There are three achievements in Death Squared awarded simply for dying numerous amounts of times. And as the title suggests, dying is a very common occurrence, but it’s also part of the humor. It’s a puzzle game that’s straightforward in its presentation but still offers a unique take on the genre. There is a lot of fun to be had with Death Squared, and most of its issues are made up for by its charm. It’s just unfortunate that it lacks any true variety or depth of content.
The story of Death Squared is fairly barebones. You are shown a day in the life of David Valenzuela, an employee of fictional company OmniCorp, who is tasked to run various artificial intelligence tests on a pair of colorful robotic cubes. There is a sassy AI assistant by his side named Iris who answers question and carries out basic tasks. There aren’t any cutscenes or long segments of dialogue, but rather, the small bits of narrative are spread out during load screens or while you are working through a puzzle. The story itself is essentially nonexistent, but both David and Iris are comical and charming characters. David is a low-level employee at Omnicorp, and his dialogue with Iris regarding his status at the company is often hilarious. There were a few occasions where I actually found myself laughing out loud at some of their interactions. The voice actor for David also does a good job of bringing life to a character that is charming and funny while still being relatable. Though the narrative elements don’t stand up in comparison to a puzzle masterclass like Portal 2, it was still nice and added a welcome dose of humor to the overall experience.
As with most puzzle games, gameplay comes first and foremost, and Death Squared takes a simple but effective approach. Each level consists of a grid of squares where you must guide your cute robotic cubes to color-corresponding circular buttons placed in specific spots on the level. In order to be successful and move on to the next course, both cubes must be standing on their buttons at the same time. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a puzzle game without a series of perplexing obstacles standing in your way, and Death Squared has no shortage of inventive challenges to overcome. Throughout my playthrough, I encountered lasers, spikes, elevators, movable blocks, and more that I had to either avoid in a specific way or use properly to solve the puzzle. There are no guardrails on these grids, and if even one of your cubes falls off, it results in instant death and resets the level. The game requires you to analyze multiple aspects simultaneously, such as the positioning of your cubes and how all the components of the course interact with one another. Many of the levels can be completed by simply experimenting with different tactics until one is eventually successful, but it strongly encourages taking your time to think every move through carefully before acting on it. There was more than one occasion where I died repeatedly for the same reason because I was trying to rush through a level haphazardly.
As a single player game, Death Squared is decent. But to get the most rewarding experience, it’s best to play with others. In this case, the proverb “two heads are better than one” really rings true here, and having at least one other person to combine brainpower and talk through the puzzles with is extremely helpful. Even the controls make more sense with two people. In single player, each cube is controlled with either the left or right joystick on the controller. Though it seems simple enough, I easily forgot which cube was designated to which joystick while playing alone, resulting in more than a few embarrassing deaths from accidentally moving the wrong cube just a tad out of position. Also, there isn't an option to rotate the point of view, which caused some problems with depth perception. I believed one of my cubes was in the correct position, only to find out it was slightly too far forward and behind where it needed to be. This wouldn’t normally be an issue, but in a game where even the slightest misstep can lead to immediate death, exact positioning is crucial.
One of my biggest issues with Death Squared is simply the lack of variety in the game. The story mode is sizeable with 80 playable missions, and there is a party mode with 40 additional levels that can be played with up to four players. However, every stage follows the same basic format. Both aesthetically and functionally, the courses all feel like variations on one idea. The visuals and style of the game are pleasing and charming, but I couldn’t help but feel bored after a while looking at the same thing for hours on end. The concept of Death Squared inherently limits the visuals, but considering the game takes place in what I assume is a virtual space designed to test AI, it would have been nice to see something unexpected to alter the formula. In other words, the digital setting could have been used to introduce different elements without much explanation, but it was not capitalized on whatsoever.
Death Squared has been marketed as a puzzle game that anyone, from hardcore gamers to grandmas, could pick up and enjoy, and I think in that respect it succeeds. I see it being most worthwhile as a party game to be played with friends, where everyone can work together to solve these puzzles that are often times both intricate and exceedingly challenging. The concept behind Death Squared is sound, but with a startling lack of variety in its content, the satisfaction from solving these inventive puzzles only lasts so long.
I am a writer and journalist based in San Francisco. When I'm not getting lost in expansive open-world RPGs, immersive first-person shooters or any other type of game that grabs my interest, I usually spend my time taking photos and playing music. Two of my all-time favorite games are Persona 4 Golden and Metal Gear Solid 3.