[REVIEW] Death’s Door – Murder, she crowed

Don’t you just hate it when you’re out doing your job and somebody prevents you from doing it? I do. And so does the protagonist in Death’s Door. Getting your immortality taken away because some asswipe stole your target can really ruffle one’s feathers. Getting that target – or rather its soul – back to your employer can certainly become daunting when your own soul is suddenly up for grabs. But who knew that one such task could also be so damn caw-some.

Alright, let me just get this out of the way: Death’s Door is a work of genius. Developer Acid Nerve – a two-person team, might I add – has found a way to make something as macabre as dealing with death, enjoyable. And let’s face it, death is all around us. Death usually plays a vital part in many games. But Death’s Door takes away its somber stigma by presenting it in a cute, almost Zelda-like format, all while making us reap souls as a fledgling crow and hitting us with the occasional tongue-in-beak humor.

So yes, Death’s Door tells the story of a nameless fledgling crow (even though I personally like to call him Russel). You see, Russel is a fine-feathered novice soul reaper, tasked by his employer to collect a big one. Unfortunately for our black buddy, somebody gets the drop on him and snatches it from right under his beak. The thing is that this causes quite a bit of inconvenience. Files can not be closed when a reaper doesn’t return with the designated soul. To make matters worse, a reaper is mortal while out on the prowl. Until the soul is retrieved, our black-feathered protagonist will have to face the natural course of life.

With that natural course of life also comes the inevitable; death. You’ll be dealing with it a lot. When you’re not the one handing it out to others, you’ll definitely be on the receiving end in Death’s Door. And that’s okay because I’ve never had a better time doing both. The deal is that to open the titular Death’s Door – behind which your stolen soul presumably resides – three Giant Souls need to be collected. These souls have gone way beyond their best-before date, bending the landscape to their will and corrupting it in the process. So as you might have guessed, getting these Giant Souls isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

On the contrary, Death’s Door can be quite a wingful if you rush it. In between slaying enemies with the flash of a blade, exploration is a key component if you wish to succeed. Every distinct location – each of them beautiful in its own way – holds secrets to be uncovered and hidden items to be found. You could neglect all of them if you wish, but that’ll make things needlessly hard in the end. Plus, rummaging around is no punishment either. If there’s one thing that could have been done differently, it should be that much-needed upgrades shouldn’t be as hidden away as they are. Making players search for stuff isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But hiding certain upgrade options far out of sight can invoke easily overlooking them.

As mentioned before, skipping these upgrades isn’t going to set you up for a rendezvous with death, but it will make your mortal life a bit harder, even if combat isn’t really that tasking. In fact, combat is pretty straightforward. Initially equipped with a sword and a bow (later complemented by a fireball and a Hookshot), dealing with enemies mostly turns into a strike-and-dodge affair. As you progress and gain more abilities, enemies will inevitably evolve too. One-hit souls eventually get traded off for more agile and armored heavy hitters, letting you make good use of your acquired skills.

Death's Door

Getting the hang of these skills is paramount since Death’s Door does have a way of punishing the harebrained. Health is finite and the only way of regenerating it is to plant seeds in designated pots. Each sprouted health seed can be harvested once per life cycle, so caution is advised. Every strike from an enemy – no matter how insignificant – will cost you a health block. Given that you only have four of those – or five if you find the upgrades – things can get really messy, really fast.

Fortunately, there are ways to up your game a bit. Collected souls can be exchanged for status upgrades, increasing your agility, strength, and striking stats. While some of these souls are gained by simply snuffing malevolent creatures, others are to be collected by completing puzzles, of which there are plenty. Many of those puzzles are fairly self-explanatory, but they are mostly ability-locked. Retracing your steps and backtracking is therefore mandatory if you want to face bosses well-equipped. A map would have come in handy in situations like these, but alas. This crow will have to call upon its intelligence to find its way back.

Then again, having to traverse the lands is hardly any form of punishment. Even though you’re basically a death-dealing crow, the worst omen ever, Death’s Door is remarkably soothing. The exquisite use of color and a magnificent piano soundtrack almost give Death’s Door a tranquilizing touch. You’d almost forget that you’ve been shedding blood and feathers for 10-15 hours after seeing the credits roll. It’s only when combat gets heated or mildly aggravating – what happens if you neglect to upgrade – that you might lose your cool. That, and dropping off ledges mid-dodge…

Death's Door

Long story short; Death’s Door… I’m loving (almost) every bit of it. Beautiful surroundings, a wonderful soundtrack, and ‘simple-yet-satisfying’ combat and puzzles make for an exhilarating experience. It’s too bad that upgrade abilities are a tad too far away from the beaten path and that this path is in no way documented in a map. But other than that, Death’s Door is in good feather. Especially given its price point of $20/€20, Acid Nerve and Devolver Digital deserve a feather in their caps.

Death’s Door… it’s to die for.

Absolutely caw-some
The Good Feathers
Combat and puzzles are simple, yet satisfying
Dealing with death has never been so gorgeous
The mellowing soundtrack almost makes you forget about all the blood you've spilled
Quite a bit of tongue-in-beak humor
Great value for money
The Ruffled Ones
Some upgrade options really take some exploring, making them easy to miss
No map, so good luck on that backtracking