REVIEW: Into The Breach (Switch)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: PC, Mac
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 40 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Into The Breach is a turn-based strategy game that is deep and challenging but also straightforward to understand and easy to pick up and play. As such, it has found a perfect home on the Switch – it has more common with Advance Wars and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle than it does huge strategy titles like Civilisation. Into The Breach also brings in touches from roguelikes and puzzlers to supplement the strategy elements and the result is a game that you’ll play through over and over again but experience slightly differently each time. Into The Breach is not spectacular or exciting but it builds it own kind of drama and it’s perfect for whiling away the hours on the go.2018090510250900-158B6247012F39F8E7886A1CFEDE4392

Once more
Into The Breach sets up you and your squad of 3 mechs as the last line of defence for humanity against a subterranean foe called Vek. There’s a bit of an attempt at a back story but it’s nothing worth writing home about. Each level consists of a grid where these Vek will emerge from underground and your band of misfits is tasked with fighting them off. Or more interestingly, in actual fact you rarely have to completely defeat the Vek in any level to complete it. It’s more a case or surviving. Into The Breach is very much more about the whole war than any individual battle so your goals in each level are more likely to be about defending certain buildings or positioning your mechs to prevent Vek from emerging from underground than destroying all enemies. Even then, these goals don’t have to be completed for the level to end and you move on. This is where the roguelike elements come to the fore. Each mech has a health bar but gets repaired between levels. However, you have an overall health bar called Power Grid and its only game over when this drops to nothing. When it does, you are sent right back to the beginning to start over. Your ultimate goal is to survive long enough to reach a final face off against the Vek and detonate a bomb underground that will destroy them. However, your path through to this final battle is procedurally generated each time. It all works very well: each play through can last between an hour and about 4 hours, depending on your choices and your difficulty setting, so a balance is found between every decision you make being important and it not being too bad to have to start over from the beginning.2018091023242400-158B6247012F39F8E7886A1CFEDE4392

Preventative measures
This final element of Into The Breach, the puzzle aspects, come in due to the sequence of turns that happen in the game. The key is that the Vek move into position and telegraph what their attacks will be just before it is your turn. You then get a chance to retort before those attacks take place. As a result, your turn is focused on figuring out the best way to prevent the Vek‘s attacks from causing damage to your mechs and buildings, rather than necessarily causing maximum damage. Although that does help, of course! But often times your attacks will be more about moving one of the Vek away from something vulnerable. Many times I spent absolutely ages just staring at my Switch screen going through multiple iterations of scenarios: how can I use my 3 moves in this turn to minimise the damage I take from the Vek‘s next turn? It’s a great combination of things – I feel like it has taken a while to explain even just the basic principles of the game but somehow Into The Breach quickly becomes a game that is straightforward to play. I think this is in how it makes a lot of a few elements: each individual part, like where I can move or how much damage I will do, it simple and clear and quick to pick up. However, the almost infinite number of ways all these things can be combined keep each new battle or new war fresh. When you first start playing you can concentrate just on how each of these pieces work and overtime build up an understanding of how all of this is playing into the bigger picture, across turns, battles and the war as a whole. I have been waiting for another Advance Wars for years but Into The Breach fills that gap beautifully.2018090308372100-158B6247012F39F8E7886A1CFEDE4392

Strategy Errors
In fact, I find it difficult to criticise any elements of Into The Breach at all. The only thing keeping it back from being totally outstanding is that it’s just not that exciting or spectacular. You’ll note the lack of the ‘Highlights’ video at the top of this review: this is not just chance, but what is good about the game simply doesn’t look that great on screen! Nothing truly remarkable happens. In fact, it’s almost your job to prevent anything remarkable happening! The basis of success is to keep the Vek at arms length long enough to reach the final cut scene. The only time my heart really raced when playing Into The Breach was the first time I beat the game on Normal difficulty. I had made it all the way across the 4 islands, through to the last turn of the final battle but for the longest time I couldn’t see any way in which I could prevent the Vek ending my campaign at this last hurdle. I looked and looked and considered and considered until finally I thought I could see a way that I could survive! I played out my turn and let the Vek do their worst: I survived and they were destroyed by the final bomb. It was a joyous moment! But compare and contrast this with the first time I beat the game on Hard difficulty. I had really played well and done such a great job: I had powerful upgraded mechs with powers that complimented each other well and plenty of Grid Power going spare. The final battle was largely a procession as I just did enough to stop the Vek and it was over. To be clear: I loved this game and played it a huge amount: it is not boring. I’m just explaining why all my other praise doesn’t get Into The Breach five stars. It’s the definition of a four star game: everything in it great, but none of it is awesome.2018091113460300-158B6247012F39F8E7886A1CFEDE4392

