You know that feeling you get when a game turns out exactly as you’d hoped when you first saw it? Take for example Death’s Door: Made from Acid Nerve, creators of Titan Souls, Death’s Door looks like an action-adventure, Zelda-inspired game with a gothic, low-poly look, visually-impressive boss fights and tight gameplay, with some puzzle and platforming thrown in there to round-up an enticing package. Given the previous work of the developers, one can safely assume this is going to provide a fair bit of challenge, an excellent gameplay loop, and a world design that would be memorable come end of the year when all gamers think back on their favorite memories from the year in gaming. That is exactly what Death’s Door is and a fair bit more; add a great soundtrack, a wonderfully melancholic atmosphere alongside some welcome levity, secrets to amaze and satisfy any completionist, and one of the most polished and solid launches of the year. There isn’t much to say on Death’s Door, because how many ways can you say “you should play this game” or “well done devs this is amazing”? Well, we’re about to find out as this review is mostly just that!
Death’s Door puts the player in the shoes (or feet as I don’t think this crow wears any shoes) of a crow, working as a reaper. Reapers are meant to collect souls nearing death, but our crow friend manages to lose their assigned soul and must collect it back in order to pay off their debt and move on from this plain. This is a setting well explored in art and Death’s Door doesn’t really cover any uncharted territory, instead opting to keep its story simple and place quality elsewhere. For example, as the crow you’ll have to collect 3 giant souls from creatures eluding death way beyond their normal lifespan and, predictably, these creatures are an allegory for a subject relating to dying; one is a witch obsessed with keeping her loved ones immortal, another is a frog king not willing to give up his power for anyone or anything. These stories are not groundbreaking by any means, but Death’s Door doesn’t present them as such, instead it uses its gorgeous, minimalistic style and impeccable soundtrack to create an atmosphere of somber meditation. These moments stand out as an experience, because they follow combat scenarios and puzzles that lead to a prolonged, more difficult challenge, which in turn leads to a new ability and a chance to confront these creatures in epic boss fights, only to come out victorious and hear the melancholy music accompany their last laments of life. It’s in these moments where Death’s Door shines, but also it is also a really funny game; a man with a pot for a head or a chef octopus controlling a dead sailor are just some of the quirky characters in the world and the interactions with them are equally memorable.
However, that is only a part of the game; most of Death’s Door consists of travelling to an area, exploring it to defeat enemies and discover secrets, going on Zelda-like dungeons with unique puzzles, before getting to the boss fight sequences. In this department, most will look at Death’s Door as having a simple combat loop and those people would be right. Combat consists of dodging, light and heavy attacks, some magic/ranged abilities, and health/mana pool that can be upgraded by finding shrines as well as general upgrades for strength, dexterity, agility, and magic, which can be purchased with souls from fallen enemies. While there is nothing groundbreaking about this, it is very well executed; most encounters feel fair and balanced, but can easily screw the player over if they are not careful, because health can only be regained by finding seeds and planting them in predetermined pots in the world. Combat feels tight, especially in the animation and feedback departments, however I do have some minor complaints. Firstly, dodging felt a bit off until I got a few upgrades into it, which makes that option valuable but also sort of mandatory (alongside strength) and given how the upgrades can get a bit expensive. Lastly, some of the bigger enemy variants (more akin to mini-bosses) have a weird tendency to add or subtract number of hits on specific patterns that always made me feel like I was cheated rather than being too risky.
Having said that, combat was a good experience that served as the chicken in a dish; that’s the meat of the dish sure, and if it’s not well cooked then the dish is ruined, but I’m there for the mashed potatoes and baked vegetables really. Those would be the puzzles and Metroidvania-like abilities unlocked throughout the game. For most of the game, the puzzles will be straightforward. Some will use the environment others will need a certain number of pots destroyed or something similar, but there are some real brain-teasers that are a bit more obtuse, which serve to give a great feeling of “damn I’m smart” moments. Add to that all of the little glowing marks on the levels that scream “when you get that ability come back to see what goodies I have”, which is always a treat; special props to the team for making that process deceptively easy. I rarely 100% collectibles, but it was just so effortless for me to remember the spots and recognize the abilities needed that I just found everything without even thinking about it.
This is also one of those games where the abilities unlocked each change the game in their own way; they all offer ranged combat capabilities and puzzle solving tools, but they are used in significantly different ways that it feels like they do more than that. More likely, this feeling is down to the expert design of the world; on a mechanical level, these areas are jam packed with shortcuts, secrets, little details with animation of characters and the world, teasing solutions and leading the player without them ever feeling like they are. Visually, it just looks brilliant; it is minimalistic and low-poly, but that just makes the colors pop harder, the effects look more satisfying, the stylish flourishes feel cooler. That death animation was always one that just made me forget my frustrations on my mistakes which lead to it and I would sit there and admire it for a bit; the crow has little details here and there that make it feel more alive.
Even beyond all of that, after you finish the campaign, Death’s Door presents a sort of New-game+ that opens up an entirely new way to play with even more secrets and fights. I haven’t finished that mode yet, because despite it starting very strong with some obtuse but amazingly satisfying puzzles, I realized that finishing it would require a bit of chores that I didn’t really want to do – which is fine but not for me. Now, take all of these features, positives, and stellar work, alongside the fact that I was one of the few that experienced ONE visual glitch in an otherwise rock-solid release with zero other issues, and realize that Acid Nerve is a group of two core devs. There are AAA games with less creativity, efficiency, and quality-standards than Death’s Door even if they have hundreds if not thousands or employees; this isn’t to shame those people, games are hard to make, but it is to emphasize how impressive the quality of the game on its own is, let alone the nearly faultless technical state.
Death’s Door is exactly what you imagine it to be; a 10-hour game with good combat, excellent design and puzzles, impressive boss fights with an aesthetically pleasing style. It is also more than that with an excellent soundtrack paving the way for memorable atmosphere, funny characters, and a pleasing New-game+ to add to the tons of secrets already available in the main game. That is what I hoped it would be and getting exactly what I wanted with some nice extras is one of the best feelings a game can give you.