We’ve all solved a puzzle or two in our lifetime. While they are simple in premise, they have this unique ability to cause bouts of frustration, anger and finally elation once that final piece comes together. Combine those feelings, add in 2 to 4 players in a single room and a Nintendo Switch and you have something resembling Death Squared.
Much like Mario Kart, Portal and Monopoly, Death Squared has caused all of these emotions in varying degrees throughout my time with the game. While you could attempt to control two of the testing cubes with each analogue stick, the experience was greatly enhanced by being forced to work with (or specifically against) at least one other person to complete puzzles. This is in a game where one false move could mean the death of both you and your current friendship.
After a quick tutorial and some light-hearted banter between the laboratory technician observer and their artificial counterpart, you are greeted with a simple customisation menu and are released into the constantly revolving door of testing and solving puzzles.
Movements are your standard Up, Down, Left, Right and the puzzles slowly but surely ramp up in difficulty to the point where you need to stop, look at the ever present death count in the corner of the screen and put you heads together to potentially find the solution. With the small additions of lasers, colour coded blocks, switches and spikes guarding the path to victory.
We quickly realised that the most important control of all was our voice. The ability to communicate with each other is vital to completing each puzzle. This often devolved into shouting advice or instructions across the room and hilariously berating the person that ruined a particular attempt.
The cleanliness of Death Squared’s design is a marvel in and of itself. The Australian Developers SMG Studio have laid out the 80 levels of the main 2 player story in such a way that you never really get bored of a certain element of a puzzle. This is due to the changes the ever present lab technician makes along the way. Controls could be reversed and extra copies of players could be spawned which always keeps the game fresh.
If at any point you get tired of 2 player mode and have a few spare controllers lying around you can always try Party Mode or the extremely difficult Vault Mode. This is where the real fun of Death Squared comes into play and friendships are strained to their breaking point. While the controls are easy to learn the game is certainly in the “hard to master” category.
If I could bring up a gripe with the game it would be that it was stressful and tiring after longer sessions. This has been dissolved somewhat with the release of the Nintendo Switch version as you can easily snap out the console and play a few levels wherever you go but on PC it could be too much for some players. It really comes down to how much you and your friends like puzzle games.
Death Squared is fun by yourself but I feel the real heart of the game comes in when you are playing with a group of friends. There’s nothing new done here by SMG Studio that other puzzle games do not already do, but everything is so well done that it’s hard to find a fault with the experience. If you want to feel the combination of anger, frustration and elation while berating your friends then I wholeheartedly recommend Death Squared.