The aesthetic of Death Squared is certainly going to feel familiar to pretty much any gamer. The entire game is a series of tests, presented with a certain scientific detachment reminiscent of the Portal series. In it you control AI cubes tasked with completing puzzles. While seemingly innocent at the outset, missteps will often cause death for the simple robots. Death Squared, it turns out, is the type of clever puzzle game that teaches you as much from failure as it does from success.
As the title might tell you, Death Squared will cause you to die…a lot. Over the course of the main story’s 80 levels I racked up close to 700 deaths between the two little robots combined – yep the game keeps a running tally. This is not a bad thing, in fact death, or avoiding death, is almost always the main puzzle component. Often the goals your robots need to reach is easy to get to; the trick comes to getting there without getting lasered, spiked, crushed or falling to your death. Like other death-based games, it also loads near instantly, meaning you rarely get aggravated.
The hook of Death Squared, however, is that the entire experience is based on two robots controlled separately. Tackling it by yourself means that your brain is playing double-duty by controlling a robot with each analog stick. Play it with a co-op partner for some reprieve on your mind but perhaps a strain on your relationship, due to most of the mess-ups causing death for the other player, not yourself. I played the entirety of the game in co-op, which seems like the best way to play, and found it thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end, with new mechanics being introduced at good intervals to keep things fresh. It should be noted that Death Squared only features local co-op; no online play, though that should be expected for this type of game.
Just having 80 levels to play through would be enough for a lot of games but Death Squared also throws in a cute story to accompany the story mode, featuring David and his AI assistant IRIS. Together they are operating the tests for these robots, commenting on the various actions and deaths of the players while also providing often-amusing interludes between levels. There is also an undercurrent of the probably-evil Omnicorp, who sends out office e-mails about mandatory weekend gathers and employees being tasered for stealing lunches. None of the “story” really goes anywhere per se but it adds spice to what otherwise could have been a bland puzzle game.
If controlling two robots just isn’t good enough for you there is also a four-robot Party Mode to contend with. Play with up to four players in this mode, each controlling their own robot. If you feel like getting especially crazy you can try to tackle this mode by yourself, controlling the four robots between the two analog sticks and triggers. Like the Story Mode, Party Mode is best tackled with at least one friend and provides a good change up from the story mode.
The controls of Death Squared are, by design, incredibly simplistic. Buttons literally do nothing; everything is controlled with the analog sticks. While everything in the environment looks like it’s set on a grid, the robots have completely fluid movement in moving around the environment and gravity is in full effect. In general, the game’s movement feels really good although sometimes the precision works against you when you push a block just a little bit too far or just barely fall off a ledge. In contrast, there were also a handful of times where I felt like I used the precision and gravity to solve puzzles in ways that felt like they may not have been entirely intended.
Death Squared is a fun puzzle game that can technically be played in single player but is truly meant to be played in co-op. From start to finish you will be tested in a variety of areas, knowing that a single mess up with usually result in your friend being killed, forcing everyone to restart. There is plenty of game to play here as well, with 80 two-robot levels and 40 four-robot levels plus Vault Mode, which features levels deemed too difficult for the main game. The amount of content and quality is well worth the $15 with the caveat that you have someone to play with. If you do, this is a game definitely worth checking out.
SCORE: 9.0 out of 10
A review copy of Death Squared was provided to Pixel Related for review.