Death Squared (Switch) Review

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!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – The Master Trials DLC (Switch) Review

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – The Master Trials DLC (Switch) Review

Challenge Accepted

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has garnered praise from players all over the world since its launch with the Nintendo Switch. The game ventured into new territory as the first 3D open-world Zelda title and did away with the traditional linear structure. Now, it’s the first mainline Zelda title (not counting Hyrule Warriors or amiibo) to have DLC, starting with Pack 1: “The Master Trials.” It’s a surprising move given how massive BotW already is. The big questions are: what did Nintendo substantially add and is it worth it?

Here is the Video Version for your viewing pleasure!

First of all, you haven’t yet played Breath of the Wild, you can check out my previous review. I would highly recommend going through the main storyline and doing as much as you can before considering picking up the DLC. Note, there are some minor visual spoilers but no story-related spoilers in this review.

The Master Trials’ hooks are the difficult Trial of the Sword (TotS) and the harder Master Mode, so this set is clearly geared towards players seeking a challenge. Trial of the Sword is a 45-floor gauntlet, similar to those found in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. Unlike Twilight Princess, the TotS strips you of all of your equipment and items, leaving only your hearts and stamina. Needless to say, the mode is tough from the get-go, even before it starts throwing the truly devious enemies and environmental challenges at you. Thankfully, a couple of permanent checkpoints ensure that you make some progress, but if you die before reaching any of those, you must start over from the beginning.

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Let me just take out my trusty sword… Oh.

Although it can get frustratingly difficult, I liked how TotS emphasized the core themes of the main game: survival and resourcefulness. Since you must build your repertoire each time with very limited healing, it felt like a true test of endurance. It’ll likely take at least a few hours to get through this challenge, but that’s assuming you finish it one try. Completionists will appreciate the Master Sword upgrade, but merely beating it is already an accomplishment.

The other major addition, Master Mode, is a harder version of the main game that restarts you from the beginning on a separate file. Unlike the Master Quest in Ocarina of Time, the game is by and large the same. The shrine puzzles don’t change, nor do any quests or locations. It’s the enemies that get tougher, with lower-ranked minions replaced by stronger ones. There are some surprises regarding enemy placement and new floating Octoroks that can lift other foes in midair. Additionally, enemies now recharge health over time, making battles taxing on your weapons’ limited durability. I found this annoying, especially since I wasn’t a fan of the durability system in the first place.

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Sky Octoroks – unexpectedly awesome addition

I’m mixed about the developers’ decision to completely separate Master Mode from your main file. On the one hand, it makes sense to separate the mode since the experience is different enough. On the other hand, starting another 60+ hour file when my old 100+ hour file is still incomplete wasn’t the most appealing route. Overall, it’s fun to replay a remixed, more threatening version, but part of my enjoyment comes from the fact that BotW is already a fantastic game.

There are a handful of goodies that roundup the DLC package, though you have to manually find these unlocked prizes in the world. Although I loved having something big to look for again, some players could be understandably upset that they have to earn something they already paid for. The one thing that is available from the get-go is the Hero’s Path, a map function that tracks everywhere you’ve traveled in the last 200 hours. It’s extremely detailed, allowing you to retrace your exact path, including humorous voice samples where you died. It sounds like a silly idea, but it’s surprisingly useful to see which areas you’ve neglected.

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Useful for planning your next trip to Hyrule.

The most helpful item for completionists is the Korok Mask, which alerts you when one of the woodland creatures is nearby. It doesn’t tell you how to find the Korok, but a nudge in the right direction helps in locating the many hundreds of them hiding about. Another useful item is the Travel Medallion, which lets you set a custom warp point; it’s a small convenience, but it pays off if you’ve reached an isolated area without a nearby fast-travel point.

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Yahaha! You found me!

The remaining armor pieces are references from other games and mostly serve as fan service for collectors. Majora’s Mask is my favorite of the set, not only hailing from the amazing game, but also allowing you to walk alongside enemies without being attacked. The Phantom Armor is next in terms of usefulness, boosting your attack and defense, making combat easier. Both of these outfits help considerably in Master Mode.

The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild DLC Pack 1 The Master Trials Majora's Mask
You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?

Meanwhile, Midna’s Helmet protects you from Guardians, and most importantly, lets you cosplay as one of the best Zelda sidekicks. Finally, Tingle’s Outfit lets you become a beautiful 35-year old man cosplaying as a fairy in a skin-tight green suit… It also lets you run faster. Tingle Tingle Kooloo Limpah! Overall, the outfits look great and have some nice powers. The drawback is that none of them can be upgraded, making all but Majora’s Mask mostly useless once you have better armor. I take that back; dressing up like Tingle is never useless.

