Many thanks to the publishers for the review codes!
Acid Nerve | Devolver Digital | 2.72 GB | €19.99
Our first QuickShot review of 2023 may not be a new game, but it sure is an incredible one. I may be late to the party for Death’s Door, but it is already in the running for one of my GOTY Awards for this year – it impressed me that much!
Playing as a young Crow Reaper, you’re assignment goes wrong as the giant soul you’re tasked with collecting ends up being stolen by an old crow looking to open the legendary Death’s Door. Unfortunately, the door to your assignment can only be closed upon success and your soul is now trapped behind the door. The only way to get it back is to open it, which will require three hefty giant souls. Cue a quest that takes you to three different locations in order to obtain these souls and get that door open.
Despite people referring to this as a soulslike (which is what put me off in the first place), Death’s Door actually has more in common with the handheld Zelda titles, as there a range of items to acquire and some rudimentary puzzles that need solving in order to make your way to the boss at the end. Puzzles never get as complex as in those games, however, as the focus here is predominantly on the combat, but opening new pathways using your items always feels satisfying regardless.
Speaking of combat, this is where the game truly excels. With a light and heavy attack that you can use for any of your acquirable weapons, offensive magic items, and a dodge roll, combat remains simple enough to never feel overwhelming yet complex enough to remain fun. Whilst I never used the heavy attack, learning enemy patterns for both minor and major enemies proved to be a lot of fun – even if it can sometimes be a tad overwhelming.
The difficulty of Death’s Door can be brutal at times, and this is probably the reason people refer to it as a soulslike. In reality, similarities are trite at best as the two games have very little in common; heck, even though the difficulty here can be challenging, it is also far less punishing than in the Souls games – in fact, there’s pretty much no punishment for death. Minor souls (which can be used to purchase ability upgrades) will still be in your inventory, essentially allowing you to use your failures to help buff yourself up and give you a bit more of a chance. Even the combat too is far more forgiving, as you’ll never be subjected to a heavy attack that wipes you out by surprise; the crow has four pips of health as default, and every attack in the game deals exactly one damage. Death’s Door wants to challenge you, but it also clearly wants you to be able to beat the game too.
There are certainly moments where the difficulty can be rough, especially early on when you’re still learning the ropes, but I only found a couple of encounters troublesome. To make things even easier, there are also plenty of magic and health upgrades to find hidden away in the map to help give you an extra edge in battle. It’s a game that will certainly challenge you, but not too much.
Death’s Door is an absolutely phenomenal isometric adventure game that has a nice blend of puzzles and combat, as well as a difficulty that will certainly keep you on your toes. Certainly one of the best offerings from a publisher that is renowned for having a strong catalogue.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that GyroBlade is an old arcade shooter that has been brought bac to life on modern consoles. It certainly looks and plays that way, but it’s actually a brand new game that merely evokes that classic feeling. With only one fire button to complement your movement, it’s one of those titles that you can pick up and play … until you probably fail, like I did.
As a vertical shmup, you need to pilot your titular GyroBlade helicopter and shoot down enemy craft. There’s no real bullet hell here for the most part, but the sheer number of enemies can make bullets hard to avoid. As such, your main focus here will be crowd control to keep enemy numbers down. Certain craft can drop weapon upgrades, giving you the choice between a power shot and a spread shot. Spread can do wonders for taking out multiple gunships, but I preferred the other for the raw sheer power.
… and that’s basically your lot. Taking place over eight areas, you’ll be facing similar enemies over similar environments. You may get a little bit tired of facing the same copters and AA turrets as you fight above rather generic sea, forest, and sand…. but you may very well not. The game has a really tight control scheme, and it just feels great to play. Whether you’re taking out the hordes of enemy craft or blasting away at one of the giant bosses, it really is just an absolute joy.
Despite the lack of variety, the game is a blast to play for those looking for a retro vertical shmup experience. And really, for the low asking price, what more could you ask for?
Escape Rooms really started to come into fashion just before the pandemic hit and they really seemed to scratch a puzzle itch for many people. Trapped in a room, you had to solve a series of puzzles in order to find your way out. To add to the stress, rooms had to be solved within the hour if you wanted to avoid the stamp of failure.
