At the age of 8, I happened across a game that would define a generation of games for me. A game so breathtaking, so ambitious, and so iconic- that it would be one I’d replay every few years. The game I’m speaking of is the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The top-down 2D action adventure game from the super-group of developers at Nintendo. It laid the ground work for what would and could be a masterpiece. Decades later, a half dozen replays, and a spiritual successor on the 3DS all but confirm my bias.
It should come as no surprise than that when I saw the trailer for Death’s Door, my interest was piqued. A modern day twist on the isometric action adventure formula with inspirations formed from the love child of Ori, Hollow Knight, Dark Souls, and Link? Where do I sign up?
The Story in Death’s Door is rather simple and to the point. At the very beginning, a Bus drops you, a young Crow, off to a place of work called the Commission. Think of it as an after-life version of Office Space. Pretty soon, you come across a host of characters that inform you that you are working as a Reaper, and your job will be to collect Souls. While, the emphasis on the game is the journey, rather than the end point, the game’s story is satisfactory. While not revelatory, it has one hiccup where exposition is crammed very hard at certain points. Even so, I enjoyed it.
The real star of the show is responsive and beautiful gameplay. The Crow is armed with a melee weapon, a secondary weapon in the form of a bow / bomb / flame shot / or hookshot, and lastly, a dodge button. It’s simple, but it works so well. Carrying the weight of a 12 hour adventure, it’s snappy, tactile, and never misses a beat.
Players will find themselves running into a pack of enemies, slashing twice, dodge rolling backwards, and than charging up a flame spell to send massive damage. Enemy variety is also pretty great. You’ll see magicians with projectile spells, large beasts with armor plates, and the run of the mill denizens used as Souls fodder.
Speaking of Souls fodder, the game employs an upgrade system found at the Commission. You’ll be able to upgrade your stats for attack, magic, haste, or dexterity. None of the upgrades ever really made me feel like a juggernaut that’s unstoppable, but it’s there. The more important upgrades, however, are the hidden sub-weapon upgrades littered across the world. For example, by beating a hidden boss, player’s can earn an upgrade to the Flame Spell which will allow it to damage enemies over time. Pretty cool, but I wish there was an extra layer of depth.
If there’s one nitpick I have with the game, it’s that I wished there was just a bit more. Early on in the game you are tasked with taking down three different major bosses. Each boss is in a distinct location with a special sub-dungeon, and a major dungeon. The thing is, the game could have used just one more boss / locale / or dungeon. Still though, we have to adjust expectations at the $20 price point.
Graphically, Death’s Door isn’t going to max out your RTX 3090, nor is it one that will drown you in endless technical options. A simple, yet poignant artistic direction drives the game through. Whether it’s the dull greys and foreboding tapestry of the Hall of Doors or the over the top Victorian Estate of the Urn Witch. The game’s art direction is always inspired and often errs on the side of ambitious.
Enemies are intricately detailed with distinct phases / animation sequences. While we are on the topic of animations, the game has some absolutely incredible work done on the major bosses in the game. You’ll see multiple phases with almost Pixar-esque level of awesome. Avoiding spoilers, the final boss especially has some breathtaking set piece work.
Lastly, the sound track is just pure harmony. Whether it’s the strum of an acoustic guitar or the splashes of Piano. It serves as an awesome backdrop to the young Crow’s adventure. I generally listen to podcasts or multi-task when playing games, but I found myself losing my mind space in the ambience of Death’s Door.
After it was all said and done, Death’s Door was a fantastic surprise. Devolver Digital has a penchant for publishing quality, and the team at Acid Nerve have come a long way since Titan Souls. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on my second play through.
A review code was provided by Koei Tecmo Europe
Developer: Acid Nerve / Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release dated: 20/07/2021
Platform: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC via Steam