Puzzle games are mostly straightforward, and Death Squared is no different. In the game players have to get little blocks through a sequence of events to reach a location designated as the end. Throw in some snarky conversation between an AI and a dimwitted research assistant, which is quickly becoming a trope for puzzle games, and at face value not much separates it from a dozen other puzzle games which can be found on Steam. However,Death Squared shows off what makes the Nintendo Switch such an incredible platform, and that’s its ability to go from playing alone to playing with a bunch of friends at a moment’s notice.
Death Squared is broken up into 3 modes: Story, which tells the plot of the previously mentioned AI and research assistant as they test the intelligence of 2 different colored AI blocks and their ability to work together through 80 levels, Party, which features 40 puzzles for 4 different AI blocks at a time, and Vault, a harder set of puzzles for each of the other two modes, unlocked after completing all the levels in their respective disciplines. Just because Story has 2 blocks being tested or Party has 4, doesn’t mean you have to have that many players. Both Story and Party can be completed by just a single player, but it will require a good amount of hand-eye coordination especially during the later levels. Party mode can also be played with 2 to 3 other players. When 2 people are playing they will be required to each control 2 different colors, while adding a 3rd player gives 2 colors to player 1, while assigning player 2 and 3 just one. Players can also jump in and out of the game just by hitting pause in the middle of a level.
All of these player options allow the Switch to really shine. You might be stuck on a level and having difficulty finding a solution alone. Instead of handing your game to someone else to see if they can solve it, you can just pop off a joycon and they can help work out a solution with you. If a friend wants to check out what you and a group of friends are playing, you can just hand them an open block and let them play for a minute. If they get overwhelmed or become uninterested, they can easily stop playing while not running a solution to a puzzle you are trying to solve by forcing the level to reset. The only real roadblock that the Switch introduces to the game is screen size. A few of the levels are spread out, making everything on the screen smaller. If you are playing with 4 people in tablet mode, depending on the angle in which you have the system set, it might be hard for everyone to see what is going on.
The puzzles themselves are not overly difficult. Have one person stand on this switch to raise the other, block a red laser with the red block so blue can get safely by type of stuff. Death Squared will have a number of not so difficult puzzles in a row, but then will hit you with 2 or 3 back to back that require players to be precise or make it through a long sequence. These are often skill checks to make sure you have learned some of the more difficult aspects of the puzzles but resetting them can get incredibly frustrating. Any time one of the blocks dies the level completely resets, making players have to redo anything they had done in the puzzle. This frustration can be multiplied because of a few instances where the puzzles will feature death traps that seemingly have no purpose other than to catch out the player. One such puzzle causes red spikes to appear from the ground once you’ve got the red square to its final resting point. These spikes appeared almost everywhere in the level expect for the final blue point and another that was just adjacent to it, and this also happened in reverse for the blue square. These moments feel unfair, and are seemingly only added to increase the death counter that ticks up in the corner of the screen after every loss. Aside from these few instances and a large difficulty spike towards the last 10 or so puzzles in every mode, puzzles seem manageable without needing to sit on them for a few days to figure out.
Death Squared has done its math. Puzzles are better experienced together and the Nintendo Switch provides the best current platform for that to happen on. For what it lacks in uniqueness in the genre, it makes up for with playability and support for playing it in a fashion that suits your needs and number of friends. If you love to be challenged and have some friends who also do,Death Squared is certainly worth the sum of its parts.
Death Squared was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch using a retail code provided by the developer SMG Studio. Death Squared is also available PS4, XBOX One, and PC