In the midst of the Legend of Zelda’s 35th anniversary year and but a week out from the re-release of Skyward Sword on Nintendo Switch, two person development team Mark Foster and David Fenn (aka Acid Nerve) have dropped their second major release in Death’s Door, a title with a light sprinkling of inspiration from Nintendo’s long serving franchise along its dark, humorous roots. You play as a fledgling crow, tasked with reaping souls as part of an everyday job. Your latest task? Tracking down your newest target by transporting through a Door and cashing in the soul. It all seems simple enough, with the target dropping rather quickly, but everything goes pear shaped when the soul is stolen and you’re left dazed and confused.
So begins a journey to discover the origins of the Doors, your purpose as a reaper and a mysterious new quest to track down and defeat various evildoers. If you’ve played any kind of action title in the past you should know what to expect with Death’s Door, figuring out enemy patterns and timing your attacks to avoid certain doom. There’s definitely a sense of familiarity to it all, but that feeling (despite how richly dark the tone may be) is rather comforting here. Moving from one enemy to the next and slashing with your sword, dodging at just the right moment, it’s all incredibly smooth across the board from both a gameplay and presentation standpoint.
Dark Soul Reapers...
The thief of your soul, a fellow crow stranded in the unknown in search of his own target, sets you on the path to three different bosses in the hope that their souls will be enough to open Death’s Door. Each critter lays claim to a different domain, subtle in their colour palette but different enough to differentiate their layouts and enemy types, but it won’t take too long to uncover their secrets and make decent progress. With each enemy you defeat, you’ll earn a smaller dose of souls that can be traded in for upgrades. You’ll be able to improve your general attack, speed and eventually the amount of damage dealt with various magic attacks, unlocked through each of the major regions.
From throwing damaging fireballs to using a hookshot to get to hard to reach places, each new ability will not only make later boss battles a little easier to achieve but will eventually help you gain access to other areas that hide new weapons. Said weapons will tease you, out in the open but hard to reach, until you make far enough progress, but none are a necessary requirement to complete the campaign. From start to finish, I played through with the starter sword and put most of the gathered souls into upgrading the damage dealt, but there’s no one way to achieve your goals or what to upgrade and unlock first.
Through the Scary Door...
✔️A beautiful visual and audio presentation.
✔️Combat mechanics are solid and well designed.
✔️Boss battles are engaging, at times humorous.
❌Hiding health upgrades is super cheeky.
❌Late game boss fights can be a challenge.
Death’s Door isn’t an entirely difficult game early on, with a smooth learning curve that never has a sudden challenge spike across its runtime, though as with any good game the real challenge comes towards the end of the story as the true boss reveals itself. Those last few battles, incredibly paced and well executed, offered the only moments during my runtime of any level of frustration, but that wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. As with any good action title with massive bosses to overcome, it’s all about patience and timing, something that my little crow friend adapted to, with an immense sense of satisfaction across my face as the credits rolled.
But talking only on the challenge of Death’s Door would be ignoring its most enjoyable feature: it’s narrative. Each region, boss and story beat is presented with tongue firmly in cheek, each death marked with a giant ‘DEAD’ displayed on screen that at first was confronting but eventually became a welcome joke to ease the tension. Coupled with a noir inspired hub world that slowly sheds light on the deeper meaning by the Doors and its leaders, it’s so easy to get lost within and want to fully explore, which you’ll want to do once the final boss is eventually thwarted.
Which brings me to my only real gripe, one that is entirely dependent on how you want to enjoy your time with Death’s Door. See, there’s only one way to upgrade both your health and magic levels, and that’s by discovering shrines hidden in and around each area. If you want to make things difficult for yourself (which I did, because I didn’t figure this out until over halfway through when I accidentally came across my first shrine), you’ll want to stick to the path and work with what you’ve got, upgrading what you can with your souls. But, if the challenge is a little too much for you, you’ll want to find said shrines to give your health and magic output a boost.
My time as my little crow hero wasn’t an entirely long one unless you do go hunting for every secret, but none of it ever felt like padding nor did it feel too short. Death’s Door is perfectly balanced to tell its story, thoughtful and humorous in all the right ways, backed by a thrilling musical score that elevates the action and often reminded me of a Studio Ghibli creation in its visual themes. For a two person team, backed by Devolver Digital, it’s a fantastic achievement that thoroughly deserves the hype surrounding its release. Death’s Door is a solid choice for Indie Game of the Year, if not Game of the Year itself.
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.