by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
"Move your cube to the left and onto that button so I can move up to the next platform."
"But, I can't get past that laser, so you'll have to block that for me first."
“Wait, wait, go slower.”
"Damn... Oops, sorry. Didn't see that."
This was somewhat of a typical conversation between myself and my partner (or team in the party mode) when playing Death Squared, each of us looking at the puzzle in front of us and working together in order to reach our goal. Death Squared joins the multitude of puzzle games, but is set apart by its focus on collaborative puzzle solving. And this makes it a whole heap of fun.
The main gameplay mode in Death Squared is the Story mode - even though there is a distinct lack of an overall story - which has you (or yourself and a friend) controlling two cubes, moving through a path towards their home base, designated by a circular target. The mission sounds fairly simple, and is so in the first few levels, but as new methods of death are introduced, the objective gets more difficult as you progress through the eighty levels.
Deft controls and working as a team are the most important factors in Death Squared. Whether you're playing as a couple or as a team of four, co-ordinating your team to safely navigate their cubes to their ultimate destinations can get pretty tough. Many of the dangers are not inherently noticeable at the beginning of the level. It can often take a death or two before you've worked out all the dangers. From there, it is simply a matter of working through the puzzles. I say simply, but often the levels are far from it. Many of the forty Party Mode levels (which have four cubes to control) in particular require planning to move through.
Apart from the ever present danger of falling off the edge of a platform into the dark uninviting abyss below, Death Squared places a host of other dangers across your paths. These dangers combined with various gameplay mechanics such as weight sensor buttons are introduced gradually, providing a relatively low grading learning curve. Dangers such as floor and roof spikes and lasers will put another counter on the death tally.
With such delicate movements often required, there were a number of arguments that ensued whenever someone's little coloured cube fell off the edge of a platform or was destroyed by an errant laser beam. But, as mentioned earlier, co-operation is the key to progressing through the levels and working together to solve the maze-like brainteasers. Controls are simple when using keyboard or controller and this makes it a game that anyone can play. Personally, I found the keyboard controls to be a bit more accurate than the thumbstick on the controller, due to the fact that the WASD keys are the four points of the compass whilst the thumbstick has 360 degree movement. Controls are accurate either way though, and if you fall off the edge, it's usually because you were moving too fast. Deft controls are required and it often pays to move in small steps.
Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?
The game doesn't have a whole lot of audio, but what it does have is great. The commentary and the interaction between the human technician Dave and the artificial intelligence had me cracking up at times. Dave congratulates players when performing well, but also teases them when they are struggling. The humorous nature of the banter certainly livens up the mood, easing any frustration players have with solving the game's conundrums. Visually, the game is quite plain, with the metallic grey platforms interspersed with the colours of the cubes. This seems to be by design though, as it allows the players to concentrate on the puzzles rather than what is going on around them.
It's call Death Squared for a reason
As a single player game, Death Squared is a fairly run-of-the-mill puzzle game. But add a few friends and play as a pair or in a team, and Death Squared become a heap of fun. Sitting down on a couch with a group of friends to discuss (read: argue about) how to solve the next level is as enjoyable as it can be frustrating at times. But the game is wonderful as a party game, one that even a family could play without any worries. Although there isn't much of a story, the puzzles are well designed and will often take a few attempts before getting right. With the great voice acting giving the game a light-hearted nature to ease any frustration that may evolve from the puzzles, Death Squared is definitely one that will have your friends coming back to play some more.
Wonderfully designed puzzles
Story mode doesn't really have much of a story