Reaping souls of the dead and punching a clock might get monotonous but it’s honest work for a Crow. The job gets lively when your assigned soul is stolen and you must track down a desperate thief to a realm untouched by death – where creatures grow far past their expiry.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Reviewed on: PC (Ryzen 5 2600, RTX 2070 Super, 32GB DDR4)
Also available for: Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Developer: Acid Nerve
Game Design: David Fenn, Mark Foster
Level Design, Production, Music & Sound: David Fenn
Programming, Story & Writing, Animation: Mark Foster
Art Design, Concept Art, UI Art & Logo Design: Frits Olsen
Death’s Door can have you laughing-out-loud, scratching your head in confusion and wanting to throw your controller on the ground. I’ve never played a game that I thought was both genuinely funny and featured teeth-grinding boss battles. But that’s Death’s Door, the second game from Acid Nerve, whose previously game, Titan Souls, featured nothing but brutally hard boss battles. They’re here too, but in more than one way, Titan Souls feels like a small stepping stone to get to Death’s Door.
You play as a cute crow who’s more or less a sit-in for the Grim Reaper. Your job is to collect souls and, as the opening of the game sets up, it’s a very monotonous job in which crows turn up to work in a monochrome marble-floored office space, hating every second of their shift. However, things quickly get interesting as a Grey Crow steals the soul you were assigned to reap, which sends you on a whirlwind journey to retrieve your stolen soul. Without that soul, you’ll begin to age, and death will come for you.
To retrieve the soul you lost, you’ll need to slay three others whose souls will help you recover what you seek. A wicked Witch, a frog King and a beast high in the mountains are your targets, and each hides away in their labyrinth for you to work through before you’re able to come face-to-face.
Combat in Death’s Door is simple but a joy to play because of how great everything looks and feels. Swinging your sword and rolling around enemies as they go to attack you is fast, and the animations of the crow are super-smooth. You’ll notice just how good all of this is when you fight any of the bosses in the game, all of which are nimble and have plenty of AOE attacks for you to appreciate the precise and fast nature of Death’s Door. It’s not that the mechanics here are deep — they’re really not — but similar to Acid Nerve’s last game where you only fired one arrow, the team has mastered what they’ve included in the game.
The boss fights in Death’s Door can become quite tricky. I found the first couple of bosses to be relatively easy, but the last couple of fights had me wanting to throw my controller on the ground in frustration. There’s nothing cheap here though, and each boss in the game features attack patterns you will master through perseverance, but the difficulty curve may turn some players off. If you’ve played Axiom Verge or even either of the Ori games, you will be fine here.
There are elements in Death’s Door that make it feel like a Metroidvania, but it also equally feels like the 2D Zelda games that obviously inspired it. You make your way to each of the three regions, and once you arrive inside each of the villain’s dungeons, or castles, you’ll have to solve puzzles and ultimately collect a new power that will help you reach the boss. In the first location, the Witch’s castle, is the fire spell that allows you to activate mechanisms that you could not before. Each of the game areas felt distinctly different, with various enemy types found in each of them.
As much as I’d like to say I didn’t have a favourite area, and they’re all as good as one another, one thing the first area of the game, the Witch’s castle, has going for it is the character of Pothead. One of the funniest characters I’ve interacted with in any game for some time. Death’s Door has a dry sense of humour from start to finish, but Pothead and his explanations as to why he has a pot on his head is going to be some of my favourite gaming memories of the year.
There’s more than enough reasons to explore each nook-and-cranny as you’ll find crystal shards that can be collected to increase both your health and magic bars. You’ll also see collectables throughout each location you visit, which expand on the lore and world around you.