Considering Death’s Door is from the makers of Titan Souls, it’s little surprise combat is on the difficult side. Although your weaponised attack crow can take four hits before carking it – three more than Acid Nerve’s previous protagonist. Still, it’s a world away from Link’s ever-expanding heart collection, especially considering opportunities to heal your poorly crow are few.
Our corvid friend is a Reaper working in a limbo-like processing centre for souls, its bureaucratic, black-and-white styling reminiscent of the 1946 fantasy-romance film, A Matter of Life and Death. But a routine soul-collecting mission goes awry, and suddenly our Reaper finds itself battling through creatures that have mysteriously avoided having their souls harvested.
Fights are simplistic but intense: you’re armed with a sword and a ranged attack, the latter depleting a magic meter. Melee attacks replenish your magic, so there’s no option to sit back and attack at range – you’ll eventually have to get stuck in. And that’s where the all-important dodge comes into play, as you’ll inevitably be overwhelmed by enemies. A charged sword attack rounds out your arsenal, though using it takes skill.
The stingy hit-point system makes for a thrilling ride. One moment you’re on top, dodging attacks and slicing up enemies with ease. Then a lapse of concentration will see you lose, one, two hit points, and suddenly there’s a bubbling panic in your chest. How far away is the next checkpoint? Do I take on the next room, or should I loop back to find a health-replenishing flower? Dying can be frustrating, often resulting in long trudges from a far-off checkpoint – but knowing the penalty you’ll face for death makes combat all the more tense.
Boss fights bring to mind Hollow Knight, with imaginative designs matched to demanding combat, and the level design is wonderful, with myriad secrets to discover. Like Zelda, goodies will often be displayed tantalisingly out of reach until you can return with the necessary item. Unlike Zelda, Death’s Door can be finished in eight to ten hours. Perhaps my only criticism – apart from the lack of a much-needed map – is that I wanted more. Yet the fact a tiny studio has created something that compares favourably with Nintendo’s finest is nothing short of a miracle.
Like an annoyingly perfect love rival, Death’s Door is both stylish and funny. The character design is superb throughout – from a wonderfully amusing bloke with a pot for a head to a squid-wrapped sailor with some bizarre chat – and the giant-headed Witch of Urns will remain seared on your memory. That screen-filling ‘DEATH’ text as well – it’s just so damn cool.
A thrilling, challenging take on the Zelda formula that mixes rewarding exploration with pin-sharp combat.
Genre: Action adventure
Format: PC (tested), XB S/X, XBO
Developer: Acid Nerve
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release: Out now