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Tingle Tingle Kooloo Limpah!

Note that you can only purchase the DLC as part of a set that includes the upcoming second DLC pack entitled “The Champions’ Ballad.” We know nothing about this except that there will be a new original story and dungeon. It won’t arrive until December though, so you could also wait and see what pack two holds before plopping down your money for the pass.

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Rare footage of Link shooting the ad for his own DLC pack.

Conclusion

While I found the DLC to be a reasonably priced excuse to re-enter a more challenging version of one of the best Zelda games, it’s certainly not for everyone. This DLC set caters to a fanbase that wants the game to be harder; skilled players and completionists will get the most out of this package. If you’re just in it for the costumes, it might not be worth your time. And if you’re still trying to beat the game, then it’s best to wait and see if you want more from the already massive experience. Otherwise, if you’re interested and you don’t back down from a challenge, then “The Master Trials” live up to their name.

What are your thoughts of The Master Trials DLC Pack?

What are the best and worst inclusions in the pack?

What kind of DLC do you want to see for Breath of the Wild?

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

ARMS (Switch) Review

ARMS (Switch) Review

Nintendo’s Next Hit?

The 3D fighting game ARMS marks Nintendo’s first new major property since the team-based third-person shooter Splatoon. Both games serve as examples of genres that the Big N hasn’t dabbled with much until now. In ARMS’ case, Nintendo has given nearly a dozen colorful fighters stretchy arms. Though this sounds like a gimmicky callback to old “Stretch Armstrong” toys, a large slice of strategy and a helping of the company’s trademark charm go a long way in breathing vigor into this novel arena fighter.

Here is the Video Version for your viewing pleasure!

As in most fighting games, the most basic fight structure pits you against another pugilist in a 3D arena. A jab of either fist sends your respective stretchy arm flying towards your opponent. You can fight using one arm at a time or fire a quick one-two punch. Stretching both arms at the same time grabs your foe and throws them across the ring. Either of you can guard, blocking any potential damage. However, a grab completely bypasses a guard. Conversely, a well-timed punch can knock away your opponent’s grab attempt, creating a weapon triangle of sorts. Winning matches requires a careful balance of responding to the other fighter’s attacks while making powerful advances of your own when the time is right. In this way, ARMS plays out less like the furious frenzy of Wii Boxing and more like the careful reflex-based Punch-Out!!

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Ramen girl Min Min has noodle arms!

The intended way to play ARMS is by holding the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controllers in a thumbs-up grip, in which your thumbs hover over the shoulder triggers and the buttons face each other. For the most part, controls are responsive and provide a more immersive experience, allowing you to move around the entire arena by tilting the controllers in your desired direction. Dashing and jumping are mapped to the L and R shoulder buttons, which works perfectly with the thumbs-up grip.

Don’t be deceived by the motion controls; other than special rush attacks, in which you unleash a flurry of fists after filling your “rush gauge,” the game feels nothing like the wagglefests of the good old Wii days. Strategic fighting aside, the motion controls of the Joy-Con are more sophisticated, allowing you to curve your in-game arms as they stretch out. It’s very hard to perfect curving arms, though, as the gyroscope is very sensitive. The learning curve is indeed steep and practice is required, but the potential of what you can achieve with the motion is so high, it’s no surprise that Nintendo recommends it.

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ARMS gets intense quickly!

For those who are tired of motion controls, Nintendo has included other ways to play. The Switch Pro Controller and Joy-Con Grip provide the most traditional controls, mapping each action to a button. In particular, controlling each arm with its respective shoulder trigger feels natural. I’m less fond of how you have to push the left control stick down to guard; it’s not at all comfortable and hard to reliably activate. I wish there was a way to configure controls, if only for that unintuitive design decision. My guess is that the developers wanted to standardize all traditional controls; and since you can play with a single Joy-Con on its side, sporting far less buttons, we’re left with an unfortunate control scheme for guarding. As much as I prefer using a regular controller, you can only curve one arm at a time with that scheme, putting trained motion users at an advantage – seemingly another result of standardizing controls for single Joy-Con use.

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Who needs Summer when you have Spring Man? *rimshot*

Moving away from technical talk, ARMS is oozing with Nintendo charm. Each of the ten colorful characters have lots of personality and provide a lot of variety. The game’s poster boy, Spring Man, sports a toothpaste-like hairdo and supercharges his punches at low health. Meanwhile, the pop star Ribbon Girl can jump multiple times and dive dash down at her foes. I haven’t been so impressed with a franchise’s starting roster for a fighting game since Super Smash Bros. The characters’ designs speak louder than words, and each player is bound to find one they like, whether the heavy auto-healing Master Mummy, the gelatinous blob Helix, or my personal favorite, the ramen girl Min Min. The fighters are pretty well-balanced and you can theoretically master the game with any character. Although some have inherent advantages, such as Ninjara’s dash teleporting and Twintelle’s ability to slow down punches and float, the metagame is very early and the sky’s the limit for character potential.