NEScape! aims to capture that same experience, but within the 8 bit stylings of a NES title. In fact, the game is even playable on original hardware too, so you can imagine the effort it took to make it work. And it really does work!
Right from the start, the game throws you into the thick of things as it asks you to solve a rudimentary puzzle just to enter the game. There’s an instruction manual in the options menu that will offer you some basic starting advice, but otherwise once you are in then you have a mere hour in order to find your way out. This time limit will be offputting for many, for sure, but most puzzles remain the same each playthrough so it’s very easy to get back to where you failed should you run out of time.
As for the game itself, it’s presented in a similar way to the Cube Escape games that are popular on both the mobile and PC platforms. You have a single screen where you can examine objects, pick up items, and interact with the puzzles. Clicking on the side of the screen will flip to the next wall that contains more stuff, and so on. The room is cubic, so you only really have four screens to worry about.
The puzzles come in various types too, from solving observational puzzles to work out a code, to marble mazes, to obnoxious sliding puzzles. There’s a hell of a lot here, and some of them can be pretty challenging too. Inventory items can also be used or combined to solve parts of a puzzle, and fit really well within the context of the game. Whilst most of the puzzles are fine and not particularly convoluted, there are some than can prove to be a problem. The aforementioned sliding puzzle is incredibly hard and it’s one of the earliest puzzles in the game, and the audio for the Walkman is so unclear that it could prove problematic for non native speakers of the language.
These problems make that hour time limit even more of an annoyance, as you’ll almost certainly run out of time. The game has four distinct chapters, so perhaps giving people an hour for each one could have alleviated the frustration somewhat. Failing and having to repeat that damn slider again may end up being the last straw for many players!
NEScape! offers a really well-made NES Escape Room experience, and I really hope that we see more in the future. Sure, the game may not be the longest length and lacks in replayability, but anyone looking for a refreshing puzzle experience should certainly give the game a shot!
Whilst our final game isn’t 8 bit like the previous two, it certainly takes influence from a very well-known 8 bit title: Super Mario Bros 2. The game, which had you picking up turnips and enemies to throw at your foes, feels very much like a modern reinterpretation of that formula – and it’s something I never really knew I wanted.
Selecting from either Mama or Pelle Lök, the owners of a quaint little onion farm, you have to protect yourselves from the invading red menace! With their beefy arms, they can pull out growing vegetables to attack their foes – or they can stand on the cubic hears of their enemies and pick them up instead! Their strength knows few bounds either, with rocks, bombs, and even tanks all pick-up-able with a little effort.
Set over 16 levels, split into four worlds, you’ll need to overcome various platforming challenges to reach the end point. These worlds don’t really have any kind of cohesive theming to tie each together, but the various biomes and platforming challenges that are present all provide plenty of fun. Sure, there’s very little here that you haven’t seen before – with many taken straight from Mario’s playbook, but the level designs are all pretty strong and all have this beautiful aesthetic that maintains the developer’s signature ‘look’ whilst also being far more beautiful than any of his previous work.
Much like the game it takes inspiration from, Onion Assault offers a classic NES style difficulty without being too obnoxious about it. First time players will no doubt find the game punishing with your meagre three hit points and limited life stock, but once you get used to how the game plays it’s not as tough as it seems. There may be some levels that prove challenging – but none of them are particularly long; as such, having to simply redo the level from the start after losing all your lives never feels like too much of a punishment.
It’s not the platforming though that makes the game feel so special, it’s the incredible boss fights. Considering Bertil is the brains behind Mechstermination Force, it should come as no surprise that the bosses here are incredibly creative and puts your skills to the test. With the game only lasting a couple of hours, it would have been nice to have had a boss rush mode so that you could replay these sections again at your leisure.
All in all, Onion Assault is a fantastic love letter to Super Mario Bros 2 and offers a really strong platforming experience for a budget price point. It’s not all perfect, with some of the momentum-based platforming being a pain, but these moments are few and far between. Considering this is the best game from the developer’s already impressive catalogue, you’ll probably want to look into this one.
Our first QuickShot segment of 2023 has covered four fantastic games. Each and every one was an absolute joy to play. Whilst not every title will appeal to everyone, they’ll certainly be cheap treats for any fans of those particular genres!