It may lack the ultimate wow factor to make it stand up with the greats but Into The Breach is a supremely well thought out and executed game. You’ll have a great time making sure that your battles are just as well thought out and executed yourself. Down with the Vek!Review4


First Impressions: Super Mario Party

The Boy in particular has been waiting with baited breath for Super Mario Party ever since it was announced. He has seen many an old Mario Party video on the internet and has talked often about wanting a Wii U just so that we could play Mario Party 10. Funnily enough at his age he’s been unable to put his hand in his own pocket for this so it has never happened! Now though, that is not an issue. We made sure to grab Super Mario Party on the day it was out and we have played a few rounds (including losing to The Wife in our first game! Typical) – so far, it’s everything we had hoped for!2018100608164300-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

My main fear having played previous Mario Party games, and party games in general, was how long you would have to wait for everything to take place. Turn-based games always involve some waiting, of course, but in previous Mario Parties it always seemed that everything was slow and drawn out for no reason. The number one good thing about Super Mario Party is that it moves along at a decent clip: there aren’t really any loading times, unnecessary animations or other reasons to twiddle your thumbs. This is good because, unlike pretty much every other Switch game, Super Mario Party is not pick-up-and-play at all. Each game has a minimum of 10 turns, which can take up to an hour. The Boy and I have had to really plan it when we want to play it as a result – despite how much fun it is, if you’ve only got a few minutes a quick game of FIFA or Overcooked is a better party option.2018100623554900-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

But assuming you do have a few people to play with and at least an hour to spare, then Super Mario Party is great fun! It’s a pretty simple formula: everyone takes a turn to ‘roll’ a dice and move round a board. After all 4 turns (if you don’t have 4 players, then NPCs will fill in the gaps) then it’s time to play a minigame. More on those in a moment but I was actually surprised how enjoyable the board game itself was. There are just the right amount of things to do and surprises that happen to keep the characters moves interesting, without ending up a crazy lottery. The ultimate goal is to collect stars from Toadette, as she moves around the board, and although in truth it is totally the luck of the dice there are enough decisions that you can make well to have some agency.2018100608513400-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

Finally, the minigames. So far, these are all totally excellent! There’s a decent balance between requiring skill to play and not being too complicated that you can’t pick them up almost instantly. The majority of them use the motion controls in your joy con to play but there’s no excessive skilliness that marred the use of the Wiimote all those years ago. Super Mario Party has a huge range of activities from things like badminton, to memory games to a mini game where you are required to pet a wiggler without waking it up. Be careful because when it did finally wake it made The Boy and I jump out of our skins!2018100619350600-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

It’s easy to recommend Super Mario Party from these first few games we’ve played. It is possible to play it alone but I wouldn’t advise it – it’s the drama and the trash talk of couch co-op that makes it fun. If you have friends and/or family to play it with, you’ll definitely have a laugh with Mario and his cohorts in the main game. We are yet to investigate Partner Party or the online play so there might even be more goodness on the way too. Full review forthcoming when we’ve fully been through everything the game has to offer.

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  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: PSVR
  • Also available on: Oculus, Vive
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 4 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Moss may have a short run time but it is completely full of adventure, intrigue and delight. From it’s cute protagonist Quill, to the inventive gameplay and the excellent use of virtual reality, Moss will consistently keep a smile on your face throughout. Outside of a somewhat stop-start structure and an ending that is partly disappointing this game is a slice of perfection. The story of an unexpected hero is as old as time, but this tale is told in the most modern of ways.

