Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Death Squared Review (PlayStation 4)

Written by James Nicolay

Developer: SMG Studio
Publisher: SMG Studio
Genre: Puzzle
Price: $19.99
Also available on: PC, Xbox One

Death Squared is a unique puzzler that starts as deceivingly simple, but the gradual increasing difficulty of the puzzles make the experience of solving the puzzles very rewarding despite failing (or dying) multiple times inevitably.

The Story Mode features a strange story where you play as an AI of a human, David, who is mostly present as voice-over, and Iris, David's assistant AI. Every level features a puzzle to be solved and begins with a short, often humorous, conversation between David and Iris. The writing is reminiscent of Portal, though as I progressed through the levels, truth be told, there really is hardly any story to the story mode. David often praises the gamer aptly whenever you solve the puzzle with fewer deaths, but he also berates you whenever you fail or die many times.

The nature of the puzzles are pretty straight forward: you move at least two blocks, a red one and a blue one, to their assigned destination in a grid platform. You move each block in horizontal or vertical direction with the L and R sticks. While this may seem like a fairly simple button assignments, sometimes, the player might forget which stick controls which block, and this mistake often is fatal. Every move of every block has a corresponding consequence: for example, moving a red block to the left might move a certain obstacle nearer, while moving a blue block won't really have any effect on the entire grid. Some grid squares are colored and will activate an effect on the board when the block of the same color steps on it. Each level adds further complication to the puzzles and you will just die so many times.

Some puzzles utilize Newton's third law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, while some totally will challenge the gamer to rethink of new ways of planning how to get the block past the traps to the portal destination.

One technique I often do is to study first how the platform square is designed and move the colored block which seems logically capable of reaching certain parts of the grid. When I get stumped with that block, I would control the other block. If the block falls or get zapped, I would retry a different technique.

And I feel that is what makes this game work so well: each failure or death is not annoying enough to make you want to do a rage-quit--the great thing about this game is it teaches you to try again and rethink the puzzle in different possible ways.

Every puzzle level in Death Squared is timed and the number of deaths is tallied--which makes the possibility of replaying the games possible, in order to beat your previous record or lessen your number of deaths in every level.

There is also a mode that is great for local multiplayer, where 2-4 player help each other solve the puzzles. I tried this with four friends and this mode was a riot as a single mistake of any player would make the entire group replay the level again. Though, there is no real penalty for dying or repeating, but it's one of those games that will test (and possibly break) your relationship with your friends. Haha!

The visuals are fantastic despite the simple layout of the puzzles and the limited variations you can assign to the blocks. The audio is not deterrent to annoying LSS, but it is neither memorable. The audio recordings of David and Iris are pretty interesting at times, but after a few failures or deaths, some of their spiels get repetitive.

The only real weaknesses to this game are probably the mediocre story and the replayability of the puzzles, particularly the Story Mode puzzles--though the challenge of finishing the puzzle in the quickest way possible with few or zero death can still be challenging. To those who are stumped at the higher levels, since the game has been out fairly recently, there are no solutions to be found online yet. But the multiplayer mode will prove to be fun with different sets of friends and you can get through them with various results, depending on the puzzle-solving skills of your friends.

Over all, Death Squared is a solid, well-designed puzzler that rewards you well by making you feel intelligent for solving the puzzle on your own. The level design of each puzzle is tightly structured, and there are more than one way of approaching the same puzzles each time. The party, multiplayer mode can test the best of friendships, but the payoff of being able to squeeze some of your braincells and succeeding makes this game one of the best, unique puzzles I've played in the past few years.

SCORE: 4.5/5