PAX East 2017: Couch Co-op’s Prodigal Son Returns with Death Squared

Death Squared from SMG Studio is a single stick, co-op puzzle game that they said was built for gamers and non-gamers alike. And it succeeds at just that with its quirky, simple, puzzle system that will take teamwork if you’re going to get through all 40 of the levels.

That’s 40 4-player levels. There are also 80 2-player levels that have an accompanying story. While I didn’t get a chance to check out this mode, I was told that it is a story of AI robots and subtle fourth-wall breaks meant to make players chuckle. And for the hardcore, there are also 30 levels in the “Vault,” which are a mix of 2 and 4 player levels that SMG has said are too hard for the main game.

I did get to check out 10 of the 4-player levels, though, and I could see what they were trying to get at as we progressed from simple to complex. The basic premise of Death Squared is that there are four cubic robots that each player controls with the left stick and all you do is move them around the grid to their designated waypoint. You’re not confined to the grid, though, which makes things a little more interesting, as you’re more prone to mistakes. It’s simple enough, but gets tough quickly as new mechanics are introduced. Some of these include lasers that are color coded and kill everyone except you or the transparent blocks that move with you, which will get in other player’s way and knock them off the edge if you’re not careful. Keeping your friends alive as you all try to make your way to your spots becomes a matter of communication and eventually devolves into mass hysteria, especially when one friend dies and you’re all sent back to the start of the level.

Many times, an indie game’s success has a lot to do with the art style. Something that draws the eye and gets people interested right away is key to getting an audience and keeping it, and Death Squared has just that, with a futuristic but also cartoonish look with colorful and quirky robots that give off an extremely goofy vibe. It’s all super silly and makes the antics all the more hilarious. It’s a simple thing, but when a game is fun and also fun to look at, it can help draw in attention.

It’s weird to say, but the one-stick control scheme is actually the biggest reason why I think Death Squared could appeal to non-gamers. With something like TowerFall Ascension, it’s easy enough to fight with three buttons, but this can get overcomplicated quickly for people unaccustomed to games, so having the simplest of controls and an extremely simple concept while having it still be fun is the perfect combination when getting the significant other or family member to get in on the action.

That’s not to say the more hardcore crowd won’t enjoy it, though. There’s enough strategy there for those looking for a good puzzle with mechanics that are interesting and hilariously frustrating. And with the Vault, as well as a combined 120 levels of 2 and 4 player puzzles, there’s a ton of content to work with.

Death Squared is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on March 14 for $19.99.