Developer: SMG Studio
Platform: Nintendo Switch [Reviewed], PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: July 13, 2017
Disclaimer: A code was provided by the developer for review purposes.
I wouldn’t say that the puzzle genre is exactly my favorite, per se. I honestly wonder how I come to playing those types of games in the first place. I think back to the first time I played Tetris on our old Mac. The game was in black and white and strummed along the iconic Tetris music while I cleared line-after-line.
It’s odd to think that games like Tetris led me to find interest in games like Ilo Milo, Monochrome, and the Portal franchise. During each generation of gaming I found myself playing yet another type of puzzle game. And, without all of that puzzle-playing experience, I don’t think I would ever picked up something like Death Squared, or even appreciated its grade of humor and take on solving sequences of riddles.
In Death Squared, David Valenzuela is at the helm of an AI test chamber. The bots in this case are the players. As a level starts, both bots are placed atop an isometric (2.5D) view of a platform. The goal from this point is to move each of them through obstacles and puzzles in order to reach the end, which is placing both of them on a circle corresponding to their color. This might sound simple enough, but the real joy comes in the form of obstacles and lasers. La-sers.
The best part about Death Squared is its design. The game can be played as simple or as complex as you like it to be. When playing through the solo story portion of the game, it’s easy enough to observe a puzzle and simply take a stab at it. Although doing so, even at your first move, could prove deathworthy. The game is unforgiving in many ways, revealing the simple pleasure of laughing at your failures time-and-time again.
To give a few simple examples of the death that you may encounter: you might enact a blue laser that slices your red bot in half or you may stand on a platform corresponding to your color, bringing a set of spikes rushing to the surface. And, yet another bot’s life is lost.
While these may seem like cheap deaths, and many times they are, that is all part of the game. Death Squared heavily relies on its humor to deliver a comical undertone to the puzzle genre. The commentary from David and the AI, known as Iris, can become somewhat annoying at times. But, that frustration is easily whisked away by banter concerning an unrelenting reminder to upgrade to “OS 10”, delicious chips, or even David’s inability to read anything having to do with the instruction or operations manual.
I guess, if I could peg the humor within Death Squared, it’s almost like it took inspiration from Portal and turned it into a more casual conversation between David and the AI. The variety and pace in which it’s done doesn’t become oversaturated, and more times than not, builds an atmosphere and style the game carries through its entirety.
While there are many positives to the overall puzzle experience, including the content for local co-op, the game could use an update in the near future. Simple things like the menu options were cluttered in handheld mode. I was simply pecking through the options menu to see if swapping my JoyCon’s was an option when I noticed the jumbled text. Which also leads me to the other item on my wishlist.
When I picked up my Nintendo Switch, I was glad to nab the neon version. This is the version of the Switch with red and blue JoyCons. And, what’da know, the characters in the game are red and blue. However, the color patterns are swapped, that is, your red JoyCon controls the blue bot and your red JoyCon the blue.
This wouldn’t have really all that much impact on any other console, however, I can’t tell you how many times I found myself staring at my hands attempting to reassign the colors and the bots. This could very-well have been unintentional, but being that each level is scored on deaths and time completed, I would have liked to just simply play through each puzzle without having to check and double-check something physical outside the game.
There’s no doubt that Death Squared will test your wits and tickle your funny bone. Puzzles range from simple, to strategy that you might employ in a game of Chess. However, the comic relief and dialogue that narrate each of the levels is a callback to puzzle games, such as the Portal franchise.
There is plenty of content to play the game solo, not to mention picking up and playing the co-op modes. Completing the story opens up levels in the Vault, which is again, aside from the abundance of party and co-op modes that can be played.
Death Squared is a nice surprise to the puzzle genre, delivering comic relief at all the right moments. It really does teach you to laugh at yourself, while not taking itself as a video game too seriously. Some great things come in small packages, and this one’s got nuts…and bolts. And lasers. And explosions.