I’ve said it before and will likely say it ten thousand more times: innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t necessarily make for a great game. I’d rather play ten Dark Souls-like games that are well-made and reliably fun than one that tries to deconstruct the genre and falls completely flat. Naturally you’ve got to fail to progress, even in the games industry, but that doesn’t mean that anyone wants to play games that miss the mark.
Sometimes it’s nice to play a game like Death’s Door, which takes classic fundamentals, spiffs them up with a lovely presentation and serves it to you on a silver platter. Think of it like video game comfort food.
As a crow tasked with reaping the souls of the dead, you’d think your life would be pretty exciting. Well, generally speaking, it’s more of a workaday kind of thing, with the usual bureaucratic nonsense that so many of us deal with in our real lives. I guess there’s a little more swordfighting and archery, but it’s mostly just paperwork. That’s why your feathers pluck up a bit when the news comes in about a powerful soul that needs reaping…and after the assignment goes poorly, you end up on a quest to recover that soul before your newfound mortality causes you to bite the dust.
If you look at the screenshots, you’d expect Death’s Door to be yet another roguelike. Not like there’d be anything wrong with that, of course, but you’d be wrong; Death’s Door has more in common with something like old-school Legend of Zelda games. Your hard-working crow begins with a blade and bow (along with the requisite dodge roll) and you can wield these to defend yourself against baddies, but as you proceed through the game, defeat bosses and explore dungeons, you’ll come across new gear that offers new options.
A lot of this stuff is probably going to seem pretty familiar – there’s a hookshot, for instance, and a set of bombs. You’re also able to upgrade your crow’s basic stats, but this is a fairly simple system that doesn’t feel especially impactful until you read the midgame or so. As in Zelda, new items make the most difference, and much like those classic games, the sense of an evolving character as you proceed is pretty enjoyable.
It’s always a great time finding out new ways to best use what you’ve got at hand. Exploring dungeons serves up that delicious Zelda taste, that satisfying flavor of solving puzzles and cracking open seemingly unbeatable labyrinths. Simply put, this is classic gaming goodness.
That goes double for the impressive boss fights, which look amazing and are always a great time. Even the first boss, a giant castle reminiscent of the Final Fantasy series’ Alexander, leaves a strong impression as you dodge its laser blasts and try to avoid getting stomped. Rolling around to avoid attacks, closing in to land some slashes and retreating to fire your freshly-charged bow leads to an enjoyable hit-and-away rhythm that doesn’t quite reach the frustrating heights of the dreaded Soulslike genre. Later upgrades change things up a bit, but the solid core of dodge/hack/shoot does a lot for Death’s Door.
A unique visual style, half Tim Burton and half Madoka Magica, does a lot for Death’s Door as well. We’re not quite doing horror here – we’re doing mid-2000s Hot Topic-style semi-horror, which isn’t something you see a lot of these days. Your crow is absolutely adorable, by the way, even in the midst of a heated battle. Combined with a stellar soundtrack, Death’s Door has a striking presentation that helps it stand apart from similar games.
There are a lot of similar games, after all. Death’s Door isn’t trying to develop a new genre – it’s taking Zelda, adding in some very light Souls-like elements and slapping it all on top of some of the most interesting environment and creature designs we’ve seen in awhile. This is a recipe that turns out to be pretty delicious. Death’s Door is an easy recommendation as a result. After all, who doesn’t like some comfort food now and then?