Death Squared is a charmingly pleasant puzzle game that combines fun but fair challenges with fantastic writing and voice acting.
Developer: SMG Studios
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
MonsterVine was provided with a PS4 code for review.
The concept of moving boxes around to fill gaps and press buttons is by no means a particularly original concept. Many puzzle games have used this concept before, and many others will in the future. This makes it even more impressive that Death Squared has turned out to be such a fun game, filled to the brim with fun narration and thought-provoking puzzles.
The “story” of Death Squared is more of a background feature, which works perfectly for this type of simple puzzle game. In the not-too-distant future, Dave, a robotics tester, and IRIS, David’s A.I. co-worker, are tasked with observing a number of robotic blocks as they try to solve puzzles. Both characters are expertly voiced by Newgrounds alumni Mick “Ricepirate” Lauer, who does a fantastic job of making both characters feel fun and somewhat silly in a natural way that avoids feeling forced or obnoxious.
This setting allows for plenty of dry commentary without compromising the player’s concentration, creating a nice mix of calm puzzle-cracking and digestible bits of humour sprinkled throughout. There’s no huge cohesive narrative, meaning you can jump between levels with no issue, which makes for a rather relaxing experience, at least when you aren’t driving yourself crazy over a truly vicious puzzle
The puzzles themselves are deceptively simple. While the idea of using the analog sticks to move your bots onto lit panels sounds basic, the increasingly complex and layered puzzle designs keep you on your toes. Some levels have you blocking lasers to clear a path for one of your bots, while others rely on impeccable timing to avoid falling to an explosive demise. The ramping difficulty and impressive variation in challenges makes for a great deal of thoroughly enjoyable puzzles.
The controls used in Death Squared are simple and enjoyable. Each analog stick controls one of your two bots. While the face buttons can be used to make cute sounds and movements, the analog sticks are the only primary controls you need, making it a simple process. This simplicity lets you focus on solving the puzzles, and keeps you from going mad over the frequent deaths you will definitely encounter.
Another great aspect of Death Squared is its celebration of repeatedly dying and retrying each puzzle. Almost immediately after one of your robots dies, the stage immediately resets, wasting no time in getting you to your next attempt. To add to the fun, Death Squared counts every single death you experience throughout the game, meaning you can always look at how many times you failed miserably, but managed to try again. The puzzles never feel particularly unfair, which, combined with speedy deaths and fast transitions, allows for a smooth and incredibly enjoyable experience.
You can also play Death Squared with four players in the oddly named “Party Mode” (which is basically the core game with four bots made entirely of new levels). Having four bots bumbling around feels admittedly clunky, but it’s by no means game-breaking. While the main test mode is definitely preferable to party mode, party mode is a worthy addition to the game.
The visuals are nothing overly stylized or special, opting towards the Portal feeling that Death Squared gleefully emits. There’s nothing wrong with this, as the clean style perfectly fits the lab setting, it just means that the visuals themselves don’t stand out. The music fits into the same category, as the majority of the tracks are somewhat forgettable electronica songs. The voice acting, as previously mentioned, is absolutely stellar, which makes up for the music by far.
The Final Word
Death Squared is a simple and charming puzzle game that features excellent puzzles and exceptional voice-work. While the Party mode, visuals, and music tend to be somewhat forgettable, the core game is plenty of fun, and will provide a great deal of fast and fun puzzles for anyone itching for a classic head-scratcher.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 4 out of 5 – Good