The indie game genre is packed with incredibly creative games, but every now and then, a title shines brighter than the rest, last year's Hades was a great example. While it's still a little early to be discussing the best indies of the year, Acid Nerve's latest action-adventure Death's Door has already put itself into that argument, as this gorgeous, yet immensely enjoyable Zelda-like project is a prime example of how a simplistic design can make for an unforgettable experience.
The idea behind this short game is that you play as a Crow, a soul-harvesting being whose duty it is to travel to realms untouched by death to bring back unruly souls. In a way, you sort of play as an avian tax collector, except instead of hustling the masses for unpaid bank statements, you instead find yourself facing off with powerful, dangerous creatures to finally put them to rest.
Death's Door is built like a Zelda-inspired action-adventure, meaning you aren't exactly told what to do. By voyaging around the world, and opening doors in a methodical sense by solving minor puzzles, you'll unlock more of the overworld to explore, and it's across this overworld that you will find yourself throwing down with these undying foes that have long past their souls' expiration date. In a typical Zelda-like fashion, the world and the tools at your disposal are also rather simple. You aren't expected to have to know how to wield loads of different weapons or abilities. Everything is incredibly well-refined and thought out, and has plenty of depth beyond what is on the surface - even if you'll have to know how to use abilities to solve a few of the puzzles in the world.
This, on the surface, rudimentary design extends to the combat, which is pretty much a hack-and-slash sort of style that expects you to understand the attack chains of enemies to land vital strikes, rather alike a Dark Souls game. It isn't easy to master, but also doesn't require a ton of game knowledge to find value, which again plays into the simplistic yet refined style that Death's Door aligns too.
Talking about combat, Acid Nerve has created a system that feels fluid and responsive. Considering your little Crow is often thrust into inconceivably unbalanced fights, where you are either tasked to kill an ungodly creature (for example an immortal witch or a living stone castle) or instead push through hordes of minor, equally deadly enemies, it's refreshing to know that the movement and combat system in place gives you plenty of control to shift the fights in your favour. You don't need to worry about blocking or even healing for that matter (health is only provided at certain instances in the overworld), the main extent of the tools at your disposal revolve around swinging your sword, dodging, and even firing ranged attacks, be it arrows or magical fireballs. It's an incredibly basic combat system, but it's well-designed and displays the right balance of challenge against simplicity.
As for the sorts of enemies you'll encounter in the realms beyond death, they're quite hard to fundamentally describe, as they're a little unusual. I've fought pot-headed creatures, vicious blobs of goo, even what seem to be turkeys with bows and arrows - needless to say, you won't feel lacking in foes to slice through. Every enemy I came across also had a unique style of attacking that changed the way I had to approach it in combat, assuming I wanted to avoid taking damage.
While I've praised Death's Door a lot, it isn't perfect. Take exploration for example. There were times where the simplicity of the game and the world (which is often a strength) directly became a hindrance. Sometimes there was a lot of back-tracking involved as I scanned relentlessly for a solution to a puzzle. It's the sort of issue a lot of Zelda-like games have, in that a puzzle's solution can often be so obvious that it becomes the complete opposite, leading to minutes of frustrating searching.
Rant aside, on the other hand, one area of Death's Door that became an instant favourite of mine was its portrayal of the afterlife. It's shown as a sort of paper-pushing office complex, where Crows register and document souls, with workers who complain and express discontent about the negative aspects of their jobs.
As a final note, Death's Door does also feature a few minor RPG aspects, but they're incredibly basic. By defeating enemies and exploring the world, you can amass souls to spend at the aforementioned office to upgrade your damage, movement speed, ranged attacks, and sword swinging speed. It's pretty run-of-the-mill and doesn't have a lot of depth, but that's the trade off of ensuring simplicity is a core component of the game.
Either way, if you are a fan of action-adventure, Zelda-like games, or indies as a whole, you won't go wrong with Death's Door. Despite it only being around ten hours long, and pretty simple in its design, this is one of the most refined indies out there today, and it's truly challenging to not enjoy playing it. Acid Nerve has built a world with such a deep amount of character that it's genuinely exciting at every turn, and the best part is that it never overstays its welcome or overdoes it - the storyline isn't hampered with unnecessary weight. It's truly refreshing.