When it comes to gaming there is one universal truth that I'm sure every player can agree on; there aren't enough games that let you play as a crow. We've had goats, geese, mice, cats, dogs, hedgehogs, echidnas, sharks and even an octopus... but the humble crow has been completely overlooked. However, fans of the genus Corvus can finally rejoice, as developers Acid Nerve have you covered with their 2021 game Death's Door.
Familiar But Different
Published by Devolver Digital in 2021, Death's Door puts the player in control of a weapon-swinging, soul collecting crow.
Acid Nerve have taken clear inspiration from both the Zelda and Soulsbourne franchises with regard to how the game plays. The positioning of the camera, combined with heavy puzzle elements (such as bombing walls and grappling) will immediately feel familiar to fans of Zelda games. It's particularly evocative of the recent Switch remake of Link's Awakening, but with a decidedly darker theme.
But then the attack patterns of often difficult to defeat enemies, as well as the save points ressurecting all previously slayed baddies, are Soulsbourne staples. It sounds like a strange combination but it works exceptionally well, creating a 'maybe next time' attitude to play. Chances are you'll die a lot too, but it rarely feels unfair and there isn't much by way of punishment when you do. Respawn and go again, with a little bit more information than you had last time.
A Sensory Treat
For the first 10 minutes or so of gameplay you might think Death's Door is a bit gloomy and uninspiring. The Hall of Doors (which acts as a hub world) is exclusively in black and white, at least when the game starts, and the Grove of Spirits isn't much brighter.
However, the more traditional levels like the Urn Witch's Estate and the Frog King's Domain are far more vibrant. Simply put, Death's Door is presented beautifully. Stunning crisp graphics combined with atmospheric music and unobtrusive sound effects. If it weren't for the constant threat of death at every turn, it would actually be quite relaxing.
The inspiration from Studio Ghibli is noticeable as soon as you look at the cover art for the box. In fact if someone had told me that the first boss had been taken directly from Spirited Away, I wouldn't have questioned it. Being a huge fan of that style in particular, I enjoyed the anticipation of seeing who I'd be fighting (or helping) next, and it rarely disappointed.
A Crow's Life
So what's it all about?
Well, in Death's Door the crows (aka The Reapers) are responsible for gathering the souls of monsters who have 'lived too long'. You play as an unnamed Reaper who gets dragged into a larger plot to open the titular 'Death's Door', having to gather more souls in order to do so. The gameplay is similar to a lot of indie games that fall into this style; you have a dodge roll, a weapon slash and some magical abilities.
The Reaper starts out with a sword, but new weapons can be found sparsely scattered around the game. These include a hammer, throwing knives and an umbrella. The latter serving no purpose other than to make the game harder and unlock an achievement.
Magical abilities are earned throughout the course of the game, adding a bomb, a flame and a grappling hook to the arrow which The Reaper starts out with. Unlocking these new abilities allows players to backtrack and gain previously inaccessible secrets and upgrades. In addition, all four can be upgraded to make them more useful, or in most cases more potent. You may have noticed I said 'grappling hook' there, and no that's not an error on my part. You see The Reaper, despite being a crow, can't actually fly.
Why? Most likely because it would break the game mechanics, but canonically it's probably something to do with having to carry a heavy sword. Anyway, explore areas, kill enemies, find secrets, beat the boss and repeat. It's as simple as that, but it's a tried and tested formula that works here, with a well balanced difficulty curve.
Something To Crow About
If you like classic Zelda games and don't mind trading off the huge in-depth plot for more of a challenge, I suspect Death's Door will appeal to you. That's not to say there isn't an intriguing story playing out here, but don't expect Skyrim levels of intricacy. This simplicity isn't a negative though. It makes Death's Door the perfect choice to pick up for a spare half an hour here and there, and just have fun.
It took me just under 11 hours to 'beat' the game, but I did backtrack multiple times to find things I didn't need, and got stuck a couple of times. 10 hours is probably a reasonable estimate to finish the core game, but completionists can expect to double that. Upon defeating the last boss a night and day mechanic unlocks, allowing for further exploration of the world. Factor in that some achievements will take another full playthrough to complete too, and there's a lot to get stuck into here.
Any Last Words
Death's Door is a unique perspective on tried and tested methods, which creates a fun experience for the player.
Overall I had a great time playing it, though the odd section did become frustrating. That was down to my impatience, complete reluctance to learn patterns, and insistance on wild slashing though, so hardly a fault of the game. I can confidently say it's the best crow-based game on the market, and definitely worth checking out.