Death's Door Review: A New Spin on Zelda
Death's Door is the latest game by Acid Nerve, makers of Titan Souls, a great OHKO boss rush game from 2015. If the name sounds familiar, it might be because our own Gibby named it as one of 10 cool games from E3 this year.
Where Titan Souls was very much a Soulsborne-style game with graphical influences from Zelda, Death's Door is very much a 2D Zelda game with graphical influences from Soulsborne. There are three major areas that each have a hub zone, two sequential dungeons, and a final boss. You'll get a new ability about halfway through each area that will be necessary to reach the boss and also to access all sorts of secrets in other parts of the game.
So far, so Zelda. But there's a clear departure from that series once you start fighting. You start with four health pips and four magic pips and will never get more without doing optional secrets. You'll also never heal either of those stats without, for health, planting and consuming a flower in one of 50 pots in the world or, for magic, hitting an enemy in melee. Crucially, there are never any pots in boss rooms or arena fights, so the health you come in with is exactly how many hits you'll be able to take. While far more forgiving than the instant death of Titan Souls, this means that boss fights require a similar attention to patterns in order to win.
The hub worlds that define each level, as well as the Lost Cemetery hub in the center, each come with a handful of friendly NPCs and loads of secrets. You'll find those by stumbling into some that aren't hidden at all, usually meaning pots and seeds, by bringing back progression skills from other dungeons, or by paying attention to small details that hint at something hidden behind a wall. I found the majority of collectibles and all but one seed in 10 hours without using a guide, so getting everything is very attainable even if you want to do it all yourself.
There aren't any true quests to complete outside of finding secrets, but there are a number of optional boss fights that reward you with upgraded abilities and a very worthwhile postgame unlocked after reaching the credits. Still, while you might think that few NPCs and no quests would mean a minimal story, the writing is actually one of the best parts of the game. Each area's final boss has a backstory and interacts with you as you progress through their dungeon, which helps raise the stakes and make it all the more satisfying to take them down. The final scenes in particular are very well done.
So by my count, that tallies up to a game with great combat, great world design, and even a great story. The atmospheric soundtrack isn't nearly as memorable as everything else, but even with that small disappointing this is without a doubt my favorite Zelda-style game since at least 2004's Minish Cap. And considering that MC is my favorite in the series, that is very high praise. I don't think it will be quite as successful for all 2D Zelda fans, because the boss fights may be too much for some and others might miss those games' amazing music and packed hub worlds, but those caveats aside, I'd recommend it to almost anyone anyway. It'll be one of my top 10 this year for sure.
Platforms: PC and Xbox
Time to beat: 6-8 hours, 10-13 for 100%/True End