Recently played: Death’s Door

The bus pulls up in front of the office on a gray, rather bleak day. We hop out, making our way up to the quietly grim edifice, making our way slowly through the halls, claws ticking against the tiles.

Did I mention we’re a crow?

More importantly, we’re a crow with a job to do. This is Reaper headquarters, and we’re running late to pick up our assigned soul for the day.

It does not go as planned.

What follows is a dungeon-crawling adventure that is simultaneously charming and melancholy. You trek through three major “worlds,” a la Zelda, each with its own whimsical cel-shaded theming. Each is home to a boss monster and a power-up that you’ll be using to revisit earlier areas and scoop up all the little hidden goodies. I wasn’t driving this one, so I can’t speak to the combat elements, but it’s certainly fun to watch.

So far, so normal. And I suppose there isn’t much that is new here exactly…this isn’t trying to deconstruct or revolutionize the genre so much as put forth a well-presented iteration on it that is polished to a sheen and mostly free of unnecessary fiddly bits. (For us – and, I suspect, for most who tend to be thorough explorers, there really wasn’t all that much backtracking even at the end of the game, when one would ordinarily be scooping up all the leftover collectibles.)

The twist here is more philosophical than aesthetic or mechanical: Everything that happens in this story comes about because someone feared their own death and sought to stop it. The little Reaper-crow you play very quickly finds themselves facing it; a Reaper is mortal while on the job, and unless and until the soul they seek is returned to the great vault, they will age and die. (Or very possibly worse…but to say more than that would be a spoiler.)

I think my favorite bit of this one is the little blend of humor and melancholy. The silliness of Barb the Bard and her quest for a banger (or the barkeep at the Stranded Sailor). The mononoke-like forest spirits. The little eulogies the gravedigger provides for each fallen boss.

It’s a worthy play. If any of that sounds interesting to you, hypothetical reader, give it a try.