Cubes have been the main component in a surprising amount of games of late. Cubot and Q.U.B.E come to mind straight away, and now Death Squared has joined the party. Australian developer SMG Studio has managed to create a game where a couple of cubes take centre stage and somehow manages to get you to care about what happens to these cubes by the end. At heart, Death Squared is a puzzle game, but there’s a roundabout story going on here too.
Once you begin the story, you take control of the blue and red cubes. The left analogue stick controls one, and the right analogue stick, the other. With both sticks playing a large part of the game mechanics you will need to come to terms or get to grips with controlling both at the same time.
Death Squared sees your cubes as part of an experiment, overseen by David, a human tester, and Iris, an A.I assisting him. The basic goal is to get both of your cubes onto the corresponding coloured buttons, which then allows you to progress to the next level. David and Iris spend a lot of the time speaking during and in-between tests, and this is the way in which Death Squared tells its story to the player. Although it would have survived and been playable without any kind of story, it’s nice for the game to have a bit more substance.
Death Squared: PC, Xbox One [Reviewed, PlayStation 4
Developer: SMG Studio
Publisher: SMG Studio
Release Date: 14 March 2017
Price: £15.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
There are 80 story levels for you to complete with your two little cubes, and they vary in length from very short, requiring only a couple of movements, to almost miniature mazes that require a fair bit of manoeuvring about to reach the end. Sometimes the game throws multiple red and blue cubes at you, sometimes there are different buttons to get to and a lot of the time there are certain obstacles you’ll need to overcome in order to progress.
Lasers make an appearance and feature heavily, especially in the later levels, as do spikes, moving blocks and coloured blocks. The earlier levels do serve as a sort of tutorial in terms of helping you figure out what to do, but a lot of it is left to simple trial and error.
There’s quite a large difficulty spike towards the latter levels that will probably cause a few problems, even to those who are familiar with this type of puzzle game, however, despite the ramp in difficulty, this shouldn’t be off-putting, still it’s worth knowing that Death Squared is not a puzzle game for the faint hearted.
Levels themselves serve as a series of blocks that you slide across in order to get to the exit buttons. Both blocks must be on their individual button in order for you to finish the level, which can be a lot harder than it sounds. None of the levels possess walls as such, and so death is a very immediate danger at all times, with the player able to literally drop off any side of through any hole in the level. You can also be killed off by the lasers and spikes in the levels, especially if you’re overly keen with your movements.
The moment you accept that death is going to be a regular occurrence during your experience, you can get on with actually trying to complete the levels.
In addition to the story levels in the game, there are also a large number of party levels.
For these, you will need two controllers, and quite possibly an extra person, as there will be 4 blocks you need to get to their buttons rather than the two found in the main story. These levels are equally, if not more, difficult to solve than the story levels, and will require a lot of forward planning.
When my friend and I played this, besides a lot of falling off, we would also continually forget who was controlling which cube, and which analogue stick controlled which cube as well. With four cubes packed onto such a small surface space, problems are going to occur, but the party levels are still as fun and challenging as the story ones are.
Visually, Death Squared looks and feels very scientific, with many straight lines, dull panels and grey colours. This is obviously due to the setting of the experiments, however, the four different colours of the blocks bring some well-needed brightness to the game. You can also opt to change the decals on the front of each of your cubes, which does nothing other than a superficial change but is fun to give them a design and watch them dance at the press of a button.
David and Iris add some well-needed dialogue to an otherwise very quiet, and potentially dull, puzzle game, with the music taking a back seat and puzzling the main focus. Secret items give you an extra incentive to search the very small levels, figuring out which button presses might do more than meets the eye. Unfortunately, the levels with these secret items are not specified, so without a guide, you a pretty much left searching, with items hiding often out of plain sight.
Death Squared features a couple of annoying issues in the form of the games camera and actual movement. If you are really careful with your movements, you’ll just fall off, even if you think you are going in a straight line, you’ll fall off. If you attempt to cut a corner, chances are you’ll fall off, even if most of your cube is still on the ground, you fall off. Poor movement options provide some extremely frustrating moments that are hard to ignore given the stupidity of their nature.
The camera issues stem from your inability to control the actual camera. You are essentially heading around a lot of corners blind, where you might not always be able to see the path ahead of you. This is especially bad when searching for secret items, as you may sometimes not see them until you literally pass straight over them.
Overall, Death Squared is an interesting puzzle game that will hold your attention without really pushing any boundaries. The colourful blocks stand out perfectly against a dull back setting, with has barely any sound apart from a minimalistic soundtrack and commentary from David and Iris. The game is let down by a difficulty spike that will stop you in your tracks, a camera that you can’t control yourself in order to see where you’re going and paths that are a little too easy to fall off. Death Squared is a solid puzzle game that will largely appeal to hardcore puzzle fans.