I was extremely excited to see this in our review rotation after a close friend was raving about it. I was eager to get my hands on it and see where I would stand. As an avid fan of 2D Zelda games like A Link to the Past, Death’s Door felt right at home in terms of its exploration and combat. It features that top-down perspective of old, but a bigger focus on dealing with gauntlets of enemies, while making it from checkpoint to checkpoint. I really enjoy how the game rewards you and streamlines the process of dying and getting back to where you were. There are times where you can inch your way to progress by slowly unlocking new shortcuts to speed your way back to the next action piece. I think for seasoned players, this flexibility may come off as a bit too much of a crutch, but for the most part, the difficulty felt just challenging enough.
There were moments where I was perplexed why my progress with a puzzle or opening a lock persisted between death, which would often allow me to completely ignore the respawned enemies and proceed to where I was with little resistance. To a certain degree, I told myself, “If you’re going to keep my progress anyways, why put me through the trouble of going all the way back?” I would have understood if I needed to refight my way there and unlock the way all over again, but this just felts like a strange compromise. Outside of that slightly irksome feeling, I adored dungeon and level designs. There are some really clever secrets and puzzles, both in combat and in traditional fashion.
The story beats are very interesting, the game effortlessly threads between somber tones and silly, playful ones in a way that makes the world feel vibrant and alive. The game asks questions about life and death in a very contemplative, yet not overly dreary or contrived manner. I really like how the story is told for the most part: there are some exposition heavy setups sprinkled in, but most of those scenes feel earned and with weighty realizations. The lore is pretty rich and rewards you for exploring the landscapes for hidden pieces of information scattered throughout your adventure. The characters themselves are fleshed out juuuuust enough to give them unique and memorable personalities that you just immediately get. I love that once you get to the dungeon aspect of the game, bosses will berate you and let their characterizations shine right up to when you encounter their fight.
The game is pretty linear, but there’s a good amount of secrets that reward you for revisiting areas and finding new uses for your newer abilities that you didn’t have before. There are shrines that are your classic heart piece/magic upgrades that I must say are masterfully hidden. I was only able to find six of the sixteen that are in the game, and every time I felt like you reeeeeeally had to pay attention to tiny tells in the environment that show something’s up. There are also secret enhancements to your abilities that are earned by finding secret passages with challenging bosses that highlight the skill. I’d argue in many ways, these fights can be even more demanding than the story bosses, particularly the fireball boss depending on how early you encounter it. I personally found three of the four available in the game in my playthrough, and the fire one proved especially handy in my run.
Overall, enemy variety is pretty great. The game is at its best when it sprinkles several types of enemies around you and forces you to evaluate your approach through them all. Prioritizing ranged enemies first, then leaving the tankier melee ones last served me well, but was often easier said than done. I think for folks who might not be a fan of twitchy, high reflex gameplay, they may feel more at home with Death’s Door’s more methodical pacing.
Honestly, I would get into a bit of a Zen mindset playing the game, and a huge part of it was how I was encouraged to slow down and take in my surroundings. Another factor was the fantastic soundtrack and ambiance. Every area feels so individualized, even if we’re still playing with the classic tried and true settings of: snow, garden, forest, and graveyard. I loved how every little rest spot had this leitmotif using a woodblock and its own rearrangement of the tune based on the area, every time I heard it, it told me I could let my guard down and relax. The game does a great job setting up these tense, daunting tasks and then giving you space to unwind before the next one. It really helped pull me into the world without getting overly frantic or fatigued.
The way that heals are spread out and shortcuts are opened are at just the right distance to make it feel like you aren’t losing too much progress without cheapening the experience. I also enjoyed how you had to work for it a bit to find these seeds that allow you to activate the flower pots that fully restores your health. They even respawn after death, so you can route your journey to hit those mini-checkpoints and top yourself off. I do think that for some players, the game may teeter on easy, but the gameplay is so solid that I don’t think that that will matter too much. The last games I’ve reviewed have been mostly niche, but I think this is a FANTASTIC game to recommend to newer and older players alike.
All in all, this is a great Zelda-like that really comes to its own with interesting themes and a streamlined, modernized gameplay. It was rare that I felt like I couldn’t take ownership of my losses – although I will say some enemies may appear to home in on your positioning a little too well. You can work around it by timing your dodge roll right to the last second, but that was the closest the game ever felt to being cheap shotted. That’s how solid the experience must be for me to be left with such slight nitpicks. It feels great to be able to review a game I found myself slowly falling in love with again. It’s not a ten out of ten masterpiece, nor is it groundbreakingly reinventing the game genre, but it’s a solid title that really makes the most out of its ten or so hour playthrough. There’s even some post game content for all those completionists out there after you defeat the final boss. The secret ending you unlock seems to set up some cool continuity that may reflect on the studio’s next title. I promise you won’t regret picking this one up.
A review copy was provided by the devs.
Hellfirebam had emphatically awarded Death’s door the Indie Gamer Seal of Approval.