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Death Squared (Switch) artwork

Death Squared (Switch) review

"Death Squared offered up about the least fun I've ever had with such a competent puzzle game."

Death Squared is too unforgiving for its own good. I hate making statements like that, because inevitably someone swoops out of the shadows to smugly say "git gud" (or a variant thereof), but whatever. I've cleared enough difficult games that I no longer have anything to prove. Sometimes, I just want to chill with puzzles that are difficult but don't cross the line into infuriating.

The idea in Death Squared is that you are the AI routine in an advanced computer program. You must solve puzzles to please David, an employee at a company that apparently is on the cutting edge of technology. You do this by controlling colored block characters that navigate sterile three-dimensional spaces. In the main campaign, those characters are red and blue. Each of the blocks is moved with one of the two analog sticks, if you're playing with a Pro Controller (which is the only way I go when given the option, being a pro and all). There are times when the puzzles seem to require both characters to shuffle around at once, which gets a little stupid, but mostly you can swap back and forth between them (sort of like in Snipperclips) and do just fine.

Death Squared (Switch) image

David an off-screen character. He provides comic relief as he converses with his robotic partner, Iris. Their banter is genuinely amusing a fair portion of the time (though I could have done without some of the pop culture and meme references), and it gradually paints a not-quite-rosy picture of the company for which you labor. However, David also grows quite annoying when you're doing poorly, because he mercilessly makes fun of your performance with a few canned phrases. If you stop to think about how best to solve the puzzle, he'll pipe up every so often with a tired quip that might well distract your train of thought, and he'll mock the characters that remain stationary for too long. As I played, I often wished he would just shut up for a bit so I could think.

The puzzles start out fairly difficult, and they only get tougher from there. A few recurring hazards manage to become quite the nuisance. For instance, there are lasers positioned around the edges of the area, and these often rotate to track movement. One might be blue, the other red. So if you move the red character in front of a blue laser (or the blue character in front of the red one), you fail the stage and have to start over again. This isn't so bad at first, but the mechanic is relied on quite heavily--particularly in the later areas--and it grows tiresome.

To clear a stage, you have to move both characters to switches that match their color, and of course those switches tend to be difficult to reach. They might be guarded by lasers, or they are positioned on remote islands that only move if you step on the right switches along the way, and in the right order. Some of the stages might require you to take quite a few careful steps to get things right, and trial-and-error often comes into play the first time you tackle a new challenge. It's always a riot when you get most of the way through a stage and then step on a panel, only to find that you just skewered or fried your pal halfway across the map.

Death Squared (Switch) image

Unfortunately, the game doesn't always give you the information you need to prevent such unexpected deaths (that, or it expects you to keep too much sorted). Some of the larger stages aren't even visible all at once, and there might be a switch you miss seeing because it is positioned off one side of the screen or the other. Or it will be hidden beneath a block, and you can't spot it because (as far as I could tell) there is no way to pan the camera. This setup is regrettable because in most cases, it's not like the puzzles benefit from the restriction. Sometimes, you have to explore to find hidden collectibles, but there aren't a whole lot of them. I'm really not sure why the camera isn't a bit more intuitive.

Another unexpected issue is that the characters move too precisely. Most of the puzzles are essentially grid-based, and there's rarely any practical benefit to each tiny step registering with the degree of sensitivity they all do. The game would be a lot more enjoyable, I think, if it weren't so often important to monitor every step you take to make sure the robot doesn't walk too far, especially in some of the later areas where blocks have to be pushed precisely or (in a few cases) when you are controlling two characters at once with a single analog stick.

Death Squared (Switch) image

Death Squared is also a party game, with a dedicated mode so multiple players can get together and have a good time, but this is just inviting trouble unless everyone is at around the same skill level and everyone also has an abundance of patience. The game is already maddening enough when you make a minor mistake that completely ruins a run for the tenth time. It's worse still when you have someone else to blame and they're busy laughing because they just walked off a ledge or into a trap and ruined another run.

No, I'm not particularly good at Death Squared. It features 80 stages in the single-player campaign and I'll admit it: I only played through around three quarters of those. I actually stopped at stage 58, where I couldn't even tell why I was dying due to some overhead lasers the camera wouldn't let me track. Everything started to feel a bit too random, even though I knew it wasn't. I'm sure there's a perfectly logical solution to the puzzle and I could eventually solve it to advance to even more frustrating stages, but I've already played more than enough to know that while I wouldn't call it bad, the game definitely isn't for me. You might like it a great deal more than I did, or you might give up on it after clearing a few stages. Either way, look forward to dying a lot. The title certainly fits...


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Staff review by Jason Venter (July 22, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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