Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac
Portal, and to a larger extent Portal 2, have inspired a new subgenre of puzzle games that emphasize cooperation with a dash of cheeky humor. Death Squared is a shining example of this cooperative puzzler genre, letting one, two, or four players guide little robot cubes around a series of increasingly challenging deathtraps.
For Whom the Box Tolls
Death Squared features a lengthy Story campaign consisting of 80 levels that can be played with two local players, or a solo player controlling two bots with one controller. For the latter, the single player controls each bot with a different analog stick (or keyboard setup).
That’s a lot of levels, but they’re designed to be bite-sized. Each level should only take a few minutes to complete, and that’s with a lot of trial and error.
Death and destruction come swiftly and often in Death Squared. Each level is made up of squares suspended in the air and covering very limited spaces – simply nudging too far in one direction sends your cute little robot cube falling to its death. One of my primary complaints is that the controls are a little too floaty and loose. Often I’d die simply because I rounded a corner too quickly, and it’s not like these robots have wheels.
Additionally each level sports environmental hazards that will instantly destroy you. Spikes jut from the ground or spring from walls and lasers will vaporize you. Each level forces you to work together to avoid the hazards while guiding each bot to its circular square exit.
In my playthrough I died over 400 times, which the game keeps track in a rather judgmental counter in the upper right corner. When someone dies the board is instantly reset with zero load time, and you simply try again. This system of trial and error is partially why the gameplay is so intuitive and user-friendly.
The other part is that all you need are the controls; there are no abilities or extra moves at all. Any button in a level is activated by simply moving on top of it. Sometimes other parts of a level move when you do, creating some interesting scenarios that require quite a bit of extra planning and preparation.
The Story Mode does feature a bit of a story. You play as David, an employee at robotics testing company Omnicorp, which may as well be Aperture Science from Portal. You’re guided by an AI named Iris. Their voice-over interactions serve as the entire plot, which is mostly a smattering of office and tech jokes. The humor is tongue-and-cheek and the tone is tamer than the Portal series. It serves its purpose as an occasional humorous diversion while you’re solving puzzles.
In addition to the co-op Story mode, there’s also a Party Mode that allows up to four players, each controlling their own cube. A total of 40 levels are available. These levels are typically a bit easier, as it’s way more difficult to coordinate four people at one time. Alternatively two players can control two bots each, the same way a single player can tackle the Story Mode.
Party Mode, as the name implies, is meant to be experienced for laughs with friends. Often one player will activate a switch, or simply move, which will cause the untimely death of another player. This leads to playful ribbing and fun experimentation thanks to the game’s instant reload features. Trial and error and constant goofy deaths work really well with a big group of people, and makes for a fun party game that anyone who can move a joystick can play.
Completing Story Mode and Party Mode opens up new Experimental levels. These puzzles will really stretch the limits of what you can do, acting as a challenging bonus Hard mode. There are only 10 puzzles for each mode, but they’re brutally difficult compared to the main course.
Death Squared has not been rated by the ESRB. While your little bots explode left and right, it’s played entirely for humor. The dialogue between David and Iris remains funny and fairly light-hearted throughout the Story mode.
If you’re playing solo Death Squared is a decently fun puzzler made up of bite-sized pieces. But with local friends it really opens up as a worthy Portal-like cooperative experience, offering clever puzzle designs and levels. My heartfelt apologies to the hundreds of cute robot cubes who were killed in the making of this review.