Ah, good old Devolver. Whenever I review a game published by them, I try to sneak in a praise of Devolver Digital. Not because I’m a fanboy, far from it. It’s just that their publishing repertoire speaks more of them than they ever could. If I’m uncertain about the quality of the game but see that they’re behind the wheel, I’m almost positive it will be a sure hit. When I first stumbled upon Death’s Door, it looked to me like a combination of The Legend of Zelda from the NES era, a little bit of Transistor, and some Hollow Knight sprinkled all over to seal the deal. Let’s see how right or wrong I was with my assumption.
Acid Nerve is a familiar name if you’ve already played Titan Souls. This time, in Death’s Door, you are a crow-like grim reaper. It’s a mundane field job from 9 to 5, together with filling office paperwork and everything. Luckily, the emphasis in the gameplay is put on the field job part and that’s where you come in. Your honest work of killing bosses and harvesting souls gets interrupted when one of those souls is taken away by a thief. Who are they, why did they do it and what do they want? It’s probably something more than a stolen soul since they now have one. You must track down that thief to new and dangerous realms and get that soul back before your shift is over.
To quote one meme “there is a little something for everyone” when it comes to gameplay in Death’s Door. It doesn’t take much to master the gameplay here. You have your trusty sword, a bow with a limited number of shots (although it is super useful for damaging enemies from a safe distance), and some more unlockable skills later along the way. But the tricky part is the enemies. There are plenty of them, they all have unique attacks and all bosses require death or two before you figure out how to properly take them down. It’s a learning experience, you know. Luckily, all of the enemy attacks are easily telegraphed. One turtle-like enemy will commence a long preparation before rolling in a straight line and another one (with big claws) will start with a slow wind-up. So in the end, it’s all about properly noticing enemy attacks and moving out of their way than it is being good with a sword and a bow.
One word, four letters: cute. It is a peculiar word to use in this case since the environments in Death’s Door could only be described as grim, bleak, and something unsettling. However, after running around through some autumn red gardens and stone walkways invoking ancient Greece and you’ll see how in the end creativity and imagination in level design always takes a spotlight even in levels filled with dread and despair. As you start the game, your main hub, your huge office level is dominantly black and white but the more levels you unlock and the more you explore, the bleakness at the start is replaced with a bigger and bigger color palette. Every level, later on, is brimming with details, whether we’re talking about intricate stone carvings, unmarked wooden coffins all over the place, or incredibly detailed marble castles rising in the distance. There are plenty of top-down action RPG games in the wild now, but none of them have such a level of polish and detail as Death’s Door.
Again…….one word, six letters: superb. The soundtrack alone is worth a listen outside of the game. The tunes range from adrenaline-filled themes made for intense boss fights in mind to tranquil sounds of exploration after you murder just about every enemy on the level and decide to snoop around every nook and cranny. The composer David Fenn made some good work in making sure that the soundtrack stands out. If you’ve already played Titan Souls or Moonlighter before, you’re already familiar with his tunes and the love and care that he pours into every track.
If anything, it would be easy to just describe this game as a spiritual successor to Titan Souls and call it a day. But there’s so much more to Death’s Door than meets the eye. The intricate level design, incredible soundtrack, and dynamic gameplay raise it way above the rest of the indie releases for this year. It’s short but challenging, combining the very best of the Hollow Knight and Zelda series into something new and beautiful. It’s a textbook example of a game that you don’t expect much from and end up being pleasantly surprised.
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