Reviewed by guest writer, Jason Bonnar.
Death Squared, a puzzle platform party game, originated from a 48 hour Global Game Jam event back in 2015 as a concept of life or death co-operation. Having since appeared at indie showcases such as PAX, it’s been given plenty of accolades for its emphasis on successful teamwork, but does the concept work as well when played in single player or co-operatively at home?
The game’s main story mode is comprised of 80 levels, and follows an A.I. tester named David who has big dreams of progressing through the ranks at the robotics facility of Omnicorp and an artificial intelligence named Iris. Party Mode meanwhile includes 40 levels emphasising co-operation between players, albeit without a story. Finally Vault Mode contains a series of levels that were considered too challenging for the other two, with 2 player levels unlocked after completing every story level and 4 player levels unlocked after completing every party level. However, despite the emphasis on co-operation, you’re not forced to play co-operatively in any mode if you don’t have anyone nearby to join in.
Puzzles introduce simple rules in incremental steps, such as a cube needing to stand on a pad of the same colour to activate it; a particular pad may provide a trap that another cube needs to have already moved past to not end up being destroyed; laser puzzles in which one cube must protect as being of the same laser colour makes it immune and an ideal shield for the others; and much more besides.
There are a variety of rules between cubes and holocubes. For instance, a blue cube is only able to pass through a holocube with a matching colour, but it can then only stand on atop a holocube of other colours. One of the most entertaining and truly rewarding puzzles came early on in party mode, in which cubes had to be stacked in a certain order and carefully navigated around a single file grid to be able to reach the blue, red, yellow and green goals that were located in all four corners.
The robot cubes are as charmingly designed as Borderlands’ Claptrap from the external details in shape with circular eyes and mouths which project expressions being further complimented by customisable designs from customisation modules. The surrounding environment is a character in and of itself, as it provides puzzles that actively attempt to prevent players from progressing as though it were an enemy. It even goes to the extent of producing traps such as spikes, lasers, holocubes or being able to fall off the side of the grid, while the backdrops are essentially abstract blueprints.
The graphics are relatively simplistic, though the animations and expressions from the adorable robot cubes really lend the game some life. Beyond that the grid surfaces have relatively intricate detail such as material outlines, screws and patterns, all of which is showcased from an appropriately positioned camera that thankfully never interferes with any movement or puzzles.
There’s plenty of humour to the script and the voiceovers, such as Iris informing David that ethanol has been found on his breath and insisting to know if he is hungover again, or David making snarky proclamations like, “Either the controllers are broken or someone’s went to get a snack” if the robotic cubes are left idle for a little too long.
The game’s difficulty naturally increases through the wide selection of puzzles on offer, but the game is at its hardest in single player. It’s just a little easier when 2 or 4 players are communicating and providing suggestions on how to overcome an obstacle on the road to solving a puzzle. Local co-operative multiplayer is really entertaining, even when a puzzle seems too complex with gameplay revolving around genuine communication. Surprisingly, there are no online leaderboards which could have pushed players to focus on the fastest time for each level or a further leaderboard for the fewest number of deaths.
There’s plenty of content from the 80 story mode levels, 40 party mode levels, and the unlockable vault mode, while the ability to view the fastest time or how many deaths occurred during previously completed levels should give players some reasons to return.
Overall, Death Squared is an entertaining game that has been carefully refined until it can out from the crowds of other indie puzzle games. It’s easily recommended for gamers who appreciate the puzzle, platform and party genres individually or when combined together.
Version Tested: PS4