Video Games Review: Death Squared (PS4, 2017) makes death a learning experience

Over the course of the first 50 levels of Death Squared, I accidentally sent my loyal robot companions to their deaths over 260 times. But each time, I learned something new, and was able to press on to new and greater heights in the game. The further I delved into the game, the more I was absorbed by its confidence and personality. In Death Squared, not only is death a learning experience, it’s also fun, and filled with explosions.

The game starts off quite innocuously, as you’re introduced to David, an Omnicorp technician, and Iris, his AI assistant. The banter between these two breathes life into the game, as they guide you through a variety of challenging levels where you’re tasked with leading a red block and a blue block through a digital obstacle course filled with sharp objects and pitfalls towards their corresponding goals. Death Squared allows you to customise your tiny robots, placing decals on them to make you love them like your own. I may or may not have named my tiny friends as I made my way through the game. Unfortunately, this just makes it all the more tragic when, inevitably, they plummet to their deaths and explode in a brilliant flash of light and sound.

The humour of the game shines through the interactions between David and Iris as they bicker about everything from rancid sandwiches to the memes of the 21st century. One particular, recently famous gorilla gets a great shout out that had me wheezing, and references to Skynet didn’t go unappreciated. The subtle humour behind the game is written brilliantly, injecting so much personality into what could have been a by-the-numbers indie puzzler. The subtle story threads that develop throughout the game keep you engaged and involved, hints of something not quite right about Iris and Omnicorp deepening the mystery of the game and creating much intrigue for the player. Another thing that I loved about the game was the soundtrack. The synth score was absolute gorgeous, and created such a calming and immersive atmosphere to violently destroy robots in.

With 80 levels in the main story, and a further 40 found in party mode, there’s plenty of challenge and plenty of explosions to undertake in Death Squared. Each new level brings with it a new set of challenges, and a whole lot of internal screaming, on my part. Everything from railroad spikes, lasers, beam splitters, moving blocks and warp pads make appearances over the course of the game, adding more mayhem, and more delightful explosions. In order to complete levels, you’ll use the blocks as shields, stepping-stones and stackers, all in an effort to make a way to safe harbour. Many of these new mechanics bring forth new frustrations, a whole heap of anger, and eventually, satisfaction, as you successfully conquer another brain-racking challenge. Actually come to think of it, I almost feel like I went through all the five stages of grief playing this game, but thankfully, I came out the other side. There’s just something so satisfying about finally finishing the level that took you nearly twenty minutes to complete… I’m looking at you, Level 46.

While Death Squared is ostensibly a multiplayer game, you are able to complete story mode solo. I’d compare my experiences with this to trying to cook several dozen things at once… with your feet. Multiple times, I sent my poor blocks off into the abyss simple because I was trying to guide them both at the same time, and my fine motor skills just weren’t having a bar of it. Sometime after Level 50, this challenge starts to heat up, with the introduction of a new red and a new blue block, with their movement tied together with the original red and blue blocks. This was the point where I nearly went insane, and had to walk away for several minutes to catch my breath. As soon as these blocks are introduced, the level of challenge grows exponentially. The later levels are not for the faint of heart. An extra challenge also exists, with multiple Easter eggs appearing at various stages in the game. I first noticed these around Level 30, but I strongly suspect there were more that I missed in earlier segments, presenting a strong case for why exploring all your options before completing a level is absolutely necessary. That said, there are multiple ways to complete these levels, including some requiring speed and finesse… or just running for your life and hoping for the best, as was my case.

Having played the game, I now completely understand the appropriateness of the title. Completely and utterly, multiple dozen times over. Throughout the game, I learned a lot by dying, and I also learned that I have absolutely terrible hand eye co-ordination. This is down to the fact that in my very first seconds playing the game, I’d already sent both my blocks down to meet their doom in a morbidly satisfying explosion. Poor blocks. I hardly knew ye. Through slick gameplay, a gorgeous score and an utterly intriguing premise, Death Squared had me hooked from the moment I began, and with subtle changes in every level, it defeats any complaints of repetition easily. The further you go, the more you get out of it, making for an intriguing and wonderfully deep puzzler.

Review Score: 9.5/10
Highlights: Fun, smooth gameplay; Brilliant score; Subtle story
Lowlights: High difficulty level
Developer: SMG Studio
Publisher: SMG Studio
Release Date: March 14th 2017
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Steam (Win/Mac)