Death Squared (Switch) Review

Colorful Puzzle Robots!

The Nintendo Switch is no stranger to cooperative puzzle games, having launched with the unconventional Snipperclips. Indie developer SMG Studio introduces its own take on the genre with Death Squared, a local multiplayer puzzler that tasks you with guiding colorful cube robots past cleverly placed deathtraps. Unlike Snipperclips, which takes an anything-goes approach to its offbeat logic, Death Squared delivers a more mechanical experience, emphasizing the rule that every action has a reaction.

Here is the Video Version for your viewing pleasure!

In each of the game’s 3D puzzle stages, you and a partner each control a colored cube robot: one red, one blue. The colors aren’t just to help you tell your characters apart; you must guide your robotic cubes to their respective colored circular switches to complete a level. Most of the game relies on color coordination; only red bots can activate red switches and pass through red blocks, and vice versa. The same rules apply to lasers that instantly kill any robot that doesn’t match its color, but do absolutely nothing to one of the same color. In this way, you can usually see what the goal is upon entering a stage. The challenge is manipulating each level’s pigmented parts to your favor.

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Spikes – colorful but deadly.

What gives Death Squared depth beyond its color matching is the golden rule that every action has a definitive reaction. Press a switch and a block may rise, for instance. However, you’ll never know what a switch does until you press it. Instead of raising blocks, the same type of switch might activate spikes on the floor, potentially killing your partner. Pushing buttons isn’t the only action with consequences; simple movement can suddenly shift blocks or force down a spike ceiling. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of trial and error, which can make some deaths feel unfair. The penalty for dying is just restarting the stage, but for the longer puzzles, there’s a devastating feeling when all your progress is wiped because you accidentally killed your partner. It doesn’t help that there’s a death counter that exists purely to mock you.

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Some lasers actually follow you.

Movement is another issue; you can only use the analog stick and not the d-pad to move around each stage’s grid of blocks. Surprisingly, your cube robots are not limited to exact grid-based movement. You have freedom to move however you like, which sounds good on paper but has poor execution, given the mechanical puzzle design. It isn’t always clear if you’re in the death zone of a laser or if you’ve completely boarded a moving block. Too often, moving feels like a balancing act as you try to avoid falling off the stage. In addition, depth is difficult to judge, and you can’t rotate the camera to account for it. I’ve accidentally fallen through many gaps because I couldn’t tell if there was solid footing there or not.

Despite these flaws and numerous frustrating deaths, I enjoyed most of the game’s 80 puzzles, primarily because of its excellent co-op implementation. Aside from the obvious benefits of having a second person to bounce ideas off of or to laugh with after a sudden death, Death Squared puts teamwork at the forefront of its design. It’s not enough to simply get your own cube bot to your circle switch; you must communicate with your teammate, who may need to press switches to help you advance. Or perhaps there is a blue laser aimed at your red partner, and the only way to proceed is to absorb the ray with your blue body. I liked seeing the puzzles progress, increasingly forcing my partner and me to move in sync and complement each other’s journeys.

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If 2-player is too easy, try 4-player!

While you can play the entire story mode in one-player, it’s difficult to control both robots at once; you move each one with a corresponding analog stick. I often lost track of which stick moved which robot and ended up inadvertently falling through many pits. Additionally, later levels required a lot of coordination, which were actually harder to pull off alone than with a teammate. At least you can choose any control scheme to play this game, whether playing with the Joy-Con controllers in the Switch’s handheld mode or using a Pro Controller. You can even use a single Joy-Con on its side, though that makes it especially difficult if you’re controlling two robots – you need to press a separate button to identify which bot you’re playing as.

Each puzzle took me anywhere from a minute to half an hour for some later levels. You can replay any completed levels to improve your time or challenge yourself to beat it without dying. If the 80 story levels and extra difficult postgame puzzles aren’t enough, there is also a party mode, granting up to four players control of four robots. Aside from being a lot harder to manage, the game doesn’t change much. There are only 40 party mode levels, but it gets insanely tough a lot sooner, not even including its separate batch of postgame puzzles.

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It’s like a beautiful, horrible rainbow.

