Games mean different things to different people. If there’s a more sweeping statement than that I have yet to see it, but regardless, it still remains true. There are points in my life where particular games have just stuck with me, whether it be for the right reasons or otherwise. For example, Vexx for the PlayStation 2. It dropped in February 2002, and it wasn’t very good. I, however, found it for £10 at my local Toys’R’Us, obviously priced incorrectly, and grabbed it. Micro Machines V2, this time on the first PlayStation, is another of those titles. I was fairly young when this came out, and we didn’t have a PlayStation at the time but my Nan, who did, would occasionally let us borrow it. It was always kept downstairs in the living room, so my brother and I would sneak downstairs to play it, and inevitably get found out when we would be heard either laughing or arguing.
Bear with me, this is going somewhere.
A game that has always stuck with me is, compared to the two previously mentioned titles, even smaller and unheard of, specifically being Kula World, once again on the original PlayStation. Ripping straight from Wikipedia, “The main objective of the game is to collect keys which unlock the level exits, as well as coins and jewels along the way. The game makes use of alternative physics, changing the direction of gravity as the ball moves.” Ergo, a puzzle game. Having only been 7 at the time, I was certainly not prepared for a puzzle game, something different to the Pokémon and Final Fantasy titles I had grown up playing. I struggled, but it was an entirely new concept, and I loved it. The way the environment would seemingly wrap itself around you and you defied gravity, and the cognitive exercises you would perform when you were, frustratingly, one collectible short, and with no clear path to boot. I even purchased the game on PS Store when it was released, back in the PS3 era. For nostalgia’s sake, obviously.
Since Kula World, puzzle games and I have always had an interesting relationship. We love each other dearly, but we just don’t always get each other. Break-ups and separation ensue, but we always inadvertently return to one another. Our latest lover’s tiff was over Death Squared, a title both developed and published by SMG Studio. Having first been released for the vast majority of platforms back in March 2017, it’s now made its way to the beloved Nintendo Switch, and you know what? It’s all the better for it.
Death Squared is, at its core, a very simple puzzle game. Your job is to control between two and four cubed, coloured robots to their respective pads. Simple, right? Not so much. Hazards and obstacles little the oft-small puzzle boards, and it’s up to you to work out, usually through trial and error, how to achieve said puzzle without having any of your colourful companions die. The hazards vary from level to level, ranging from spikes and lasers to bridges and level-altering obstacles. It features a fairly amusing dialogue throughout the campaign, too, much alike the humorous relief that GLaDOS provided within the Portal games. It’s easy to get stressed by the sadistic designs nearer the end of the main game, but the humour does help to alleviate some of the pent up stress, and it certainly convinced me to give it one more try, over and over again.
It’s most definitely more fun, however, to pass a controller to a friend and work through the puzzles together. This mode feels right at home on a Nintendo console, and whilst numerous deaths are inevitable, the sense of satisfaction is no doubt doubled when you finally finish that one level you’ve been stuck on for quite some time. The game certainly shines with companions, and it’s a great game to show to those that aren’t well-versed in the gaming world. Something my Nan, for example, would enjoy and, thanks to the nature of the Switch’s Joy-Cons, easily be able to pick up.
Technically, the game is achieves what it needs to; no more, no less. A colourful, simplistic aesthetic is present throughout the entirety of the game, whether it be when navigating the clean menus or diving in with the gameplay itself. Framerate drops were few and far between, occurring more in docked mode, but nothing that affected the actual gameplay dramatically.
I will reiterate, though: This game is hard. Many expecting a gentle cognitive massage will be hard-pressed come the later levels, and for those not initiated in the way of the puzzle, this could deter you from continuing your cuboid journey. Take a breather. Go and grab a drink. Don’t go outside, it’s dangerous out there. Pick up your Switch, and try again. Rinse and repeat.