Death Squared is a tile-based puzzler that comes with plenty of opportunities to play it cooperatively as well – but doesn’t rely on it for a fun experience.
When we reviewed Semispheres recently, we commented on how novel its approach to puzzle games was – letting you control two ‘characters’ at once to get through the game’s puzzles. Guess what… just a few weeks later and we’re having a similar experience with Death Squared. Luckily, it’s a different experience – and in some ways a better one.
In Death Squared’s single player mode, you’re in control of two colored cubes that are artificially intelligent and have to reach they goal tile in each of the game’s 80 levels. Easier said than done of course, because pretty soon you’ll run into obstacles and will need to work together in order to overcome then. One block hits a trigger, the other moves up an elevator and, in turn, open up the way to the exit for his friend – that kind of stuff. There are color-coded elements as well, making certain walls impenetrable for one cube but allowing access to the other – or serving as a bridge for one while spelling certain doom for the other, who will fall through.
It’s not ground-breaking in terms of game-design, but it’s certainly well polished and presented. Graphics are detailed and colorful for this type of game, but the real showpiece here is the audio – as a metagame is taking place with a narrator (David) sharing his thoughts on what’s going on with a supercomputer/AI – making for some witty banter along the way. Think Portal 2, only you’re not being talked TO…. you’re being talked about. At least… when the banter is not about something completely unrelated. This makes for a fun and lighthearted element to an otherwise – at least at times – challenging game.
The voiceovers are great, but not implemented perfectly. This, for me, was especially true for tough levels that required multiple restarts. When starting my fifth attempt, having the same audio reel play again only became a source of frustration as I was trying to focus on the puzzle at hand. Nothing that can’t be fixed in a future update of course, but worth noting for the time being.
The game’s story mode can also be played cooperatively, with each player taking control of one of the blocks (in single player, you use both thumbsticks on a single controller for this). I’d recommend playing Death Squared’s story mode cooperatively only with someone who is at approximately the same skill level, as otherwise you’ll probably have more fun figuring things out at your own pace in single player.
A four player ‘party mode’ is also available, which doesn’t feature a radically different type of game mode but actually has puzzles designed to be solved by four players at once. Often this is a case of “who gets in whose way” or “who gets to go first”, but I found this mode to be more enjoyable than the two player story mode. Its puzzles aren’t as fiendishly hard, and everyone can play an equal role in the problem-solving. The downside is that you need four controllers, so have people bring their own.
Still, it’s the story mode that’s the real star attraction here. For a relatively simple puzzle game, it’s very well done and presented – and there’s plenty of content as beating these 80 levels will take up between 5 and 10 hours depending on your skill level. And after that… there’s Vault mode, which presents you with even more challenging levels. It might not be the most original puzzle game on the block, but the inclusion of coop and its stellar audio presentation make Death Squared a solid choice with plenty of content to enjoy.