Charm can only go so far though, and while Death Or Treat has as much charm as there are Halloween candies, it’s not enough to really set it apart in what’s been an age of excellent 2D platforming options, and its rouge-lite nature doesn’t do much to help in that regard.
Death Or Treat Review (PS5) – Not Enough Treats, Or Fun Tricks
Journey Through The Hallowverse
The premise for Death Or Treat is simple – you step into the afterlife of Scary, a ghost who makes an honest undead living by being the top provider of Halloween candy to HallowTown, the game’s setting.
Upon arriving in HallowTown to sell this year’s stock of goodies, you find that everyone has been driven to crazy addiction levels on this new drug, Storyum.
So naturally you go on an adventure, swinging a broom at everything that moves as you fight through the corporate shills protecting Storyum’s president, Fackerberg, owner of Faceboo.
That little tidbit was very much only the tip of the social media/internet themed iceberg, as I began to realize everything was a play on some kind of social media platform or commentary on the kinds of things we see online everyday.
All the areas were all based on online platforms of some kind, the opening level being “DarkChat,” the main factory for Faceboo, run by Stephen Pumpkin, who is constantly trying to make Storyum even more sinisterly addictive.
From DarkChat you head to Faceboo’s marketing department, “Riptok,” run by Faceboo’s chief marketing officer, Madame Clintok. From there, you head into DevilTube, and face off against Jeff Beelzeboss, until you finally make it to Faceboo headquarters, and go up against Fackerberg himself.
Everyone you meet however isn’t out to get you, as you’ll help the lethargic vampire Joe-Bite-Them, a pumpkin named Jobs, Pumpkin Gates, who runs Necrosoft, and Frank Smith, who runs Frank’s Forge return the city to the place it once was, before Storyum infected the minds of its citizens.
Everything about Death Or Treat is seemingly some kind of inside joke, and honestly it was far more distracting than everything else. I know I said that Death Or Treat has charm, but that comes from elsewhere in the game, not from being constantly reminded about social media and the internet in a game that does very little to make itself otherwise appealing.
Death Isn’t A Treat
Leaving those thematic issues aside, unfortunately Death Or Treat’s gameplay isn’t where the issues end. Firstly, Death Or Treat is a rouge-lite, and each death means that you’ll be sent back to the very beginning of the game, at which point you use any resources gathered to unlock permanent upgrades in HallowTown.
That’s not anything new under the sun, but it is a progression system that is just poorly executed here. You’ll need more than the base currency you collect everywhere to upgrade your special moves, health, and purchase new weapons, as you’re required to gather ingredients to go along with the base candy currency.
What slows progression down to a boring crawl is the fact that you likely won’t be able to take every resource you’ve collected back to HallowTown with you. You’ll only be able to take so many types of ingredients with you, leaving the rest behind.
You can unlock more ingredient slots to take more things with you, but unlocking those slots also requires collecting both the base currency and specific ingredients.
There’s nothing that you can purchase with just the base currency, even from the get-go, so you’re always having to think about where to put your resources next – if that actually mattered, that is. Because the combat is so trivial and the enemy variation lackluster, you can sleep well focusing only on getting a stronger weapon to swing around.
Once you have that, the first two areas – essentially half the game – become no issue to trot through. It also doesn’t help that every time you reach a new area, you’re then able to unlock a portal to skip right to that area.
You’ll have to collect a few choice ingredients first to open said portal, but once that’s done there’s very little to actually encourage you to play through an old area, which is another major issue for Death Or Treat.
Why I feel charmed by Death Or Treat, is because even though I don’t love all the internet jokes littering the world, I love everything else about its design. Each area feels incredibly unique in how it looks, and it makes the levels you’ll run through on your way to each area boss a lot of fun to explore on your first time through.
The same goes to the animation and look of the various skeletons, demons, ghouls, witches, and other manner of nightly creatures you’ll face off against.
It’s all the little things, in how they move, how they attack, their reactions to your strikes, that all together make me adore the base visual look of the game.
Of course the highlights are the other members of HallowTown who help you along your journey, all of whom you can tell were lovingly designed.
Maybe it’s just that I’m quite a big fan of Halloween and most anything horror related, but even when I wasn’t enjoying the gameplay, I was consistently having a great time just existing within this world because of how it looked.
No New Tricks
That visual allure however won’t have the same mileage with everyone, and it doesn’t stop you as the player from noticing the rest of the game’s flaws.
Exploring each area on your first or second time through can be fun to see each new area level on the way to the area boss, but there’s unfortunately never anything new to uncover.
Any abilities or power-ups you can grab will only be available right before a boss, or through the lucky chance of moving to the next level area to find a power-up waiting for you, and a door to the next area behind it.
Smash chests and other candy currency filled objects will only ever potentially grant you more ingredients, and a health flask. The same goes with defeating enemies, including those marked with a red-dot overhead indicating they’re stronger than their companions.
Those enemies will likely just grant you multiples of a certain ingredient instead of receiving just one from a chest, and potentially a health flask. As far as anything hidden within the level goes, the same secret passages remain in the same place, each time, with nothing more than a chest with the aforementioned rewards included.
This makes it all the more unfortunate that the final stage, Faceboo, is by far the most enticing one, but I wouldn’t blame any player who checked out long before they reached that point.
Unfortunately, the last plague that Death Or Treat needed was one of technical issues. Its performance issues by no means make the game unplayable, but they are a consistent part of the experience which makes them all the more frustrating.
Some of the issues I saw were silly, like still having placeholder game text make it into the final game. For example when you make it through one area, you’ll be met by Joe Bites Them on your way into the next, who asks if you’d like to keep going, or return to HallowTown with all the resources you have now.
He calls it a choice between death, or a treat, the treat being that if you keep going, he’ll give you one extra ingredient slot for when you die.
Though when the two choices are presented, one might correctly read Scary replying that they would like to go back to HallowTown, while the other just reads “Response Button,” which I can’t imagine is what the text is meant to be.
Sometimes, both options would read “Response Button,” and you could very easily accidentally end your run earlier than intended because of it. Other issues were less silly, like the frame rate absolutely coming to a halt if you were collecting too many things at once.
Across the whole game there are numerous candy-filled boxes, pumpkin heads and other containers for you to smash, filled with candy, so having 50 or more little candy pieces running towards you as you pick them up is a regular occurrence, as is the frame rate tanking.
There’s also visible screen tearing in some areas, even when you’re character is just navigating through the level, without there being much of anything else on screen. Enemy AI is also very poor, with some enemies not even attacking you, despite you whacking away at them or standing right in front of them.
Not Enough Treats, Or Fun Tricks
While the visual presentation makes me want to love Death Or Treat, that surface-level appeal only goes so far. Technical issues aside, the core gameplay loop for Death Or Treat just isn’t enough to give you that addictive rogue-lite feeling of “just one more run.”
The combat and platforming challenges all become boring and trivial after your first few times through, boss battles included. There’s also almost no reason to actively explore or spend time in old levels once you’ve cleared them, unless you are for some reason really keen on acquiring everything in the game.
You’ll have seen everything Death Or Treat has to offer much before that unfortunately, even with a much higher caliber final stage, it feels a little like too little too late by that point.
Despite the incredible Halloween visual theme and character animation, a copy of Death Or Treat in my candy-bag feels more akin to getting an apple on Halloween than a giant-sized chocolate bar.
Death Or Treat is available now on PS5 and PS4.
Review code generously provided by publisher.