Developer: SMG Studio
Publisher: SMG Studio
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Steam, PS4, Xbox One
PAX Australia 2015 provided an extremely strong showing of Australian indie-developed titles, from former Another-Castle staff favourite Death Stair to some of my favourite Indie games from 2016, Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire and Defect: SDK. Death Squared is such a game, receiving glowing impressions from attendees who managed to play it. Whilst personally I did not get a chance to play it myself, I recall Another-Castle community members speaking highly of it as a fantastic multiplayer experience.
Death Squared, developed by the Sydney based SMG Studio is at its core a cooperative puzzle game. It can be played either solo or with up to four players with all the solo levels also being two player levels. The gameplay itself is quite simple, with the goal of each level being to move different coloured cubes onto their corresponding circle. The cubes are controlled with the analog stick, with each analog stick controlling a single box, although there are specific levels where multiple boxes at a time are controlled with a single input, adding an additional layer of complexity. There are various stage hazards to traverse and avoid as well, ranging from fixed and moving lasers to moveable boxes and platforms.
The most significant portion of the game comprises of Story Mode. The light-hearted narration of David, an entry level tester in the shadowy organisation Omnicorp and Iris, his AI companion provides and amusing backdrop to the challenge provided by the 80 levels available in this mode. Jokes about a reluctance to upgrade to “OS 10”, hearkening to the frustration some felt of upgrading to various Microsoft Windows iterations and humorous banter between the two characters adds an extra layer of enjoyment on top of the core puzzle experience. Aside from a sole exception, the difficulty progression is well handled, with each level adding to your knowledge of how the mechanics of Death Squared functions.
Reflecting on my playthrough of Story Mode, only a single level, level 65 stands out as one that I thought was poorly designed. Level 65 involves balancing both blocks on moving platforms and going from various online discussions of the game, I am not the only player that was baffled and frustrated by this level. In total, I racked up 820 deaths during my run through Story Mode, with over 100 of them being on Level 65. Aside from Level 65, I found that all the levels in Death Squared, even the harder Vault Levels to be reasonable challenges, with a clear pathway to the solution once you figure it out through either carefully manoeuvring your cubes or through classic trial and error. However, the levels where you control more than two cubes can prove quite tricky given how one has to consistently be aware of how they move in tandem, and were easily my least favourite levels.
Whilst Story Mode is cooperative, the meat of the multiplayer experience of Death Squared is Party Mode, which in total includes 40 Levels. Whilst less chaotic than an experience like Snipperclips, Party Mode offers a more serious cooperative experience. Like Story Mode, one is filled with a sense of triumph when completing a given level and this is increased further when you are able to expertly manoeuvre your cubes in tandem with a friend or two. My primary criticism would be that after going through the majority of the levels in the regular modes a sense of tedium begins to set it. I would have liked to have seen more levels in the vein of the Vault levels, that whilst more difficult, are refreshingly innovative on how they utilise the established mechanics of the game.
Completing all the levels in Story Mode unlocks 13 additional 1-2 player levels in Vault Mode. Similarly, completing all the Party Mode levels unlocks additional 2-4 player levels. These Vault levels add an extra layer of difficult to the Death Squared formula, proving far more challenging than the levels available in the initial modes. However conquering them is as satisfying as completing the Story Mode as the levels remain well designed. These harder levels never feel overtly frustrating as like all the levels in Death Squared there is generally a logical method to completing each level, the challenge is in figuring out that method.
For those searching for a cooperative experience on the Nintendo Switch and have already enjoyed Snipperclips, Death Squared is a must play. For those who are unable to frequently gather a group of friends together to play local multiplayer games due to the realities of adult life, Death Squared still provides a compelling single player experience for puzzle enthusiasts and those who like to practice their lateral thinking on occasion.
Disclosure: Review copy of Death Squared was provided by the developer