Active Participation
In most action-based video games you, the player, observe and control the character from a distance. Most virtual reality games flip this the other way and put you right in the head of the character in the centre of the world. Moss messes with both these standards by literally doing both things! You are observing and controlling Quill in the same way as any other 2.5D game but the game makes you an active participant as well (as ‘The Reader‘), able to interact with parts of the game world and even see your own reflection. This ingenious approach is backed up by great controls: you use motion controls to directly affect the game whilst using standard stick-and-button controls to move Quill. For her part, Quill is great. She’s super cute and her animations are really fluid and enjoyable. I appreciate her as a character as well for her determination and how she goes from zero to hero. Other than moving Quill around with the analog stick you only have two buttons: one to jump or vault and another to perform actions and attack enemies. Both sets of actions, for Quill and The Reader, are simple in themselves but managing to combine them on one gamepad is a great move that makes Moss unique.Moss_20180916103940

Leaning Around Corners
All of this would be perfectly reasonable without VR, but it really wouldn’t have the same impact. The interactions between Quill and The Reader make more sense and have more impact because you are actually there, in the gameworld. These are great: Quill will celebrate with you when you solve certain things or point things out if she thinks you’re a bit lost. Plus, the ability to move around inside the level, to lean around corners etc and then move Quill is fantastic – let’s be honest, we’ve all wanted this in games forever! At least in platformers, where the spacial awareness you gain would save a huge amount of falling down. More platforming in VR, I say! Another thing worth noting here is that this is a virtual reality game that even people who suffer with motion sickness should be able to play. There is no motion to speak of, certainly not any that your body is not also experiencing, so if that is a problem for you then Moss is game that makes great and full use of the VR but without such issues.Moss_20180915185105

Turning Pages
There are a couple of issues though. The only issue that plagued me throughout my playthrough was loading times. The game is based around the idea of you reading through a book, hence your name ‘The Reader‘. This works nicely in theory as each small section or room you play through feels like a page in the book. Get Quill to the other side of the area and naturally the page turns. Unfortunately, each ‘page turn’ just takes much to long. In VR it is odd enough for the screen to fade completely to black so often but the gap is long enough that you end up twiddling your thumbs a little and waiting. To be clear: it’s probably only about 5 seconds but when you are in the middle of a game and find yourself staring directly at nothing for that long, over and over again, it starts to feel like a drag. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise – after a while I took the opportunity to shut my eyes for a few seconds, which when playing in virtual reality for any length isn’t a bad thing! Otherwise my only issue with the Moss at all was the very very end. No spoilers here, of course, but Moss does one of the things I hate the most in gaming: it takes control away from you right at the final moment. In the final battle all of a sudden, Quill started acting on her own and next thing I knew: the game was over. This is a pet hate of mine, so perhaps it’s not such an issue for you. Either way, don’t let it stop you playing the game! But it does prevent Moss getting 5 stars from me.Moss_20180917211157

In a word: delightful. Such a joy to play from start to end, Moss is easy to recommend to anyone looking for their next adventure in virtual reality. It’s not perhaps the game that means you must get a VR headset – but if you have one, you really must play Moss.Review4

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First Impressions: Forza Horizon 4

Forza Horizon 4 was released yesterday (or a few days ago if you had the deluxe edition, you know how things are these days) and I got it day and date with my Xbox Game Pass subscription. After Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 (which I loved), this is the next big Xbox One game to be released like this. Fantastic news. I really enjoyed the first Horizon back in the day on 360 and although I thought the sequel was pretty disappointing the series came roaring back with Forza Horizon 3 and the Hot Wheels DLC. So, will number 4 continue this in-and-out sequence, or continue the series’ high level of quality?


Well, after the first 4 and a half hours, I can confirm that it is absolutely spectacular! This will go faster if I make a list of what I don’t like about Forza Horizon 4 so far:

  • the default audio settings had the engine noise too low compared to the music

That’s it.
Everything else I have experienced so far is just stunning. The actual gameplay, the driving itself, has been improved for a start. Your car on the road feels more responsive and gives you better feedback through sound, visuals and rumble. It’s only a very subtle difference when driving around on roads but it really shows up in the off-road stuff. In previous Horizons the off-road racing was only OK compared with the street racing but I was surprised how much more enjoyable it is in 4. These improvements don’t necessarily make you faster but they make it easier for you to drive well – which is all we want from racing games!