Although the game has bland factory-like settings, the cube robots themselves exhibit some character through their bleeps and blinks. The game’s personality truly shines through voice over banter between sarcastic Omnicorp employee Dave and the A.I. Iris. Its humor is most similar to Portal, though Iris never reaches the ridiculous lengths of GlaDOS. Dave can be annoying too; if you leave either robot idle for an extended period of time, he starts yelling at you to move – which goes against the slow-paced nature of the game.

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KA-BOOM!

Conclusion

As a fan of both puzzles and cooperative experiences, I enjoyed my time with Death Squared. It’s easy to say “just one more” after every inventive and devious puzzle. Although the game has some flaws – its reliance on trial-and-error and imprecise movement – playing with a teammate alleviated those frustrations, leading to laughter each time an unexpected death occurred. Although playing the game alone is neither that fun nor easy to control, playing with a well-coordinated partner provides the perfect setup for this mechanically colorful puzzler.

Score: 8/10

A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally posted on Darkstation.

What are your thoughts on Death Squared?

What are your favorite puzzle platformer games on any system?

How about your favorite cooperative puzzle games?

Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

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15 thoughts on “Death Squared (Switch) Review

  1. Great review! Maybe this game should be called Death Cubed, lol. This game was very challenging but a lot fun to play with a you. Some of the puzzles required a lot of thinking outside the…box. I liked the mechanics of pushing switches, avoiding lasers, and activating trip wires. A lot of the stages were pretty unforgiving of careless movements. I agree that freedom of movement was both a blessing and a curse. It was just way to easy to fall off the stage. Not being able to rotate and fully see the 3D stages (and trap holes) largely contributed to that. It’s really hard to manipulate two different bots with one controller. It makes sense that there’s a single player mode, but this game was really meant to be a co-op. 4-player mode ups the ante quite a lot. Overall I had a good time solving these boxy robot puzzles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Death Cubed… You’re funny with your box puns, BoxBoxGirl! 😛 Thanks so much for your kind words and support as always! And thanks for helping by being my co-op partner, both for the video and for the whole thing! Always means a lot how awesome you are in making this happen! The game itself had flaws, but overall, I loved it, and I know how hard you laughed too when we died constantly, haha. Only 700+ deaths, hahaha!

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  2. Good review! Oddly, this reminds me a little of Super Monkey Ball. I miss that game… The visuals look a little bland, but I trust that the sound effects make up for it. Also, excellent job impersonating the bots at the end!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha thank you! I did my best to sound robotic in the best way possible. I can sort of see the Super Monkey Ball connection, if the monkeys were in cubes instead of spheres. If a Monkey Ball game came out on Switch, I’d so be on that! Thanks again as always for your support, my friend! 🙂

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    1. I don’t remember the Oracle of Ages puzzle too well (it’s been a long time since I’ve played it), but the VLR puzzle was definitely great! Death Squared is complicated, but only because it keeps going with its concept, eventually introducing ridiculous ideas that expound upon the original idea. The 4-player party mode and bonus levels are especially brutal, which make it fun for co-op, as long as you can laugh with them, haha!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been waiting to read this review since I saw you playing the game on my friends list a week or two ago, hahaha.

    It sounds pretty good! I’ll probably skip it though, just because local co-op is kind of a rarity for me, since my friends are all pretty busy, and it sounds like single player is not the way to go. Still, it sounds very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a bunch! I hope it was worth the wait! 😀 Yea, local co-op is doable since each robot cube is controlled by a separate cube. But unless you have really good coordination, you’ll find it hard to control both of them at the same time. I mean, you’d get past the first 20 or so levels. But once you have to move in sync and keep track of a lot of elements, it gets pretty difficult. Thanks for your comments!

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  4. I love puzzles and robots, but I’m not sure how I feel about cooperative play hehe. I’d definitely give this a try though! Despite some of the issues, it still looks like fun so long as you were playing with someone who didn’t let the constant death get to them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha, it’s certainly fun with others. It’s more chaotic with more people, but the deaths are funnier. More brains in the same room also help with the puzzles. The first night my wife and I played Death Squared, we were cracking up when anything unexpected killed us. The falling spikes got us every time, haha!

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