The different characters would have been enough for me, but each can equip up to a couple dozen different Weapon Arms – for instance, boxing gloves, triple missiles, and even dragon laser beams. Each one has a base power, weight, and element, such as fire or electricity. By charging your Arms through guarding or holding jump/dash buttons, you can unleash a superpowered attack that can burn, freeze, or stun your opponent. As a result, there are many permutations you can achieve for your customized partner. Want a heavy electric shock for your light character? Done. A wind based whip instead of a fiery one? Easy. The only downside is that you must earn Arms for each character through a break-the-targets minigame that only gives you the chance to earn random Arms. The price to play is steep, costing in-game coins that take long to grind.

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In Smash Announcer voice: Break the Targets!

The arenas are well-designed, each hosting simple stage hazards related to their host character, such as bouncing platforms surrounding Spring Man’s stage and parked cars littered all over Twintelle’s movie theater lot. A few duds make the game unfairly advantageous for at least one player – such as Kid Cobra’s skate park, which features skateboard platforms offering speed and height to a character, and Ninjara’s staircase arena which randomly gives one player the higher ground.

ARMS comes with quite a few modes, but it has a clear multiplayer bias, which is typical of fighting games. The sole single-player attraction, Grand Prix, is a simple arcade mode that pits you against every other fighter one by one. There isn’t any real story and the lore is mostly relegated to short monologues by the tournament announcer, making the experience feel empty. It should be noted that you must complete difficulty level four (out of seven) to unlock Ranked online mode. It’s a great idea to gate off ranked mode, as the computer opponents in Grand Prix put up a very tough challenge, even in level four!

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ARMS’ legs are in its multiplayer. Har har har.

Ranked online is just as it sounds, letting you face other pros to rise the ranks. Aside from that, there is also local Versus and an online Party mode. Versus has multiple modes: the traditional fight; a 2v2 variant that tethers teammates together, so if one character goes flying, the other follows; and 3- and 4-player free-for-alls. While the battle royales can be fun, they tend to be unfair; some players might just hang back and watch everyone else whittle their health, and others may gang up on a single character. Essentially, it’s hard to keep track of everyone in those matches.

There are also some minigames. V-Ball is a fun take on volleyball, and is surprisingly compatible with the stretchy arms. On the other hand, Hoops is a watered-down version of basketball, in which grabbing your opponent is sufficient for slam dunks. Meanwhile, Skillshot is an effective training mode for target practice, and 1-on-100 tests your mettle against multiple enemies at once.

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No party like an ARMS party!

Party mode, despite its casual-sounding name, is the primary area for online play. You are placed in a lobby and randomly assigned matches with others in the room. They’re usually fights, but you may occasionally play other minigames like V-Ball or participate in a group effort against a single enemy fighter. It’s fun to see others in the lobby and form rivalries with them, sometimes facing them in battle then suddenly teaming up with them in a team match. You can also make friend lobbies with custom rules like prohibiting certain stages or removing random bomb-items. My online experience has been mostly smooth, with only a few occasional hiccups and dropouts, depending on Wi-Fi signal strength. It’s not a surprise, considering the similar online infrastructure to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

The game manages to run consistently smoothly at 60 fps, only dropping in 3- and 4-player splitscreen matches. The wonderfully designed characters and stages stand out both in docked and handheld mode and are a delight to the eyes. Finally, the main theme of ARMS is one of the catchiest songs in recent game memory. Each song is a variant of the theme, and yet it somehow never gets old.

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I’d hang out with them… I think.

Conclusion

I’ll admit that I wasn’t onboard the ARMS hype train until Nintendo held its Global Testpunch demos. It’s a shame that there is no longer such a demo, since this is a game where you have to try it to understand it. The motion controls may not sound appealing at first, but they provide an effective experience that deviates from the Wii’s typical offerings. As fun as this game is, it’s not for everyone. Either control scheme has its pros and cons. And like any fighting game, replayability is reliant on how deep you get into the mechanics. With its content-light single-player, you’ll be dependent on multiplayer to enjoy the game. If you’re a hardcore fan of Street Fighter, Pokkén Tournament, and the like, don’t pass this up. You’ll be surprised by ARMS’ stretchy potential.

Score: 8/10

What are your thoughts of ARMS? Who are your favorite and least favorite characters? What are your favorite fighting games on the Nintendo Switch so far? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below! Thank you for reading and watching!