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Nintendo might not be doing much to celebrate The Legend Of Zelda's 35th anniversary this year, but that's okay. Death's Door, the charming new release from Devolver Digital and developer Acid Nerve, is a damn near-perfect video game that will more than scratch your itch for classic top-down adventure.
Death's Door has a simple enough premise: You play as a crow who works for the Reaping Commission, a kind of cosmic sorting office whose employees must collect souls from those who have reached the end of their time in the world. Following the game's opening battle, your assigned contract is unexpectedly stolen from you, forcing you on a journey through a strange land to collect three powerful, ancient souls and unlock the titular Death's Door.
Take a look at the game in action below:
Structurally, it's Zelda meets Dark Souls, with a little dash of Metroid thrown in for good measure. You'll explore a large interconnected world filled with branching paths, secret areas, and enemies to fight. There are bosses to conquer, puzzles to solve, and items and upgrades to be found that can then open up entirely new areas and yet more secrets.
It's all standard stuff for an adventure game, and it's true enough that Death's Door doesn't really do anything new with the genre. That doesn't matter. Acid Nerve has instead taken the best parts of its various influences and remixed them into a highly-polished and well-paced piece of work that bounces seamlessly between airtight hack 'n slash combat, solid puzzles, and laugh-out-loud dialogue.
You'll sense echoes of The Legend Of Zelda, not just in the various beautifully designed dungeon-like areas, but in the adorable cast of characters you meet on your journey. My favourite, hands-down, is a squid who is quite clearly controlling a human corpse in an attempt to play head chef at a seafood restaurant. The apathetic employees of the Reaping Commission - a hub area that you'll frequently return to to upgrade combat abilities - are also a delight as they passively observe the way in which your adventure slowly spirals out of control with all the interest of a civil servant one week from retirement.
A touch of Dark Souls and Hollow Knight exists within the combat and exploration of Death's Door. There are screen-filling bosses to conquer, and a considerable number of entirely optional areas and fights that will reward you with always-useful upgrades and secret items - many of which help flesh out the story of the world and provide valuable hints and solutions on your journey.
There's something intoxicating about Acid Nerve's world design and the sheer amount of hidden rooms and treasures it's managed to cram into every single area. Much like Hollow Knight, the realm of Death's Door has clearly fallen to darkness and disrepair. Yes, there's a melancholy to the ruins and remains you trudge through... but there's also plenty of light and humour. It's a tricky balancing act, but one that this game ultimately nails.
Backtracking through previously visited locations with new items is an absolute joy, as you start to see the world in a new way and conquer puzzles that had previously left you stumped. I tore my way through the eleven-hour adventure in just a few sittings, purely because my desire to explore and discover was constantly rewarded with each new toy I received.
Don't be alarmed by the Souls comparison, by the way. Death's Door isn't afraid to challenge players every now and again, but it absolutely never becomes quite that punishing. Combat is a slick affair that combines managing projectiles, melee attacks, and dodges in increasingly high-pressure encounters. Stay calm, observe attack patterns, and even the most formidable bosses can be taken down in just a few attempts. And if that doesn't work? Just head out and explore to upgrade your health and abilities.
Seasoned veterans of the genre shouldn't have too much trouble along the main path, but those looking for some real punishment will be able to find it if they're willing to explore every nook and cranny. Without spoiling too much, I'll also say that there's a very substantial slice of post-credits content that completely does away with hand-holding and asks you to go it alone for one final series of puzzles and fights spread across the entire world that serves as a kind of final test. It's undoubtedly the game's biggest challenge, but by the time you've rolled credits I can pretty much guarantee you'll be ready for it - if for no other reason than you just don't want your time with the Reaping Commission to be over.
Where other adventure games so often collapse into mediocrity under the weight of their own influences, Acid Nerve has combined excellent combat and striking world design to evoke the very best of Zelda and Dark Souls for a journey that feels genuinely fresh, if not entirely revolutionary. I may well have seen pretty much everything Death's Door has to offer elsewhere... but very, very rarely is it this good. A clear Game Of The Year contender, and one you won't want to miss.
Pros: Laugh-out-loud funny writing, excellent bosses, a perfectly designed world that begs to be thoroughly explored
Cons: No genuinely new ideas to speak of
For fans of: The Legend Of Zelda, Dark Souls, Hades
Death's Door is available now for Xbox One (version tested), Xbox Series consoles, and PC via Steam. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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