Since playing it at PAX Australia last year, Death Squared has blossomed into something quite special. It’s not only a game that virtually anybody of any age can play, but it hits a graphical, strategical sweet spot that revitalises the local co-operative game.
As with many games in this genre, your task is a simple one: Get your strangely adorable, coloured cube to the corresponding circular coloured tile. Being a puzzle game, the difficulty and complexity of the puzzles ramps up just as you’re feeling relatively comfortable in your abilities to complete the levels. Solo players have the unenviable task of controlling two cubes at once – one per analog stick, if playing on console; this works really well and is one of the trickiest gameplay techniques out there.
The variation in puzzle length, as well as new hazards introduced in the game, makes maneuvering the cubes in different directions a real test of timing and hand-eye coordination. Death Squared bares potent lasers, additional block placement and rotating carousels of death at your feet and always has you asking more questions. En route to your goal, rewards come from coloured square tiles that alter the landscape of the level; boldly coloured teleportation tiles also assist in level progression; transparent coloured cubes can be seen as one person’s sanctuary, but another’s demise.
Death Squared has simple, yet crisp graphics. The disconcerting hum of lasers are never far away, and when falling into the abyss, cubes explode with a light-hearted BANG. Controlling your cube through each level is fluid in an awkward way – almost as if every pathway has been coated in oil, due to the cubes sliding before coming to a stop; this, again, makes maneuverability a high priority.
There’s also a strange in-game camera that hinders Death Squared’s clever level design. Over a dozen levels introduced quite a bit of verticality, which caused the game to focus on just one of my cubes. This made moving my second cube a chore and begged me to question why a camera rotation and zoom mechanic hadn’t been implemented. Adjusting the view independently would definitely have helped me with both strategy and more efficient level clearance.
Death Squared is set in a testing facility as seen by the industrial look and colour of its blocks. However, it simply wasn’t convincing and never seemed as though other cubes were undergoing similar rigorous trials. Each test’s backdrop eventually becomes a bare and dull display of different blues – no other machines or conveyor belts in the background – and never deviates to form something slightly believable. The same track of ambient music drags on as well and it would’ve been a nice touch to add more variation to the environment as your brain works on deciding the next move.
SMG Studio have put together a one or two-player story mode comprised of 80 Levels, a three or four-player party mode with 40 levels, as well as a one to four-player vault mode that has a handful of additional, challenging puzzles. Even though I wasn’t able to test out party mode, Death Squared’s story mode slowly became a pleasant surprise.
There’s a tale to be had here, which revolves around a tech company, OmniCorp, its testing bots, and a series of interactions between an employee and the AI of the OmniCorp testing facility. These small conversations between test assistant, David, and Omnicrop’s computer program, I.R.I.S, are a good accompaniment to the meat and potatoes of the game. From David trying to organise a holiday, to I.R.I.S nagging David about upgrading to an OS Version 11 safety manual, as well as a witty reference to SkyNet, they all provide entertaining value in some form or another.
Which is why, in a way, I was brought back to Portal 2 on more than one occasion. While the team of David and I.R.I.S weren’t nearly as impactful as GLaDOS and Wheatley, they did add a sense of narrative depth to the game even though Death Squared’s story could’ve been more robust.
On the whole, I can see Death Squared being an absolute delight for those looking to play with friends. It’s not only a great way of bringing people together but it also manages to tread that fine line between the rush of success and the immediate frustration that comes with failure – and all in the confines of a couch co-op setting. The loading times are virtually instantaneous, which invites replayability and only makes you want to keep that controller in your hand even longer. SMG Studio has done a fine job crafting this little title that creates as much chaos as it does confidence.
Challenging and Riotous Fun
Death Squared is the first hidden indie gem of 2017 and manages to do it in local co-op, of all things.