Sometimes the simplest ideas can manifest into something great. Take Death Squared, for example. At first glance it appears to be yet another indie game for the Switch with passable graphics and simple gameplay mechanics. I know I wasn’t too intrigued when I first saw screens, but some something magical happens once you pick up a controller and discover the addictive qualities found in solving each stage’s puzzles.
In Death Squared you control between two and four different colored cubes. The goal of each stage is to move each colored cube to the same colored goal. So, for example, to finish a stage you’ll have to put the red cube on the red goal and the blue one on the blue goal. It sounds simple, and at first it is. When playing with just one player, the left analog stick controls one of the colored cubes and the right the other in story mode. When playing party mode, which is meant for up to four players to join in, you can still go it alone by toggling each individual cube with presses on the L and R buttons.
Story mode is where the game really shows its personality. Between and even during levels you’ll get more story elements that are voiced by a guy named David who is actually running the “Death Squared” program along with Iris, a computer AI that is often witty. These voiceovers add a lot of comedy to the routine and are more than reminiscent of the Portal games, both in execution and flavor of humor. This mode supports up to two players and after playing both solo and with a friend, it’s safe to say that it’s a better experience with someone joining you. That’s because as the levels progress and the puzzles become crazier, it becomes both easier and more difficult with a buddy. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true!
You see, much like Portal, some levels become deceptively difficult and each person often attempts to solve puzzles in a different manner or sees something the other doesn’t. Very often the first time you boot up a stage you’ll both die several times just trying different things to figure out how to get from point A to point B. Playing alone offers the benefit that you have total control over both robot cubes, giving you the precision needed at all times. With another player this flies out the window as you’re often bumping into one another, accidentally pushing a button, causing spikes to shoot up out of the floor and killing your friend. You will die a lot in the later stages just trying to figure out how to complete them. Hey, death isn’t in the game’s name for no reason!
While I thoroughly enjoyed the story mode for its humor and thoughtful level designs, party mode ratchets the crazy all the way up. When you have a full roster of four players trying to solve various puzzles, it can become quite the chaotic scene. Each person is exploring the levels and pressing buttons, causing death and destruction in the process. If just one of you dies, either by falling off the level, blowing up via a laser, or impaled by spikes, the level instantly resets and you all start from scratch. Just a few levels in and you’ll no doubt be engaged in hooting and hollering trying to get each player to do his or her part to solve the puzzles.
Each level presents unique challenges. In one you might simply have to navigate around some obstacles. In another, the blue player’s controls might also be tied to a blue laser that moves as he moves. While that laser won’t hurt him, it will vaporize anyone else it touches. Other levels will have see through colored blocks that move with each player. They can be walked through if you’re of that same color, but they are like real blocks for everyone else. As you can tell, the levels become trickier and more advanced as you progress, but it’s never tedious – unless you have someone intentionally trolling the entire group. Let’s just say you probably won’t get too far with a bunch of drunken gamers.
The game’s controls are simple and easy to learn for anyone, regardless of age or experience. You literally only need to use the analog stick to move your robot cube around. Button presses aren’t necessary and it’s one of those games that would be perfect to snap off a Joy-Con controller and play a few rounds with a friend.
Games of this type usually don’t require the latest graphics or special effects. While Death Squared doesn’t look retro, like so many indie games seem to do these days, it also doesn’t look cutting edge. It’s pretty enough for what it’s trying to convey, but it won’t win any awards in the visuals department. Likewise, the music in the game is very subdued and takes a backseat to the action. I really enjoyed the quality of voice work in the game, however, although that’s not present in the party mode.
As is the case with many digital Nintendo Switch indie games, Death Squared is a great game on the TV and on the go. It features some fantastic multiplayer gameplay that’s really fun with a friend or a group of people. I slightly prefer playing the story mode to party mode because of the narration and it’s just easier and more fun to communicate and solve puzzles with one other person instead of a group. The levels are completely different between the two modes, with 80 story missions and 40 party levels. Once you’ve completed those you can unlock stages from the Vault, which are even more difficult than the original ones. Each level tracks how many times you died and how long it took to solve it. For $14.99, this game offers quite a bit of fun and is another perfect way to enjoy your Nintendo Switch with friends.