What has been built around this gameplay is also stunning in Forza Horizon 4. Great Britain looks top and the different seasons look great and really freshen up the locales. Even the map itself looks different in winter than it did in autumn and summer and the completely wholesale changes in some parts of the environment are remarkable in their detail. The cars handle slightly differently too, I struggled initially in the snow, without the same grip I had got used to beforehand. That said, it’s not so different that you’ll want to avoid any seasons, just different enough to back up the mechanic. I’ve not yet reached spring, but I’m sure that will bring it’s own delights.


Finally, events are great. Once again, there are only subtle changes but they are for the better. Each strand of events – street racing, off-road, cross-country etc – feels distinct and it’s own beast now, without losing the continuity of the Horizon Festival as a whole. I really like the new stories that have apparently replaced the bucket list challenges, which were always a little bit random. And the showcases: wow! These have always been mad in the Forza Horizon series but the two I’ve done so far, racing against a hovercraft and a train, have been spectacular to a new level.


Given that you can get into Forza Horizon 4 for a maximum of £7.99 for a month’s subscription to Xbox Game Pass, I cannot recommend this game to you enough. If you like racing games at all, you are sure to enjoy Forza Horizon 4. I for one CAN. NOT. WAIT. to get back into it – it may be a while before my final review as I want to dive in deep to every aspect of this game.

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REVIEW: Fe (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, Switch, PS4
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 8 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Left almost completely to your own devices in a vibrant forest filled with all kinds of life, Fe (pronounced like ‘fay’) is a game that expects you to explore, discover and communicate for yourself. Embracing its hands-off approach is rewarded with an adventure that is marvellous, joyful and beautiful. Whether it’s singing with the animals you come across or gliding through the air from tree to tree, Fe regularly gave me a feeling of wonder as I uncovered new things – to the point that I actually said ‘Wow‘ out loud under my breath towards the end. If you are looking for challenging gameplay or clear objectives, you won’t find them here but as an experience; Fe will not be forgotten quickly by anyone who plays through it.

The Path
About 15 minutes after I started playing Fe I started to get rather frustrated with it. Where was I supposed to go? What was I supposed to do? Outside of a few button hints the first time you do an action and a map that is not entirely helpful at times, Fe does nothing to directly guide you. This type of exploration game isn’t for everyone and I was starting to feel like this one wasn’t for me. However, as soon I let go of the desire to know what I was supposed to do next and just did whatever I wanted to do next, my whole perspective changed. What Fe offers is a bright, vibrant world full of delights for those willing to explore but it’s real genius is this: it’s actually fantastic at gently guiding you in the right direction without you knowing it. Rather than a big sign saying ‘go that way’ you just feel like it makes sense to go that way. The wonderful feeling of discovery and adventure I regularly had is a reward for seeking the path, instead of expecting to be shown the path. 13-09-2018_23-08-50

The Gameworld
Fe‘s world is truly something to behold. The colours, the views and the sounds are all remarkable and unlike anything else I’ve come across. That world is also inhabited by all manner of interesting creatures, from large to small. One of the most beautiful parts of the game is singing with other species. It happens a little differently with each new animal you come across but there’s a loop that loosely stays the same. Firstly, sing with the young animals. You won’t yet be able to sing the same song but they will be friendly to you and help you navigate the world in various ways. Next will come some kind of task, perhaps gathering up some lost eggs for example, for an adult of the same species. Once completed, the adult will teach you how to sing in their language and now you are able to do whatever they do and thus reach places that previously you couldn’t alone. Befriending each new animal you come across is Fe‘s way of opening up more of the map for you explore and it’s one of the best ways any game has ever done it.13-09-2018_23-09-20

