Developed By: Acid Nerve
Published By: Devolver Digital
Category: Action, Adventure, Arcade
Release Date: 11.23.21
Composers: David Fenn
Coming up with unique, new gameplay mechanics is hard. I’ve never made a game, but I’m certain this statement is true. I don’t know if the developers of Death’s Door feel the same way, but I suspect they do know that (thankfully) execution trumps innovation. Acid Nerve took a tried-and-true action-platformer formula and focused on polishing the gameplay until it shone like diamonds. Since its release, Death’s Door has gotten a lot of comparisons to some of the classic Legend of Zelda games. It’s a fair comparison in terms of gameplay, and Death’s Door compares favorably to Zelda’s legacy.
Crow T. Reaper
The soul-reaping business has fallen on hard times; souls have dried up, and management doesn’t seem to notice or care. On a routine mission to reap a giant soul, our hard-working crow has its trophy stolen before it can claim its reward. Since it can’t move on without handing in its assigned soul, the crow must recover its lost bounty. From there, our crow’s journey leads it to encounters with rebel crows, crazy monsters, and the mysterious system of doors that connect the realms of the living and the dead. It’s an engrossing story told well through concise, sharply-written dialogue with a great sense of dark humor. While Death’s Door focuses mostly on its gameplay, its story is still a wonderfully engaging high point.
Speaking of gameplay, let’s shift focus to the mechanics that make up the majority of it – combat. Like I said in the open, Death’s Door really doesn’t do a lot of new things with its gameplay. To start, you’ve got a basic melee attack, a charged melee attack, and a dash melee attack. There are a bunch of weapons to collect as you make your way through the game which slightly alter the rhythm of melee attacks, but for the most part every weapon plays similarly. There are also ranged attacks or magic spells that need a full ranged bar to fire. Restoring bars is easy; you just have to hit something. Finally, you have a dash function to dodge the many devastating attacks coming your way.
Overall, combat is smooth as silk and fully satisfying. The mechanics have been polished to perfection; the rhythm of dodging and attacking feels natural and intuitive. But just because things feel natural, that doesn’t mean they’re easy. The margin for error is pretty darn small; you only have four health bars, and you can only find enough vitality crystals to get two more. Since healing can only be done at certain plants, every hit you take significantly decreases your chances of winning a fight.
Probably the one issue I have with Death’s Door’s combat is that sometimes I would lose sight of the crow when there was a lot happening on screen. I lost sight of the little bird many a time in clouds of smoke combined with mobs of enemies. You’d think it would be better playing on a TV instead of undocked, but you’d be wrong. It’s a small issue that only came up when very specific – and fairly uncommon – enemies were around, but if you’re looking for something to complain about, that’s how many nits you have to pick.
A Well-Traveled Crow
Between intense combat segments and boss fights, you’ll guide the crow through platforming puzzles in search of the way forward and/or hidden areas. Each dungeon introduces a new spell or weapon that can be used to uncover new paths. For instance, the first spell you get is a fireball that lets you light lanterns or burn up cobwebs. Some puzzles require ample use of a skill to manipulate items in the environment, while some are as simple as navigating multiple levels in the proper order. Exploration and a keen eye are rewarded with plenty of items like shiny objects, soul orbs, new weapons, and vitality or magic crystal fragments. The platforming isn’t overly complex but, like the combat, it feels satisfying to experience.
Death’s Door isn’t really an RPG, but it does have some small character-building elements. Defeating enemies results in the crow collecting soul orbs, which can be traded in at crow HQ to strengthen the crow’s stats. Large soul orbs are scattered throughout the various areas of the game world, as well. Aside from equipping new weapons, that’s really all the character growth there is. Again, it’s a fairly simple system, but there is nonetheless something exciting and satisfying about accumulating enough souls to buy another level for one of the stats.
Crowing About These Graphics
For a developer that’s primarily a two-man team (with help from some friends), Death’s Door looks fantastic. While the graphics probably won’t be competing with the latest AAA releases, this game takes a deceptively minimalist approach to its 3D graphics that produces maximized results. Character animations are lively and natural, combining with the game’s narrative to produce an atmosphere brimming with offbeat energy and personality. Add in a lovely soundtrack full of somber piano keys and intense battle themes, and you’ve got a sense of aesthetics that’s as well-designed and smoothly implemented as the gameplay.
Death’s Door Is Definitely Not Death’s Bore
As cool as it is for a game to innovate some new mechanic or idea, it’s not a prerequisite for a great game. Every time a game like Death’s Door comes along it proves that all you really need is to execute to perfection. With silky smooth but challenging combat, intuitive and engaging puzzle platforming, an engaging story, and awesome art direction, Death’s Door truly is the total package.
Buy Death’s Door
Digital – $19.99
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The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.