Preview: Death’s Door Is an In-crow-dibly Charming, Macabre Action RPG

Acid Nerve’s Titan Souls was a modest boss rush game built around its simplicity. No grunt enemies or side characters. Everything dies in one hit. Zero upgrades. Just one weapon. It was limited but was trying to use those restraints to its advantage, even if they didn’t always work. Death’s Door sees Acid Nerve moving on to a bigger title with more than a string of big fights, but a full top-down RPG with regular foes, puzzles, progression, and, well, a cute society of crows. And it doesn’t seem like the team is biting off more than it can chew or, in this case, pecking at more than its beak can handle.

Death's Door Is an Incrowdibly Macabre, Charming Action RPG

Death’s Door still has a lot in common with Titan Souls though. It’s still a top-down game with some giant, multi-stage bosses that require pattern recognition and are a rush to defeat, but it’s so much more than that this time.

The protagonist crow, who is mostly referred to as “Reaper,” starts out with a sword (that strangely looks and sounds a bit like a lightsaber), a bow, and a roll. Combat is fairly standard as there aren’t extensive juggles or button combos to remember. It’s just about hitting and not getting hit, which isn’t too difficult since the dodge, while heavy on the recovery frames in its non-upgraded state, has plenty of invincibility frames to be useful. Because of this, Death’s Door’s combat is more akin to an older Zelda title than Devil May Cry.

The Zelda comparisons are overall more apt because of Death’s Door’s overall structure. It’s not about repeatedly dying to a boss over and over, but more keen on exploration, finding hidden items, buying run-of-the-mill upgrades, and getting through admittedly linear dungeons, solving the puzzles, and killing the small pockets of enemies along the way.

Death's Door Is an Incrowdibly Macabre, Charming Action RPG

None of the puzzles in the early parts of the game were too difficult — expect to gather keys and shoot arrows through fires to light braziers — but they’re paced well enough and will hopefully grow in complexity as more abilities are unlocked. Of course, not dying in one hit allows for better pacing than Titan Souls, which often stagnated and was bogged down by long load times. Death is also hardly a punishment either, and all of these elements better facilitate the type of game Death’s Door is.

Its combat and puzzles are relatively typical gameplay pillars that work well enough to make Death’s Door easy comfort food, but its atmosphere and world bring everything up a notch. Games starring animals can often lean on the memey nature of their concepts, but, while still cute, Death’s Door is smarter than that as it has a unique world of crows that have turned death into a bureaucratic machine.

Death's Door Is an Incrowdibly Macabre, Charming Action RPG

The doldrums of a nine-to-five job are clear within the Reaping Headquarters as its desaturated colors match both its grim nature and the banalities of office life. The Reaper even arrives in a bus and goes through security as if they were arriving at an IT job and not a building on floating chunks of concrete that employ those who harvest souls. Death’s Door even has some funny, clever writing, but its offices are quite sparse. Hopefully, the puzzlingly empty workplace fills up later on to allow its personality to shine through more frequently.

But its ingenuity carries on from there as the colors wash in when players step into the dungeons. The contrast from the black and white Reaper HQ helps these vibrant levels pop more, but they’re not just cliché areas stitched together. The first big area is a huge, pottery-focused mansion where the puzzles, characters, and enemies all revolve around vases and other similar containers. This includes Pothead, the slightly clumsy and lovable soupy boy who deserves a more prominent role in the full game. If every level both has and commits to an odd twist like this, then Death’s Door is sure to have a bunch of special and bizarre worlds to explore.

It’s hard to point to any one thing that Death’s Door seems to do better than others of its ilk. But not every title needs to be the best at everything, and this game appears to be a strong example of that. Its puzzle design and fighting mechanics are serviceable, yet it’s all made better by its overall interesting world and slick style. Death’s Door is positioned to be greater than the sum of its parts that might be a larger step forward for developer Acid Nerve than the genre as a whole, but, if the early stages are any indication, that’s still more than enough to be a worthwhile adventure.