Am bird swing sword good yes yeah
This year has been very generous with its fun and challenging action games, and Death's Door is no exception. Having made the rounds on other platforms already, Switch players finally have a chance to swing a sword as a small little crow taking on the world in order to open a single door. The portability of the Switch seems like a perfect fit for the minute to minute gameplay of Death's Door, but does it truly live up to all of the critical praise it's received? I'm happy to say that the answer to that question is yes, absolutely.
In Death's Door, the player is put in control of a small crow who works as a grim reaper retrieving the souls of the departed and bringing them into the afterlife, all under the command of the mysterious Lord of Doors. When these crows are on assignment, a portal in the form of a door is opened and it cannot be closed until that reaper has retrieved their assigned soul. While the door is open the crow is mortal and ages with time, and so it is encouraged that they retrieve those souls quickly. Our crow runs into a problem when he goes to retrieve the assigned soul when a larger crow steals it. This fellow reaper lost his assigned soul eons ago when it ended up behind a mysterious portal known as Death's Door, and he enlists the help of our little crow to retrieve three giant souls, which can be used to open the door and allow both crows to finally complete their assignment.
Combat in Death's Door is very simple: the Y button does a simple melee strike that can be chained into combos of varying length depending on the weapon you're using, while ZR allows you to do a charged heavy swing. Pressing B allows you to roll, giving brief invincibility from attacks, and holding ZL and A allows you to use various magic spells that you learn along your journey, from a magical energy bow and arrow to a simple fireball. Despite being so simple, combat is fun and flows extremely well, and enemy encounters become less about how strong you are and more about how well you learn to handle specific enemy types. Combat capabilities can be upgraded in the level hub, using souls gathered from slain enemies to raise your attack, speed, or magic stats. There is no massive penalty for dying; you keep all the souls you have gathered upon death, and you'll respawn back at the area's door. What does manage to be a bit frustrating about death is that there is lengthy loading screen between every one, something that I found to be a bit frustrating when in the middle of a longer run to unlock the next shortcut.
Speaking of shortcuts, the level design in Death's Door is heavily built around them, with a lot of areas essentially being zig zagging paths that lead to the unlocking of shortcuts in order to provide a fast way to get back to where you died. These areas are where Death's Door is at its best, providing a heavier focus on combat instead of exploration. The areas more akin to dungeons from something like Zelda are still very good, but they're specifically affected by my other qualm with the game: the lack of a map of any kind. This doesn't kill the experience per se—none of them are quite as large as a traditional dungeon—but it did get frustrating when I would end a session in the middle of a dungeon and come back hours later having forgotten where I had or had not been. It's a small frustration, but in places like the Mushroom Dungeon it felt like the game would have been heavily improved by the ability to look at a dungeon map.
Overall those are the only real issues I found during my time with Death's Door. It is likely one of the best action games of 2021 and stands apart using its beautifully varied areas to explore. The soundtrack is also fantastic, with composer David Fenn managing to strike a perfect balance between high energy action and peaceful contemplation. Not to mention the crow you're controlling is just a cute little bird. If you are a fan of action games and have an itch for one that will kill around 8 hours, Death's Door is a pretty good place to clock in and get to work.