In a crowded market of local multiplayer Nintendo Switch games, how does Death Squared shape up?
The Switch has only been out for four months, yet it hasn’t taken the indie community long to embrace the flexible nature of the system, possibly even better than Nintendo themselves. Death Squared might have launched on other systems earlier in the year, but the Switch easily feels like the true platform on which to play it on.
On the surface, Death Squared doesn’t come off as all that original. In essence, the game is all about moving a controllable cube to its corresponding coloured circle, whilst avoiding bringing the cube to an untimely death. It is this superficial simplicity, however, that helps Death Squared to focus on the ever-increasing challenge of the puzzles that each of the 80 story levels provides.
Irrespective of platform, Death Squared is a game of two halves, but on the Switch this really shines. The story mode can either be played solo or cooperatively, and is ostensibly the same progression from start to finish – unlike other puzzle games (like Portal 2) which can require a significant time investment in co-op modes, Death Squared is drop in/drop out – but with a very different complexion on it for the addition of a second player. When playing cooperatively, the real challenge comes from having to successfully navigate the level with another human being. Two heads might be better than one when it comes to solving the puzzles, but actually doing so might be another thing. Then again, there’s nothing stopping having one person play and another sitting back and providing advice.
Of course, on the Switch, this inherent flexibility is greatly expanded upon. The intuitive nature of the controls and the relatively straightforward play methodology – the entire game, aside from confirming options in the menu, is played with analogue stick movements only – means the ability to pass someone a Joy-Con controller and start playing instantly still can’t be understated. Combine that with the drop in/drop out nature of the game’s cooperative mode and the fact that earlier levels are relatively short, it’s deliciously easy to take advantage of the go anywhere nature of the Switch (and its tabletop mode) to get in a quick blast with a friend.
This flexibility extends the solo experience as well, despite needing both Joy-Con given the dual stick nature of the solo control scheme, with support for the Pro Controller available also available. Then, of course, handheld mode is just as viable as any other method. That’s the beauty of Death Squared’s control schemes: the hardware of the Switch is never a limitation, and can easily adapt to the play style and/or situation that is required of it. This all adds to the sheer enjoyment and reward that comes from simply playing the game.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to not draw comparisons to Portal 2. Even though mechanically the two games are very different, playing through the story mode does invoke some memories of the infamous Aperture Science laboratires. Like Portal, Death Squared takes place in a testing facility and sees two AI units tasked with completed a series of levels. Whilst there is no explicit plot to speak of there is plenty of dialogue, provided via a full voice over between incompetent technician David and his AI assistant Iris, although it is the latter who is calling the shots.
It is the implementation of the voice over and its content that provides what could be the only real source of contention for some players. The writing is amusing but does rely heavily on a staple of sci-fi references as the basis for many of its jokes. Its main go to source is 2001: A Space Odyssey, and if this wasn’t evident by the technicians’ name David then its mention of HAL 9000 mode certainly will. Then there are the contemporary meme references, which are thankfully, surprisingly subtle.
It’s a shame that some lines do repeat, like one of the 2001 references, but there is a wide variety of dialogue present, which adds a great deal to the “world” it takes place in. Plus, the dialogue provides a bit of company when playing in single player; it’s almost as if you have a couple of companions, even though nothing they talk about (aside from a few particular levels) relates directly to the level you’re on.
Like its control schemes, there is very little to get in the players’ way from enjoying the Death Squared. Load times are almost non-existent, and the closest thing the game has to cut scenes – snippets of dialogue that take place outside of the game proper, where a loading screen tip might normally be found – can be skipped. Whilst the game will almost gleefully point out just how many times you have died, death in itself isn’t a punishment: the game loads up the level fresh straight away, allowing a different approach to be taken immediately after seeing a previous attempt go wrong.
There is plenty to do in Death Squared, and when you’re done with single player and co-op the game also has a party mode that can only be played with multiple players. Then there is the Vault, which adds even more levels that were apparently deemed too hard for the main story. All told, there are 150 levels to tackle, meaning players will certainly get their fill of cooperative based puzzles.
Already there has been no shortage of excellent Switch games, and Death Squared is definitely one of them. It might not be the most inventive of all puzzle based games, but it certainly utilises the strengths of Nintendo’s hybrid system, and is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that is deeply rewarding after having completed a particularly challenging level. There are plenty of games vying for attention this year, but Death Squared on the Switch is worthy of receiving it.