TL; DR(eview) - Death Squared is a great little puzzle game, built with simple mechanics and best served when playing with others. Each level introduces new obstacles, switches up existing ones, or combines them in new and interesting ways requiring patience, teamwork, and communication.
Nearly a year ago, at PAX East 2016, I saw a couple of people I admire in the industry tweeting about Death Squared on the show floor so I made a point to check the game out myself. I didn’t actually play it, mind you, because this was still a weird point where I wasn’t actually going hand-on with games at these events but I sat near the booth for a bit watching others play the game and laughed alongside them as they would inadvertently kill their friends in their attempt to solve the game’s tricky co-op puzzling.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I visited my friends Joey, Lauren, and Ben in Los Angeles for a President’s Day weekend vacation and trip to Universal Studios. Having just been provided a review copy of the game, I brought my PlayStation 4 along and though we might have some fun with the games 4-player Party mode. And we certainly did.
The first few levels of the game were a fun introduction and admittedly a bit easier because three of us had watched the Kinda Funny let’s play. I even tweeted out a joke about using their “bodyguard” technique on one of the levels. After that, though, we were on our own and had to work together to solve all of the new foreign puzzles. All while getting increasingly inebriated on my other contribution to the trip: rum. By the end, we may have devolved into mass killings to spite one another but we were laughing the whole time.
The premise of the game has two or four bots working together to solve increasingly difficult puzzles. As the difficulty increases, switches will trigger surprise spikes, moving around will direct different laser beams that will kill you, and so on. Teamwork is key. None of the puzzles will challenge your twitch reflexes so timing is possible even if one person is controlling both (or all four) bots. I keep describing the game as a mix between Portal-like puzzles and Overcooked-like co-operative chaos: great fun in a group setting, but also possible (if more difficult) alone. Fortunately, the PlayStation 4 version of the game allows a form of online play through the use of the system’s Share Play functionality.
The two-player “campaign” is framed around a light narrative as a lab researcher and his AI support watch over the player-controlled bots as they progress through the levels. They comment on and crack jokes about the situation and then start getting impressed as they progress further and further. The four-player Party mode features 40 additional levels to tackle. No story attached to that mode with the developers having mentioned the need to communicate is so much greater in those instances that adding dialogue would have just been extra noise.
As a sucker for clever puzzle games that make me think, this is a game I’ve been excited for since seeing it a year ago and it delivered. As somebody playing through mostly “single-player” for the campaign (where each thumbstick controls a different bot), I often get a bit confused which stick is controlling which bot. This has led to a lot of extra deaths but the game pops you right back in to try again so I never feel a sense of loss so much as just a reminder to be a bit more careful the next time.
I’m absolutely adoring my time with the game. I took a break from it to play some of the other releases recently but I’ll likely be returning to it after PAX before I dive into something like Breath of the Wild. Or maybe instead I’ll tackle a few puzzles a night alongside it.
Death Squared releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam on March 14th. A PlayStation 4 copy was provided to Trevor Trove for review.