Tired after a late night spent bidding on Hawaiian shirts and a 25-pound Gummy Bear on OmniBay, OmniCorp testing technician David Valenzuela turns up for work the next morning to observe Robotics Artificial Intelligence Test No. 538632, Death Squared.
This places robotic test subjects in hazardous situations, and it is down to you, whether alone or with friends, to guide each cuboid subject to their colour-coded goal. Naturally, that’s easier said than done, with each test littered with traps and hazards that can soon see them plummet into an explosive oblivion.
With the puzzles becoming increasingly complex over time, the only potentially calming influence is the witty repartee between David – voiced by Rice Pirate – and AI companion Iris, wiping the sweat from your brow as you sit back to listen to their humorous quips.
In their own words, Australian developer SMG Studio position Death Squared as a multiplayer puzzle game about cooperation, communication and robot explosions. But, in many ways, it’s more than that.
This, meant in the best possible way, is a game that can threaten to derail friendships. After the deceptively simple first level that Story mode opens with, the puzzles immediately become increasingly devious with blocks that only certain test subjects can safely pass through or over, spikes, lasers, lifts and the need to stack subjects on top of one another.
The Story mode can be wholly enjoyed solo in that you control each test subject separately with the Left Stick and Right Stick, but, unsurprisingly, it comes alive even more when another player joins in. Although, as a warning, this is the part where your friendship is soon at risk.
Somewhat mercilessly, there are puzzles that see elements shift as each test subject moves around the level. That can see the blocks that I mentioned before suddenly collide with a player’s test subject and ram them over the edge,
or even that, as one test subject moves, the other does in parallel. While you will only have yourself to blame when playing solo, with another player it can result in laughter, frustration and facepalming – meaning that it’s the perfect couch co-op experience.
That only escalates in Party mode, where up to four players can take control of their own test subject. As can be expected, with more players involved this pushes your teamwork skills even further and throws in even more maddening puzzles to tackle – that often resulted in players pointing a finger at who was to blame for failing.
And then, if that wasn’t enough content to entice you, there’s the Vault mode that will challenge you with particularly menacing two player and four player experiments, although requires that you first complete all Story and Party levels to unlock, respectively. Plus, seeing that it arrived later on Nintendo Switch, there are also a smattering of levels exclusive to the portable home console.
The only shortcoming is a lack of online play, which isn’t a complaint meant to detract from how entertaining is when played locally at home or on the go. But, more in that not everyone has reliable test subjects to shout at.
Death Squared is available on other platforms, but it, incredibly, feels at home on Nintendo Switch – in tandem with the simplicity of handing a Joy-Con to another play to quickly get them in on the action. If anything, this is a game that I will remember for the trash talking alone.