Death’s Door Review: Open the Door Into Strange Adventure
I originally had no idea what to expect from Death’s Door. All I knew from the outset was that it was being published by Devolver and developed by Acid Nerve, who previously made Titan’s Souls. I didn’t have much experience with Titan’s Souls, but had always been interested in it. And after previewing Death’s Door, I knew the team was onto something special. The game is a tightly woven adventure about life, death and Reapers. Now that I’ve rolled credits in the game, I can confirm Death’s Door is one of my favorite titles by Devolver Digital. Keep reading my Death’s Door review to see how this game reaped my gamer soul.
A Story About Life, Death, and Crows
Since I covered the premise of Death’s Door in my earlier preview, I’m just going to gloss over it here. You’re a Reaper. A crow granted supernatural longevity and powers to gather errant souls. If souls go untended for too long, they become dangerous and corrupted. This is why it’s problematic when a soul you reap gets stolen by a wily old Crow. You can’t safely conclude your job without it. The old crow offers a deal – gather 3 other souls, and you can go through the ominous locked door and retrieve your quarry. Along the way, the game muses about the meaning of life and death and injects a bunch of zany humor into everything. Ultimately you’re going to open the titular Death’s Door and see where it leads you.
Earlier I had said Death’s Door reminded me of something from Studio Ghibli. But I’m gonna amend that. While it’s true there are many fantastical and strange ideas at play here, I now think of it as more inspired by the works of Tim Burton. Death’s Door is strange, hilarious, and just a bit disturbing. And honestly, given the themes of the game, I feel it’s much better oriented in the Burton wheelhouse. But what’s really wonderful about the game is it’s also very much a tribute to classic Zelda games.
A Love Letter To Zelda Fans
Now, I commend Nintendo for trying to modernize and mix up Zelda in recent years. But what I grew up loving, and what I still enjoy most, are the classic Zelda games. Death’s Door is very much inspired by those while still interjecting a lot of its own flair into things. Each of the 3 bosses whose Giant Souls you must reap has its own kingdom. Those are split into many expansive areas and several dungeons each. Though the game doesn’t really hold your hand in many regards, the internal logic of each dungeon is precise and intuitive. You’ll wander through an area and only be able to access parts of it. Then you’ll get a new ability, return, and progress farther, eventually leading you to the powerful bosses. There are three main ones, but you’ll encounter others along the way. And each and every boss is totally different and a unique challenge in their own right.
Bosses That Make You Ache
I frankly loved the boss fights. They’re all tough, but not unfair. Each attack is signposted by a clever cue, and bosses will ramp up accordingly the more damage they take. Some boss fights are practically puzzles, such as the Frog King. You have to figure out how to hurt him at first, slowly slashing away at his armor. Once you remove it, he becomes infuriated, flipping the arena you stand upon, trying to devour you, and shooting projectiles to remove the safety of solid ground. While I won’t ruin who the final boss is, I will say the last couple of bosses in the game are incredible challenges. They’ll put your skills to the test in epic fashion.
Glory To Those That Can Find Them
Though there’s only a large handful of bosses in the game, the regular enemies are no pushover. You’ll regularly get ambushed in rooms, as magical doors unload foes in waves. Given you start out with only 4 health, you’ll have to get really good at avoiding damage to survive. While you can find crystal shards to increase your base health and mana (used for abilities), they’re hidden in deviously placed Shrines. I didn’t find my first Shrine until very near the end of the game, in a land of slippery ice and cruel winds. Suffice to say, getting its crystal shard almost made me rage quit. Thankfully, not all the Shrines are quite that hard to reach. But finding them is gonna take a lot of skill, and maybe a handful of hints from your obviously human pal, Jefferson.
To the Mighty Go the Spoils
The glue that holds the game together is the combat. Your crow can slash his magical sword, unleash charged attacks and dodge roll with ease. You’ll also eventually get access to 4 abilities – a bow and arrow, a fire spell, a bomb spell, and a hookshot. Each of these is magical in nature, which means they all technically have infinite uses. The catch is you have to refresh with slashes of your sword. Essentially, you can use any ability 4 times in a row before you have to recharge by hitting a foe or object. The only exception is the hookshot, which makes sense since it’s used solely for traversal, not damage.
Best of all, as you reap the souls of lesser enemies and find hidden caches of them, you’ll be able to trade those souls in at the Hall of Doors to upgrade your stats. You can increase your starting damage, reaction speed, magical power, and more. This is a vital service, and though the effects can seem minor at first, they make a big difference when fully powered up.
Another thing I really liked about Death’s Door is the HUB area. It’s the Hall of Doors, and given the name, you won’t be surprised it has lots of portals to other realms. You’ll basically find glowing keyholes in space, and by opening them, you’ll open a corresponding door in the Hall. This made maneuvering back and forth much easier, and helped keep the game running at a brisk pace. That said, there was a small part of me that wished there was some form of overworld map in the game. Not cause I needed it for wandering about, but mostly to help guide me in finding hidden areas. The game is bursting at the seams with secrets. So some visual indication or counter would have really helped, even if it just told me whether I had found all the items in a given area.
Speaking of hidden areas, you’ll find 4 silent guardians in the game. They serve as mini-bosses of sorts, and by defeating them, you’ll empower one of your magical abilities. For example, by defeating the fire guardian, your fire spell will inflict burn damage over time to foes. These upgrades are really amazing, and I strongly recommend finding them all. Though I only found 3 out of 4, that was enough to bolster my strength for the game’s steeper challenges.
Shiny Baubles Are Best
Visually, Death’s Door is a treat. The art style is what initially drew me to the game, and it did not disappoint. There are lush colors in the realms you wander, contrasted by the stark white and black of the Hall of Doors. The game also makes good use of lighting, and casts dramatic shadows regularly. The artwork also lends a ton of cartoony personality to the inhabitants of the game, from lads with pots for heads to effeminate yetis to hungry blob monsters. I especially loved the visual effect used to indicate if a foe is damaged. Pink cracks start to crisscross their body, and the more cracks, the more hurt they are. Musically, the game is also transcendent. There’s a ton of musical themes, and the tempo really picks up during combat. It’s mostly orchestral tunes with some hard rock thrown in for good measure.
The End Is Nigh
Though I did encounter a few glitches in my time with Death’s Door, overall, they were pretty minor. In addition, most of the glitches I found were beneficial or relatively harmless. In one dungeon, projectiles thrown at me in one room followed me into another. Another time a frog ninja threw a boomerang at me, and it proceeded to get stuck in the stage, allowing me to wallop him. The only really bad glitch I found was mostly my own fault. I fell into a hole and somehow landed underneath stage geometry. I couldn’t see my Crow, but I was able to move about before the game started to freeze up on me. Honestly, though, I’m confident most of these problems will be addressed in early patches, so I’m not overly worried.
A Game Worth Dying For
I relished the time I spent with Death’s Door. Not only was I captivated by the visual style, but the gameplay was dynamic, clever, and well-balanced. I spent about 9 hours to roll the credits, and still have plenty of secrets to find. I may have had my doubts about Acid Nerve before, but those are pretty much gone now. They’ve shown they have the chops to not only make a beautiful game, but one that’s fun, challenging, and balanced precisely. My only small complaint is the game isn’t available on more consoles. But if you enjoy Zelda games and need a new adventure, or if you’re just hungry for something wonderful, then you need to purchase Death’s Door.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S; Publisher: Devolver Digital; Developer: Acid Nerve; Players: 1; Released: July 20, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.