Death’s Door

I picked this up during the Switch holiday sale. It’s an odd game, with a mix of quite a few genres. Isometric combat, heavy use of dodge and small health pools (Dark Souls-ish), and a bit of the Zelda model of getting new toys to unlock new areas.

I think the Zelda comparison is better than Metroidvania, in that backtracking is entirely optional here, where in the other genre its required. There are reasons to backtrack, as collecting everything gets you the “true” ending, which can only be completed after you’ve done the main campaign. I think that’s a better model than forcing you to collect doodads and secrets before the last boss – again because this is more Zelda and Metroid.

The art style is solid, the controls are simple yet responsive, and the enemy variety is more than sufficient to require you to think on your toes. There are also plenty of environmental hazards, so that positioning is more important than pretty much anything else. It’s a game where you will die, a lot, and it never truly feels punishing. Which gets me to the level design point.

The game tends to focus on three level designs. The first (Cemetery) is a sprawling mess of being lost. There’s no map, no indicator of where to go and what to do, so you’re just going to explore until you figure it out. This is a problem after the first 2 bosses, as there’s no good indicator of what comes next. Less a fan of this.

The second is the loop forward. This is where there’s a single path that is barred at multiple stages, and you take “off ramps” of challenges to unlock the next gate. When you die (you will, many times), the path forward is shorter. This model is up there with Metroidvania, where new shortcuts are established as you go forward. This creates a high tempo gameplay, which is where the game really shines.

The third is the cloverleaf. This is where there’s a hub and you take leaf paths out, complete tasks that increase a counter in order to get to the next area. You’ll have to visit the leaves multiple times as each path unlocks more on another leaf. This is the Zelda model of dungeon design where it’s frankly more of a puzzle.

Bosses are an interesting bit. It’s pattern-based, and success is based more on flawless execution than much else. There are very few bosses, which is really quite fine by me. And each has a particular quirk that you need to discover to find success. The Frog King for example… if you don’t figure it out, then the floor will give way and the battle is over. Thankfully the pace of the battles is super quick, and you always feel like you’re progressing.

This is one of those more quirky games that doesn’t fit in a mold so well. That is was developed by a team of 2 people is simply bonkers. I’m certainly not done with studio games, but someone needs to take a serious look at how creativity works when we’re getting a dozen+ quality games a year from extremely small groups.

Well worth the purchase.

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