Publisher: SMG Studio
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch (Review code)
You’ve got to love comedy robots, right? They’ve been a part of our pop culture from Twiki in Buck Rogers through R2, 3PO and BB8 in Star Wars and even in more serious fare like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Silly robots make us laugh. Valve knew this in Portal with the sinister yet funny GlaDOS and her army of chirpy murder turrets, and this is something that SMG Studio very much taps into with Death Squared.
Death Squared is cut from the same cloth as Portal – you are placed into a series of puzzles and have to use your wiles and the abilities of your onscreen character to escape and move on to the next puzzle. In Death Squared you control more than one character in the form of AI cubes, sliding them around precarious platforms, dodging lazers and eventually guiding them home to victory.
There’s a very left brain/right brain feel to Death Squared’s 80 level story mode; controlling two cubes with either the Joy-Cons or Pro Controller, the left stick gives you movement over a red cube, while the right stick lets you nudge a blue cube. Alternatively, if you’re not a Billy No Mates, you can split the Joy Cons off and give one to a chum for instant co-op. It’s perfect for portable muliplayer japes.
The puzzle environments are full of hazards which will instantly murder your little ‘bots; things such as spikes, lasers and falling platforms frequently result in sudden, violent explosions and the puzzle starting over from the beginning. The trick is to make use of each colours strengths and weaknesses. For example, the cubes block lasers that are the same colour as they are, however will pass through similarly coloured blocks.
Perhaps the first criticism of Death Squared, albeit a minor one, is that each level only has a single prescribed solution. Rather than presenting a puzzle with a number of different approaches, once you can see the pattern emerging in the way moving the AI cubes around affects the environment, it can be a straightforward task to guide them to safety. That’s not to say the game is easy, though; as the puzzle difficulty increases you’ll be pulling your hair out trying to fathom where you need to position each little block to get them to the exit. It’s a challenge but it comes with a great deal of charm.
The story is voiced by YouTube funny man RicePirate and will either be quirkily amusing or remarkably grating – your mileage will definitely vary, however I skewed towards the former and found the observations and emerging scenario to add some flavour and purpose to what is essentially a collection of environmental puzzles.
On top of the story mode there is also a four player Party mode with 40 levels to play through. While these do require at least two pairs of Joy Cons they are a ton of fun and, again, great for on-the-go multiplayer if you frequently meet up with a large enough group of friends. Finally, if you’ve cracked the Story and Party modes and crave something a little bit more hardcore, you can tackle 30 “Vault” levels which are considered “too hard for the main game”.
It would be easy to write Death Squared off as a bit throwaway. The puzzles have a tendency to get somewhat repetitive, the voice acting in the story mode is very much love it or hate it, but on Switch the game feels truly at home. The pick up and play nature of the console means that it’s easy to take on the go to tackle a couple of puzzles, settle into the sofa for an extended session of brain teasing, or take round a mates for some co-op or multiplayer. It’s easy to pick up and the feeling of solving a particularly taxing brain teaser is great.
A straightforward premise at a decent price, Death Squared is the perfect game for Switch with its mix of pick up and play puzzles and easily-set up multiplayer.