Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Microreview [VideoGame]: Death's Door by Acid Nerve

The little crow that could.

Death’s Door
tasks crows with reaping the souls of those who find themselves at the transition between life and death. As a crow, one can live forever so long as they continue to deliver the souls they are assigned. The mundanity of repetition is evident amongst your colleagues in the opening moments of the game. Someone has to do all the desk-work for assignment and allocation of souls after all. But what happens when a soul is lost? Well, then the timer begins and immortality starts to slip away. This is where our fated crow finds itself at the beginning of Death’s Door.

Taking obvious inspiration from The Legend of Zelda games, Death’s Door respects the original work and injects it with a sense of charm and purpose that is sometimes difficult to find in the top-down 2D Zelda games. The game’s other inspiration, Dark Souls, only shares aesthetic influence and world-design. Transferring between a hub world and the gameplay world via a set of doors work well and seamlessly. Upon death, most enemies in a given area respawn, but there are shortcuts to avoid some enemies. And, thank the heavens, you don’t lose all of your souls upon death.

The gameplay is simple and isn't a boundary-pushing game. It knows what it sets out to do, and it does so quite well. As an action-adventure game, Death’s Door succeeds by not biting off more than it can chew. There are multiple weapons in the game (one if which is an umbrella, it's a weak weapon that equates to being the game’s hard difficulty), and a few statistics you can increase through the use of gathered souls. The weapons range from long/slow to short/quick. Unfortunately there aren't too many differences with weapons abilities (beside the Thunder Hammer aoe), but at least it gives the player the option to play the game as they like.

In addition to weapons, the player gets access to a host of spells throughout the game. They start with a simple bow and get better from there. On top of this, the game allows the players to upgrade these spells by defeating challenging side-bosses that, quite frankly, are the most difficult in the game. In addition to upgrading spells via bosses, players also have access to trade souls for magic upgrades back at HQ. A combination of weapon-play, spell-casting, and proper dodging make up the majority of Death’s Door’s gameplay, and though simple, is quite satisfying.

What would a Zelda-like game be without it’s puzzles? Death’s Door has quite a few of these, though they never hinder the pace of the game. Some are overly simple, while others are just right. You’ll find many enjoyable moments going back through the world to use a new spell you’ve acquired to unlock something you weren’t able to before. It’s an old video game technique, but it still works, so why abandon it? The best part of Death’s Door is that it doesn’t oversaturate with similar puzzles sprinkled throughout the entire game. Some hidden doors and areas were difficult to find because they used a puzzle-solution once, and I didn’t even know that it was something to look out for. For instance, to get to one of the shrines, I had to destroy invisible vases that I could only see by the reflection on the floor. That's the only time they used that trick through the entire game. I enjoyed finding these one-off puzzles and think other games would be wise to follow suit.

The aesthetic is dark and simple, yet charming. The little crow that you play is destined to uncover the secrets of death while reaping as many souls as he can in the process. The clean, elegant art work is striking and I fell in love with it immediately. In fact, just looking at the gameplay trailer from the PlayStation store hooked me in. While the enemies don't have too much variety (one type just runs at you/jump on you from a distance, and that enemy is reused with different skins), they do look fantastic. Admittedly, this is a rather short game, so too much enemy variation was unnecessary, though I would have liked a little more.

The boss battles each add a unique mechanic and are enjoyable to encounter. Some are more difficult than others, but on the whole, Death’s Door strikes a good balance with difficulty. Paying attention to when to dodge and deflect are critical for survival. This is especially true of the big-baddies. Even in a game short as this, Acid Nerve managed to smuggle in extra hidden bosses for our enjoyment. Though the music during these fights serves the moment, they don’t quite stick like a Zelda soundtrack. The sound effects and music are good, but not quite as memorable as the rest of the game.

All in all, Death’s Door provides fantastic value for a 2-D Zelda lover. The aesthetic is wonderful and despite the cute charm around a dark setting, the overall message of the game is quite deep. With a playtime of under twelve hours, Death’s Door makes a point and proves it. It sets up a game with just enough story to keep you going, and just enough collectible goodies to keep you searching. Now, get out there little crow and start collecting. Those souls aren't going to gather themselves.


The Math

Objective Assessment:

Bonus: +1 for charming minimalistic art style. +1 for not overstaying its welcome.

-1 forgettable sound effects. -1 for enemy variety.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.