The Gameplay
Your character is a little fox-like creature who can just walk about, jump and throw things at the beginning of the game. In order to add more abilities to your arsenal you’ll need to collect crystals from around the world. It is collecting these crystals that holds the only real difficult gameplay challenge that Fe holds. They are usually in hard to reach places, or at least out of the way ones and it’s often an issue of patience as you will need to learn more songs before you can reach the areas you’ve seen them in. Also, the game doesn’t really encourage you to go for them. A few at the start you are more or less guided to but after that you can choose whether to go after them. I didn’t go out of my way significantly for a crystal at any point so I only gained 3 new abilities: climbing trees, gliding and running. I really enjoyed the climbing and gliding but the running was neither here nor there – I didn’t feel like I was slow before that. The essence of Fe is revealed here: it’s not really about the running, or jumping or throwing: it’s about just enjoying the world and everything in it.13-09-2018_23-09-24

A wonderful adventure set in a stunning world, Fe is just an amazing experience from start to finish. It doesn’t hold any significant challenge gameplay-wise but instead your skills of patience, exploration and logic are tested. Tested and rewarded in full. Recommended.Review4

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First Impressions: FIFA 19

My EA Access subscription is once again proving it’s worth: giving The Boy and I a 10-hour trial of FIFA 19 on Xbox One. He has taken up a bunch of that time playing through the Champions League as Manchester United and Juventus but I’ve managed to get enough hours in to get an impression of how this new iteration of virtual soccer plays. Short version: offline good, online bad.24-09-2018_19-07-01

Against the AI
Playing offline I chose to try and win the UEFA Champions League with Tottenham Hotspur – currently the neutrals’ choice for a British team in European competition. EA has managed to steal the Champions League licence away from Pro Evo this year but the first thing I noticed is how little use they’ve made of it. There is a small amount of UCL branding around the mode and the theme tune plays, briefly, at the start but that it is. It’s pretty uninspired stuff. Maybe they feel they don’t have to try now it’s in FIFA but it’s rather flat. The game itself is rather enjoyable though! There are two significant changes I’ve really noticed early on. Firstly, the ball feels much more like it has a life of its own now, rather than simply moving from the possession of one player to the next. It feels like it is loose more often and there are short passages of play when both you and the AI are struggling to bring it under your spell. To be fair, it wasn’t bad before – we are far removed now from the days up to about 2002 when the ball was literally attached to the players foot as they pulled back to shoot! It’s a small difference, but a significant one. Secondly, the defensive press. Trying to bring the ball out from the back is a much more risky strategy now. This is much like real football: having your attackers chasing down defenders playing with the ball has become an essential tactic for the big teams and FIFA has done a good job of reflecting that. You no longer get any chance to dwell on the ball anywhere in the pitch. This works both ways too: I’ve long tried to drag my players forward when the opposition is building up an attack and they have resisted me but now you can really push up and push hard to get the ball back. Moreover, FIFA 19 even does a good job of making this risky too: push up too far and fail to get the ball and you leave your own defenders very open to a counterattack.24-09-2018_19-04-33

On the line
Unfortunately, whilst the AI does this to an extent, as you would expect it’s taken up another notch online. The looser ball physics and the intense press all over the field lead the game to completed degenerate into chaos. My first few matches I got absolutely chewed up. I pretty much never had the ball because as soon as I received it, there was someone on me taking it away! I couldn’t shield it, the defenders just run around you. I couldn’t run with it, defenders are always faster. It ends up closer to something like Mario Strikers Charged Football  on the Wii than the football games of previous years. After about 5 games of being totally dominated I started to figure out how to play: moving, switching direction, passing, running – all of it all at the same time somehow and eventually you’ll find a free player at the edge of the box and then shoot. Same with defending: positioning doesn’t mean so much now – just get in the face of the player with the ball and tackle them. I ended up spending most of my ten hours online, making sure I could compete with this football. But it still wasn’t, fun -if this is what it’s going to be like then I’m not going to be playing much online this year: I prefer to create a few good chances rather than just attack like mad the entire time. I fear those days are gone now: Ultimate Team has become FIFA‘s focus so perhaps the gameplay is built to enhance that experience above all else – time will tell once I have the full game.24-09-2018_19-07-36

