Death Squared – Review
Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4
*Note – This review is specifically for the Switch version of the game. While many elements discussed here are true for the other versions there may be some differences.
I want to talk to you about a co-operative game called Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
(…yes I am aware that this is a review about Death Squared, but hear me out).
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was one of the most innovative puzzle-platformers of 2014 and a great couch co-operative game in our household. Similar to our gaming childhoods, my partner and I each took turns navigating Toad or Toadette around small stages, rotating the stage with the joystick on the Wii U Gamepad. It kept us entertained for the Christmas break in 2014 by utilising a fair and equitable sharing mechanic. Typically, when one person finished a stage, the Gamepad would be provided to the other person to complete the next stage, and we would continue alternating until we had to stop for dinner or we were stumped by difficult levels that we had to work through together.
Death Squared …is a compilation of those difficult levels that we had to work through together.
Set in an almost Portal-esque premise, you are the earnest robot/s that serve as the test subjects for lab technician David and his AI colleague Iris. Your mission is to guide at least two (and at most four) robots to the circular goal that corresponds with their colour. Like Treasure Tracker, you have to guide your protagonists through obstacles that are either ever-present or triggered reactions to the activities of your robot comrades. The stages are designed to be short and self-contained and enjoyed in small offerings at your leisure. For each stage, you do not get a score, but you will receive summary information on how many times your robots died before the puzzle was completed.
And let’s be fair – we are sending these poor little robots to die. A lot.
This is not just because of your poor communication as a player – the difficulty in the 80 stages presented in the Story Mode ramps up quickly, throwing a lot of new tricks and traps into every level. While it can be frustrating does make sense for the Story Mode to operate in this way. There is no need for SMG Studio to futz around with introducing ideas in a slow boil so that players can perfect a technique – you have plentiful opportunities to reopen stages that you have completed and perfect your skills. However I can tell you that I got stuck on Stage 9 for a good while, so if you are easily frustrated you might be best served playing this game in docked mode so that you don’t throw the Switch across the room in a blind rage.
The presentation in docked and in handheld mode is flawless, possibly due to the minimalist approach to video and sound. This is a game that feels comfortable on the Switch, controlling two robots with the Joy-Cons with ease and good responsiveness from the Joy-Con analogue sticks. It complements the Switch’s priority on solo and party play, with game modes that are rewarding whether you are playing on your own or with a friend. The former tests your spatial reasoning considerably (controlling two robots with two analogue sticks), but the minimal distractions allow you to focus on the task at hand (with the occasional glib remarks from David and Iris). The latter … well, the latter tests your marriage.
See, this could be marketed as a fantastic party game (and the Party Mode is there for you and three friends to laugh and cry through 40 levels while you are waiting for the pizza delivery), but there is nothing like sitting with your significant other, each holding a Joy-Con, and jointly working out how to meet the objective of each stage. Unlike Treasure Tracker where we were both trying to guide one little Toad through a puzzle platformer and were both trying to do the right thing by one Mushroom Kingdom representative, Death Squared gave each of us responsibility for a tiny robot. Where instinct would tell you to take your robot and complete its objective, each stage beats that selfish little thought out of your head and actually makes you learn together to meet the goals of both robots. Yes, each robot death can sharpen a dagger of resentment, aimed at your companion. However, patience and methodical thinking will guide you through.
After all, why yell at each other when you have David and Iris to yell at (the insolent little sadistic dirtbags)?