The couch co-op genre has had a resurgence of late. While online co-op is still by far the more popular format, the success of games such as Snipperclips, Overcooked and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes have shown that gamers are still keen on co-op games where you need to strategize with your friends in real life. Luckily, developers have been jumping at the chance to develop this style of co-op strategy game. One of the latest to come to Nintendo Switch is Death Squared, a local co-op puzzle game designed by SMG Studios. While you can play Death Squared alone and controlling both characters, I convinced my boyfriend to give it a go with me and play the game the way it was intended.
In Death Squared you play as an AI trying to complete a series of intelligence tests in order to place you at the correct level of function in your company Omnicorp. Meanwhile, you can hear the voice of your human overseer and his AI partner discussing your progress and other banal day-to-day things. The story doesn't really progress because Death Squared doesn't really have a story. If this sounds dull, it's because it is. a bare minimal effort is put into this aspect, but games can rely on gameplay alone. It's just a shame as I feel Death Squared could have been elevated in some way if it had some kind of a story, which could have emerged from this interesting concept.
With such a simple story, Death Squared relies on dialogue and voice actors to bring the world to life. The voice acting is decent, and I can tell the actors have done the best with the script. Their performances make them feel like a real person and robot. However, the script is poor. The mere mention of memes turned my cringe gland into overdrive. Death Squared tries so hard at funny irreverent humor but misses the mark by a long way. My partner nailed it when he said it's like if Anthony Burch had tried to write Portal. Some people will be into this kind of humor, but it's simply not good writing.
The strong point of Death Squared is the puzzle design. The main campaign has 80 different puzzles, while party mode and the more difficult vault mode combined contain an additional 70. Much like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, you move on a 3D grid and lack the ability to jump. However, other elements bring diversity to each level. Platforms or death lasers are constantly moving around, pushing a button of the same color as you can have any number of effects on the level, and sometimes there are two or three clones of your character moving at the same time. You will die a lot, but levels are short so it's not so punishing. It was disappointing when you would figure out a level only to stand on the final button and instantly kill your partner. This happened a lot and felt cheap.
This style of design has positives and negatives. As different actions have different reactions in each stage, going from level to level is often new and exciting. However, you don't really learn from each level and your puzzling skills can't always develop. Each level is not particularly difficult and can be completed in under ten minutes. The only level I looked at a guide for was level 65 which I later found had a physics bug in the Switch version. However, the vault mode is a lot more challenging for those who want something more difficult.
Death Squared's central issue is its monotony. There is just no sense of progression. When you finish one level you simply move on to the next. There are no boss levels, no new worlds to uncover, no change of theme or new mechanics that are added. Almost everything is right there from the beginning. The voice over constantly claims how bored he is, which in no way helps the sense of monotony and grinding the game creates. It's not just the levels and gameplay which add to this sense of mindless repetition.
While the design of the little robots is cute, there is little else I can praise with the art direction. All the levels are the same empty background filled with gray blocks to navigate your way around on. The camera is always pulled out too far so you are distracted by the empty space in the background, and there is no way to adjust the camera or rotate. This is particularly annoying in a puzzle game where you need to be precise in order to pull off tricks, often leading to deaths that feel unjust. I'm not 100% sure but I have a very strong suspicion that it was the same exact song for all 80 levels in the main story. It is pleasantly ambient but you will soon get sick of hearing the same old thing over and over.
After completing the main story we had a quick look at the party and vault modes. Party mode is the same as the main campaign but with 4 robots instead of 2. This doesn't do much to change up gameplay but could be fun if you had 4 friends at hand. If you are playing as 2 robots you also had to hold the button as you controlled your second character which got a little irritating, especially with the Switch's child sized controllers. The vault is a more difficult version of the main game and will offer a challenge to those who didn't find one previously, but again is more of the same.
If you are desperate for a new couch co-op puzzle game and you've already played Snipperclips and Overcooked to death, then this might be a fun little time waster for you. However, there isn't a huge amount of replay value here after you learn the solutions, and the levels don't do too much to challenge the player. Play throughs can feel like a chore with a lack of variation in art, music, and design, with only level 79 standing out as new and innovative over many hours of gameplay.
If you're desperate for a local co-op puzzle game, then Death Squared will certainly scratch that itch. However, lack of variety in levels means that it can get pretty monotonous very quickly.
- Fun Interesting Level Design
- Local Co-op
- Good Voice Acting
- No Sense of Progression
- No Change in Music or Art
- Dialogue is Poorly Written