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Death’s Door – the review

Death’s Door has certainly piqued some interest in a relatively short space of time. Fortunately Gerard and Dylan were keen enough to follow up our preview with a deft 2-winger Death’s Door Review.

Dylan: Lately online, there has been debate about difficulty in games and if designated ‘hard games’ should have easy modes. While I fall on the side that accessibility in games is an interesting, exciting and necessary frontier. The fact remains that a large part of enjoyment can be gained from tackling a difficult game and emerging victorious. Of course, what is hard for me may not be hard for you, or it may be insurmountable for others.

Death’s Door is a game designed around being difficult on the face of things, while also being entirely about creating shortcuts and riding permanency loops that almost completely remove any frustration at dying. Levels are large, sprawling, full of secrets and they snake back around on themselves. Each section of gameplay sees you unlocking shortcuts via levers, ladders and explosives. Death is but a slight delay, as you can always scurry on up the ladder you unlocked moments ago, to get to a boss battle it took you half an hour to reach, through dozens of creatures that sport unique and learnable attack patterns, but which en-masse can become deadly in a pinch. Death’s Door has a generous approach to design that makes Death’s Door an addictive delight to play.

Death's Door Review

When a great game blindsides you by being addictive and delightful

Gerard:  Death’s Door is a surprise game for me. I knew absolutely nothing about it, but right off the bat its visual style captured my attention and warmed my heart in an industry that too often presents by-the-numbers encounters inhabited by stereotypical heroes. Death’s Door has charm oozing from every pixel, from the lead character that is a likeable crow to the wonderous inhabitants of the world and its bosses. It has a painterly style that just draws you into its world, even when death can be a constant.  I agree with your point about Death’s Door being an addictive delight. I died several times against the first boss until its attack pattern clicked, but not once did I give up in frustration. Not once did I want to throw the controller. It did the opposite. It drew me in and encouraged me to stick with it.

As you said, while several enemies confronting you at once can present a significant challenge, constant movement is the key here. It’s in these situations that you must maintain momentum, chaining standard and charged attacks against the tougher foes. Then rolling out of harm’s way before unleashing a bolt from your magical bow. I also love the fact that after you die (and you will die), shortcuts you’ve discovered can be used to bypass ground you’ve trod before, getting you ever closer to the next boss quicker.

Death's Door Review

If it kills me (a few times) it only makes me stronger

Dylan: The constant slide towards progress and improvement is so good. Not only do you come to learn enemy types and attack patterns, but as you collect souls in the game, you can spend them back at the limbo hub area to upgrade your attack strength, movement speed and more. This adds to the feeling that you are constantly getting better and stronger and able to tackle the challenges presented.

I also want to mention the music, which is great. It swells and changes alongside the gameplay, with unresolved melodies that then coalesce during hectic combat. It enhances the experience greatly and I’m even keen to see if it’s available as an OST somewhere.

Gerard: I’ve long been a believer that a great soundtrack really elevates a game to the next level and Acid Nerve have really hit the nail on the head with it here. From the very start, the menu screen with its driving piano notes and orchestral elements sets the aural tone for what will be a marvellous adventure and frames the drama yet to come. I could listen to the soundtrack for hours. Death’s Door has rogue-like elements in that when you die, you’re teleported back to the start location – in this instance it’s the death doors that bridge the gap between the limbo hub area and the game world – but importantly, you respawn with all your abilities and collectibles intact. You’re not forced to start from scratch again. 

Death's Door Review

Boss fights that you can enjoy?

Let’s talk about the bosses. There’s one in in an early environment that I had to pick my jaw up off the floor as it was unlike a boss I’ve ever encountered before – and yes, I got my arse handed to me on a plate a few times due to its sheer size and the craziness of it. Again, though, I kept going back because it just intrigued me as to what would come next.

Dylan: Bosses are quite perfect because although they are difficult to kill, and you might need two or three attempts, they all have learnable attack patterns and phases that are in themselves enjoyable to master. I also love how the bosses and larger enemies start to crack apart as their health nears depletion, which gives you a heart-in-your-mouth burst of excitement that you’re just a handful of strikes from ending them. There are also quite a few gauntlet-style moments, where pink doors spawn a heap of enemies. Here, you must survive to the end in order to proceed. I loved the slow-down and zoom-in during the final blow on the final enemy with these. 

Death's Door Review

Style and Substance

It just oozes style, with large lettering appearing for named NPCs and on death. It feels almost cinematic in that respect. The writing is clever and worth reading. I laughed out loud at a character being called Pothead. There really is little to criticise here. It’s not unnecessarily bursting with too many skill trees or upgrades, the shortcuts are all fun to find and put in place, and the pleasing art design, coupled with gorgeous music, creates an experience that is pure pleasure to engage with, even when the high difficulty sends you back to Death’s door.

Gerard: Oh, yes, I love those moments when you must dodge roll enemies as they’re coming out of the red doors. Delivering that final death blow is just so satisfying. I also love the huge ‘DEATH’ that appears on the screen when you die. It’s a little thing but it just gives it a cinematic feel and adds to the charm. As well as Pothead, I loved the dude in the cemetery wearing a tombstone on his head. Characters are lovingly crafted, and the game just came out of nowhere for me, but it’s riding high as one of the most enjoyable indie games I’ve played in a very long, long time.

I just hope that more people discover Death’s Door. It deserves to do so well.

Death's Door Review