Welcome to Death Squared, a game so dastardly that it keeps a running total of how many times you’ve failed, reminding you of it every time you die. And you will die. A lot. Make no mistake, behind the cutesy aesthetic and quirky sense of humour is a neat little puzzler that takes great pleasure in your misery.
While there’s no real plot, the banter between David and Iris is consistently amusing, even when they’re insulting your ineptitude.
The game has a heavy focus on cooperative play, regularly introducing new rules and mechanics to test your communication, teamwork and, most likely, friendships. Death Squared wants to be a party game for everyone, but while it provides plenty of laughs, it’s also a little too complicated for anyone to just pick up and play.
Another frustration is that you need four controllers for four-player fun. That sounds pretty obvious, but with the only essential control being movement, it feels like there may have been an opportunity to allow two players to share a Joy-Con (one person utilising the analogue stick and the other the four face buttons) in a similar way to Micro Machines Turbo Tournament on the Mega Drive.
Despite the focus on co-op, playing Death Squared solo is often more rewarding and less frustrating than the chaos of tackling mazes with your mates. Each analogue stick controls a separate character, which means that it can often feel like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. While this can be a gratifying challenge, it also makes it easy to forget which cube you’re about to move, which can lead you to accidentally plummet to your doom. While the controls are simple, they can sometimes feel a bit loose. Not being able to rotate the level also means that depth perception is occasionally an issue.
Between the co-op campaign, four-player party mode and unlockable content, there’s more than 120 puzzles to infuriate and/or delight. It’s just a shame that there isn’t more variety to keep things fresh from start to finish. Once you’ve mastered all the puzzles, there’s little reason to return. Online leaderboards for level times or total deaths could have helped here.
Death Squared will have you tearing your hair out whether you’re playing alone or with friends, but it has the gravitational pull to bring you back for more and more punishment. Each maze generally only takes a few minutes to complete, so it’s the perfect head scratcher and time waster to play on the bus or train - a feature that is obviously unique to the Switch, in our minds making this the definitive version of a solid puzzle game with plenty of character.