By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
Life can sometimes feel short — especially, they say, when you’re having fun. If so, then nothing must be more fun than being one of the Death Squared’s cubic “protagonists,” destined not only to solve puzzles for their almighty creator, but also to die. Horribly. Over and over again.
The Story mode of Death Squared has you immediately thrust inside a digital world filled with lasers, spikes, pitfalls, and false blocks. Playing the part of an AI, you must cater to the whims of David, your creator, and Iris, his robotic assistant, and move their respective cubes across a board in real time until the latter hit pads of the appropriate colors. Once all cubes have been matched to the proper pads, the level ends and a new one begins.
At the start, Death Squared is refreshingly easy. The game’s true nature starts to show itself a few levels in, when the difficulty starts to ramp up. Succeeding levels add more and more hazards and gimmicks to play around. Spikes and lasers actively impede progress and become common challenges. Certain segments of the game require careful consideration, lest one of the cubes accidentally fall to their doom or get incinerated by accident. If that does happen, you have no choice but to restart the level from the beginning.
This game, while seemingly straightforward, is made far more complex by its level design, which is unique, fun, and at times, frustratingly difficult. Death Squared loves throwing around balancing puzzles, floating blocks, and moving platforms, and deaths can get rather common later on in the game when the levels get harder. Thankfully, while deaths can get plentiful, they aren’t punishing, in part because of how short each level can potentially be. Be forewarned, though: They can wear you out, as some deaths feel cheap and out of the blue, and when combined with the game’s predilection for concealing instant-death switches, it’s not all that hard for you to entertain the thought of quitting out of sheer frustration.
On the whole, Death Squared’s penchant for testing your patience seems to be a deliberate choice on the developer’s part. Death becomes acceptable, and the number of times rinsing and repeating is done becomes inconsequential to you in the long run. Add to that the available two- or four-player cooperative options, and you have a game seemingly tailored around being played with friends, where failures can be laughed at and plans of actions can be discussed during gameplay. Thankfully, co-op play is something the Switch can handle with ease. Simply pass the other Joy-Con to a friend and you’ll find Death Squared to be a lot more easy-going in a heartbeat. Prior knowledge of the game isn’t even mandatory, as its simplistic goals combined with its visual cues make it easy for newcomers to pick it up and play. Simply put, the red block goes to red circle, the blue block goes to blue circle, and so on and so forth.
And therein lies its most inherent flaw. As a party game, Death Squared is a great pickup, especially when taken none too seriously. Amidst friendly shouting and trash talking, the game proves quite entertaining. But on single player? It can get rather annoying. Even alone with the Switch, you must control at least two cubes at once. Both cubes have to reach the pads, and both must survive — and if you’re not ambidextrous, it feels awkward and tedious manipulating both cubes at once. And after multiple deaths and trial-and-error runs, there is the danger of you falling prey to anger and the temptation of hurling Joy-Cons across the room.
There are also the absence of a level editor and the lack of replay value a puzzle game typically has for you to contend with. Had Death Squared featured these, it would have been a definite must-have title on any self-respecting Switch owner’s library. Instead, it’s a cautious recommend. It has its Eureka moments. It’s a lot of fun with friends. It plays smoothly without any hitches. It’s also rather short on the whole, and some parts are bound to make players want to pull their hair out. In short, it’s a good game with a niche audience that is best played in and as a group.
• Interesting level design
• Offers four-player co-op mode
• Easy to pick up and play without preamble
• No level editor to design your own puzzles
• Very little replay value once the levels are done
• Hit-or-miss style of gameplay