Death Squared sees you playing as artificially intelligent robots under the supervision of robot tester David, a worker for the futuristic tech company Omnicorp. A co-op puzzle game for 2-4 players - although there is a "lonely co-op" mode for those who don't have a companion on hand - developer SMG Studios' first console outing is a solid and enjoyable affair, although one that lacks innovation.
It's a simple premise: each player controls one coloured block - though in single player mode, one player controls two blocks, using both sticks - and must guide it to their corresponding goal. Things start off simple enough, but soon objects in the game's levels are manipulated depending on the movement of a certain block. For example, a coloured laser might turn or change direction depending on the movement of a block, or a lift or teleporter might change position and reveal a new area or solution.
What's satisfying about Death Squared is that everything is colour-coded, easily allowing for new mechanics and obstacles to be introduced without requiring much of an explanation. A blue button only activates when a blue player is on it, and translucent blocks only allow the corresponding-coloured player through while acting as a wall (or floor) for other coloured players. This simplicity keeps the game's 80-level story mode flowing quickly and fluidly, while still creating tough puzzles.
Said story is nothing too special, but the banter between David and his AI friend is quite funny - though it does fall flat in places. Other than a "how do you do fellow kids"-esque conversation concerning memes, the light-hearted humour of the game is enjoyable in places.
As a co-op game, Death Squared is the antithesis to the frantic action of something like Overcooked; because of the game's mind-boggling nature, a slow and cautious approach is best when playing with friends, creating a relaxing yet satisfying experience, -although tension can certainly racket up when a laser is centimetres away from vaporising one of your teammates. The puzzles are arguably more fun and challenging to tackle as a single player experience, however. Getting used to using the two analogue sticks for two different characters is a tough task, but one that ultimately feels like more of an accomplishment when you've completed a tough level.
Thanks to the physics-based nature of the game, pushing around blocks - as well as general movement - feels weighty, although a few problems can arise. We've had the frustrating experience of falling off of the map many times thanks to one tiny micro-movement, and while this is a testimony to the game's engine, it's hugely frustrating - especially when you've just had that eureka moment of realising the puzzle's solution.
Still, this is all a part of the trial-and-error nature of Death Squared. While it's possible to finish a level in one go, you're expected to fail many times since it's part of the learning process. It's a game about experimenting with different ideas and combinations until you've found the one that works - again, something that feels very rewarding, especially in the later levels.
Once the ten-hour story is over, the game's fun wears off a little. There is a challenging Vault mode that contains 30 harder levels - a mode that SMG Studio has promised to constantly update post-launch - and a Party mode for up to four players, but none of them are as fun as the main story mode, and are unlikely to keep you entertained for much longer.
Death Squared is a solidly fun and challenging experience with friends, and even more so when played as a single-player game. Its lighthearted nature, lengthy story mode, and couch co-op possibilities are all good selling points, but SMG Studios' puzzler suffers thanks to a lack of innovation. Test passed - just.