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Death Squared

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: SMG Studio
Release Date: July 13, 2017


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Switch Review - 'Death Squared'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 16, 2017 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Death Squared is a co-op puzzler where players must maneuver through a trap-laden labyrinth without inadvertently murdering another player by triggered hazards.

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In the six months after its launch, the Nintendo Switch has managed to have a library that covers just about every possible genre, including adventure, platforming, racing and RPGs, along with more niche stuff, like card games, retro classics and rhythm titles. Even the co-op puzzle game is represented, with Snipperclips being one of the huge early hits for the system. There's always room for more than one entry in any genre, though, and that means the folks at SMG Studios have ported Death Squared to Nintendo's latest console. Those who haven't experienced it on other platforms are in for a frustrating but fun time.

The story is there for laughs. You play the role of David, a programmer who's tasked with testing some AI algorithms with the help of the company's own AI program. You're just observing the AI do its magic, but you're treated to some witty banter between the AI and yourself. Company emails serve as little breathers between puzzles and set up jokes later on, but the game does a good job of making sure that the humor stays in the background while the puzzles take center stage.

Every puzzle has one real objective, and that's to get the cubes to their respective goal circles so the puzzle is deemed complete and you can move on to the next challenge. Things start off easily, with simple things like switches that raise platforms or push spikes from the ground. Electricity soon comes into play, along with lasers that act as tripwires for other activities. There are lots of different blocks in the environment, from transparent ones to ones that you can push around in two or four directions.

It doesn't take long for the game to start getting tricky. Blocks will move if your cube moves, or electricity immediately shoots out if you hit a switch. Those electric turrets will begin to follow your every move, and entire environments will shift around with the flick of a switch. It gets to the point where every step you take can cause a cavalcade of things to occur at any one time.

The gimmick is that you aren't the only cube in the stage. You control two cubes at all times, with the red cube being controlled by the left analog stick and the blue cube being controlled by the right analog stick. If you purchased the Switch with the neon-colored joy-cons, the confusion is amplified since your left blue joy-con actually controls the red cube and vice versa. Just about every stage takes advantage of this dual-cube, dual-color setup, and the different ways those two things are employed make for some devious puzzles. For example, transparent blocks can easily be passed through if they match your cube color, but you'll often find yourself getting pushed out by opposite-colored cubes. Electricity eviscerates cubes with different colors, but similarly colored cubes are immune, making them good blockers if one colored cube is being targeted by electricity of a different hue. Overall, you'll find every stage to be a challenge, but you'll feel good about solving them once you stop cursing at the game.

That said, you are still controlling two cubes in real time, and unless you're conscious of which stick controls what or are very good at moving two things in two different directions simultaneously, even the stages where you immediately know the solution can be tough to overcome. The game is meant to be a co-op experience, and the inherent design of the Switch means that it's much easier to get a co-op game going. Just keep in mind that there needs to be constant communication with your partner every step of the way, unless you want to reach high death count numbers.

The three modes ensure that you'll have plenty of puzzle action to go around. The core campaign has 80 stages designed for two players or one person trying to manipulate two cubes on their own. Party mode is designed for four players and features 40 stages, all of them different from the main campaign, so beating that first gives you no real advantage here. Interestingly, you can also play this mode solo, with the ZL and ZR triggers allowing you to swap control from red and blue blocks to yellow and green ones, something that's only recommended if you adore a ludicrous challenge. On top of that, you have the Vault, which is a collection of bonus puzzles for two and four players that are much more difficult than what was seen in other modes.

There's only one real complaint with the game, and that's with the physics system. Death Squared actually has great physics, as the blocks move correctly and don't bounce around erratically. However, the blocks don't snap to a grid, so they'll often slide around and not fit perfectly in each square. On one hand, this can lead to situations where you have to slowly inch one cube to give the other enough room to pass without getting hit by obstacles. On the other hand, it means that you can get hit by something like an electrical bolt just because a corner was slightly in the wrong place.

Puzzle games don't necessarily need to have a cutting-edge presentation, but what you have here is still quite good. Graphically, the game is very clean, and there's not much to complain about, considering the otherwise spartan atmosphere of each stage. The colors make things pop out significantly, and the stable high frame rate makes this otherwise simple-looking game quite a looker. On the audio side, the voicework is good for both the AI and David, and the sound effects are also solid, especially when you consider how often you'll hear the cubes explode.

Death Squared is an excellent addition to any puzzle fan's library. The puzzles may be a source of frustration at times, but they're also so well designed that you'll feel like you've accomplished a lot when solving them. The inherent co-op nature lends itself perfectly to multiplayer, especially on the Switch, where it doesn't require much to get a two-player game going, and the plethora of levels means plenty of time spent solving puzzles. It's yet another solid title in the system's young library.

Score: 8.5/10

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