Going forward
There are some other touches I like, for example, tactics are much more detailed now: if you want to you can change the entire formation and plans of your team with a quick press on the D-pad. I can’t comment on Ultimate Team (I have other things to spend my money on, so I never really get into that mode) or The Journey, there simply wasn’t enough time. Overall, I am still looking forward to picking up FIFA 19 on Friday -you’ll have to wait for my full review to see where I end up about it. 24-09-2018_19-04-45

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REVIEW: Death Squared (iOS)

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: iPad
  • Also available on: PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, Switch, Android
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 6 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local only

Death Squared is a fun and challenging puzzle game, but that really only tells part of the story. What sets it apart from more run-of-the-mill puzzlers is the 3D gameplay, the light but enjoyable story and the really smooth progression and learning curve. If a game that only involves solving puzzles doesn’t appeal to you then there’s not enough here to change your mind, but if you enjoy a puzzle game at all Death Squared will reward you well for your time.

In each of Death Squared‘s 80 story mode levels your task is to navigate two (or more, later on) small square robots from their starting positions to their goals, without falling down or exploding. Needless to say, that makes it sound so much more straightforward than it actually is! Further puzzle aspects are added over time (areas that only one of the robots can go, for example, or deadly laser beams!) but the main aim of each level is the same: get the red to the red goal and the blue to the blue. What SMG Studio, the game’s developer and publisher, has done so well here is to add some great elements around that core gameplay that take Death Squared a notch above a lot of other puzzle games. Firstly, the game itself requires some skill to play. The only goal in a lot of puzzles games is to solve the problem; after that it’s merely a button press or a swipe and level complete. Here though, there is a small amount of dexterity required to actually move your robots around the levels carefully. If you think you’re going to zip about the place and nail the levels quickly you’re gonna kill a lot of tiny robots! Secondly, set behind the gameplay is a story of sorts. It’s hardly multilayered or complex but it has a lot of humour and I particularly enjoyed a few pop-culture references dotted here and there. The interaction between the voice-over characters and how they react to your accomplishments (or lack thereof!) make the game feel more alive: you feel like you are being watched and assessed in some way.IMG_0057

Not all square
That said, it has a few flaws. Primarily the lack of a movable camera means that you are trying to judge 3D space through a single 2D view. Spacial awareness is therefore limited and this led to as many of my robot’s deaths as being impatient did. I would have loved to see a camera set-up like that in Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, where it felt like you were moving the whole level. Also, although the story mode is engaging throughout, the rest of the game has limited appeal. The additional ‘Vault‘ levels are just more of the same but without the backstory and I only completed the first couple before getting bored. I also played through Death Squared on iPad, which isn’t ideal at all. A touchscreen just isn’t a great replacement for an analog stick when you need the kind of precision required here. If you can, play the game with a proper gamepad. Playing the mobile version also brought another problem: the much reduced multiplayer elements, which is worth discussing further. In the meantime, enjoy a moment at my expense: Level 58 was hard!IMG_0063

One of the main selling points for Death Squared is the co-operative play. Two players can play through the story mode, each controlling one colour of robot. Additionally, outside of the mobile versions of the game, there’s a party mode for up to 4 players. I haven’t had access to that but my experiences with 2-player gameplay might inform it. Essentially, co-op is fun once you know how to complete a level! In the initial ‘discovery’ phase of each new level, when you still don’t know how to complete it, Death Squared can be frustrating:  it can be more ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ than ‘many hands make light work’. The Boy wasn’t that interested in this title but I coerced him into a level or two with me and once we had a plan it was a laugh; communicating and saying ‘you move now‘, ‘no, wait, I’m in the wrong place‘ and the inevitable ‘OK, let’s try again‘. Overall, I wouldn’t get the game specifically for this kind of co-op fun, look to Overcooked 2 instead, but it’s another nice side element if you already have it.IMG_0060

For puzzle fans, Death Squared is a great purchase: a good few hours of fun and a few other elements like humour and co-op that you don’t always find in games that are as simple as it is at it’s core. For those reasons it would also be a good pick as the puzzle game for folks that only play a few – you won’t get bored here.Review3