When it comes to picking a new game, one specific genre that never really tends to get me too excited is the puzzle genre. Not because puzzle games are rubbish, but more the fact I am when it comes to playing anything too taxing on the brain…something which is probably caused by all the time spent fine tuning my aim in most first-person shooters. Even as a child, the old Rubix Cube was something I avoided like the plague. But nevertheless, puzzlers are still going strong, and every now and again one gets sent my way for me to try to at least make head and tail of, so I can bring you the advice on whether to feed your mental masochistic urges on the latest title, or whether you’d be best off saving that hard earned cash on something a lot less likely to have you throwing your controller into the sofa in a fit of the ‘why did I even buy this’ rage. The latest title to test that boundary was Death Squared, and at first, the title alone was enough to have me contemplating controller insurance.
Death Squared puts you, and any friends you might have, into the life of cubes, built to complete many A-to-B challenges whilst besting the many obstacles found in their way. Death Squared is quite obviously designed with couch co-op in mind and should you have enough friends and family members willing to lend a hand, then you can end up with up to four of you taking on the various puzzles found throughout the game.
There are three game modes to speak of; Story Mode, Party Mode and Vault Mode. Story Mode is usually the place to start with most games, but the story in Death Squared isn’t exactly a story as such. In fact, apart from the narration from the Portal-esque computer A.I., Iris, and the man observing the A.I. testing program, David, there isn’t anything even remotely story related whatsoever. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Death Squared Story Mode is bad – instead it is just wrongly named.
The idea of Story Mode is to move two cubes – one blue and one red – through 80 unique levels of obstacles and challenges, by placing each cube on its respective end goal, marked out by each cube’s colour somewhere else in the area. Naturally, being a puzzle game, things starts off relatively easy with early levels providing next to no challenge, before steadily building up to become something worthy of those with a mind much like that of Albert Einstein.
As I mentioned previously, I’m not a big one for puzzlers, so the fact that this is a game that goes from rather simple and straightforward to rather brutal to those untrained to the genre would normally be more than enough to put me off straight away. However, there is something about Death Squared that gives off a different vibe to most puzzlers. For a start, whilst I can often be found cursing most puzzlers for requiring a near perfect working knowledge of every control to stand a chance of progression, Death Squared keeps things surprisingly simple, with each player controlling a cube each throughout, whilst those going solo control both cubes’ movement with the thumbsticks.
Something else that would usually have me frustrated is continuous failure, in which I would normally have no clue where to go next, resulting in repeated mistakes. But with all the action taking place in one small area, the starting location and end goal are always in view to save any confusion and with the controls so simple, and new hazards getting introduced at a sensible pace, the only real thing you can blame for failure is your own ability – or lack of. That said, dying is something you will do a lot whilst you learn the correct route through each level, and failing 10-20 times isn’t something you should be surprised at.
Whilst there are hazards that arrive throughout the various levels, none of them ever introduce anything too taxing individually. It isn’t until you look at the level as a whole is it that you start to realise you need to focus on everything you’ve learnt up to that point, which in turn can make things particularly difficult, something which is even more apparent when lasers and transparent blocks both come into play in later levels. But that said, anyone with a general know how in teamwork will be fine if going at it via co-op.
Other than Story Mode there is of course the previously mentioned Party Mode offering. This is very much like Story Mode, however the enjoyable narration of David and Iris is no longer there to keep you occupied this time round. Instead the focus is moved to the four cubes, now put in the mix with an extra 40 levels to keep things going a little longer. Party Mode can be played with four players, but once more those going solo can always take control of all four cubes with the extra two controlled with a simple press and hold of the left and right triggers whilst moving the sticks.
There is of course one other game mode on offer in Death Squared, but anyone looking to take on the increased challenge of Vault Mode must have first mastered everything in both the Story and Party offerings. Vault Mode has separate experiments to complete for both its two and four player options, however, if you found yourself struggling in the latter levels of the other game modes, it’s probably best to assume that you won’t be getting far in Vault Mode before throwing in the towel. With difficulty ramped up yet again and challenges requiring even more focus than before, only the best will hope to stand much chance.
Whilst that is it for what Death Squared brings, one thing that I can’t praise enough, is just how entertaining the dialogue between David and Iris was throughout the main Story Mode. Whilst it may not be most original idea for a game, with the Portal series already widely known for the relationship between GLaDOS and the player’s character, the conversation provided certainly does enough to take the pain away from the repeated deaths, as well as covering for the lack of any real story whatsoever.
Overall and whilst Death Squared may not be the most adventurous of games, it does show that simplicity can still make for a brilliant game. With some fantastic dialogue found throughout and some ingeniously designed levels, it may just be the best puzzler available on Xbox One, and with a decent selection of game modes and plenty of well thought out content, will be one you’ll be remembering well into the year.