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Death’s Door impressions: A macabre Nintendo love letter

Death’s Door doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a macabre game, full of oxymorons, tragedy, and genuinely funny moments. It stars a reaper of souls, a creature that collects the dead and brings them to the afterlife. The reaper is also a small, adorable crow. In the game’s first area, small, adorable nature spirits gather around the crow and follow it around. The first area’s boss fight is against a massive plant, swollen with power.

While filled with opposites, there is one constant about this game: It is incredibly fun.

Death’s Door is an action-adventure title being developed by Acid Nerve and published by Devolver Digital. As part of the latter’s E3 showcase, I went hands on with a four-hour demo. I unintentionally played through the entire preview in one sitting.

Dealing damage

The opening moments of Death’s Door are extremely unassuming. I was introduced to the petite avian character I would be inhabiting, as well as the grim world in the afterlife, where I essentially function as a freelance soul collector. I was given an assignment to reclaim a giant soul that has swollen with power.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Claiming this giant soul is the game’s first real fight, and it comes within 10 minutes of starting the game up. The soul’s owner is a massive plant that attacks with twirling vines that it slams and spins around a small arena. To claim the soul, players only have a handful of tools. They can perform basic attacks, charge up an attack, dodge roll, or fire a magical projectile.

That didn’t seem like much until I figured out how much I could actually do with those few tools. Dodging is incredibly quick, and combat eventually becomes a game of “how many hits can I get in before getting smacked myself?” While retreating, players can fire ranged attacks, but the weapon only has four charges. That is, unless you hit an enemy, as every hit recharges one use. Once you have Death’s Door’s combat down, the question is less “how do I avoid taking damage?” and more “how do I deal as much damage as possible?”

Underworld building

The battle doesn’t exactly go as planned. The giant soul is stolen by another, older crow, one whose target has fled into Death’s Door, locking itself in. The crow, unable to return to its home where time doesn’t pass, has aged, and cannot collect the other giant souls necessary to reach its target. Now put in the same predicament, the player has to claim three giant souls and bring them to the gate.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Before finding the old crow, I ventured through the Lost Cemetery, which serves as the game’s main area during its early hours. It’s a grim location, filled with smaller enemies that reward the player with souls that can be used for upgrading abilities. The cemetery is loaded with branching paths, locked gates, and secrets. Death’s Door is a lot like a Metroidvania in this sense — it encourages exploration and the revisiting of areas once you have more abilities.

The cemetery is filled with details as well, a trait that continues through the remainder of the game, or at least its demo. Graveyards fill the expanses of the area, storing creatures large and titanic, and some of these graves foreshadow future battles or enemies. Everywhere I went, the environment told a story or explained some part of the world with a bit more detail.

While my experience with Death’s Door up to this point was good, it got great once I reached the first real boss’s area belonging to the Witch of Urns. The Witch isn’t just some motiveless villain; she’s a fully fleshed-out character. She thought that by stuffing peoples’ heads into urns, they could avoid a spot on Death’s ledger. To that end, every enemy in this area is in an urn of some kind. There’s even a friendly knight who has a pot on his head instead of an urn. Of course, his name is Pothead, making for one of the best character introductions I’ve seen in a game. Death’s Door constantly oozes this kind of charm, making nearly every interaction with characters, whether they’re friendly or not, into a memorable one.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

A fun journey

While the boss fight against the Witch of Urns is itself spectacular, getting to her is the real treat. I fought my way through her mansion, a sprawling estate filled with dining rooms, bedrooms, and portraits of other urn-headed characters. It’s obvious that this was, at some point, a lively, love-filled home.

I descend into the mansion’s basement, an immense network of tunnels and laboratories. It’s here that I was introduced to my first power, which let me shoot fireballs. With this ability, I lit furnaces that in turn powered pistons, raising and lowering platforms, all to the beat of the game’s music. If you’re not picking up on it yet, Death’s Door doesn’t keep its ideas segmented and apart; they build on each other across all aspects of the game in a brilliant fashion.

When I first started playing Death’s Door I compared it to Hades. Not because its combat was similar, but because it’s an indie title that has an incredible amount of potential behind it. Death’s Door is exciting, with intense fights that made me pop off when I beat a boss. Its world is rich, and its story mysterious, with much, much more being revealed in the hours I played than I’m letting on.

Death’s Door is set to release on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on July 20, and that day can’t come soon enough.

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Otto Kratky
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Otto Kratky is a freelance writer with many homes. You can find his work at Digital Trends, GameSpot, and Gamepur. If he's…
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