Death or Treat Review
Death or Treat should be a fun, tongue-in-cheek romp around a comedic Halloween world. And in a lot of ways, it is. The graphics, the art direction, and the animations are all slick. And while the writing is a little lackluster, it’s not exactly a narrative-driven experience. Unfortunately, the sluggish controls drag the whole experience down, at least for the PC port.
A little ghost named Scary has come to the spooky locale of HallowTown to sell candy. Unfortunately, a greedy CEO has gotten everyone addicted to the drug Storyum. In order to save the town—and his customers—Scary must raid Fackerburg’s stronghold. And, by gathering resources, rally the ghouls of HallowTown to embrace the Halloween spirit once more.
Needless to say, Death or Treat is far from a serious game. It sure can be a fun one, though. Unfortunately, style over substance can only take you so far. And while roguelikes and roguelites are meant to be difficult, I don’t enjoy fighting Death or Treat’s controls.
All About Attitude
Some games are about 90% atmosphere and attitude. Death or Treat is definitely one of those titles. The atmosphere of this game is really charming. It’s got adorable little ghosties and monsters, a soundtrack out of a Halloween party, and a fun little premise. The graphics remind me of cute monster movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas. I just wish the writing was as sincere.
I think this game would be better if it weren’t so firmly tongue-in-cheek. Or at least if there was slightly less dialog. Scary is adorable, expressive, and slightly concerning, and he never talks. HallowTown as a whole is far more compelling when the player is left to explore it in silence. Speaking to NPCs is necessary and often funny. Especially as most of them are parodies of celebrities and politicians. But that sudden swerve from Halloween charm to satire does give me whiplash.
Regardless, the environments are always a treat. Wandering through the hand-painted levels is a treat for the eyes. Scary’s animations are incredible, and even when the levels repeat, they don’t feel repetitive. The enemy designs are cute and creepy. I’m especially fond of the test tubes with spider legs and the evil little bats. On the downside, it can be hard to tell which items are destructible and which are just background details. Watching HallowTown come back to life—or undeath, as the case may be—is downright magical at times. And the sound design is pretty basic, but the music does fit the Halloweeny mood.
Death or Treat is a Joke and I Can’t Find the Punchline
Mechanically speaking, Death or Treat is a 2D action-roguelite with hack-and-slash elements. Unfortunately, those mechanics are kind of all over the place. Combat flows smoothly enough when you’re mowing down crowds of smaller enemies. However, running into a hulking foe slows the game to a crawl. This is because Scary can’t stun them or knock them into the air. You’re forced to simply whale at the enemy, dash to escape their return blow, and repeat.
I want to say this game is hard, but what I actually mean is that it’s easy to die. Scary is incredibly squishy even with health upgrades and boss gimmicks are not explained well. The game’s aerial combat is downright bad. Comboing feels inconsistent, and I don’t understand why dashing doesn’t make you invincible. It’s incredibly difficult to dodge projectiles like this. This is an issue because the first boss spams projectiles constantly while out of reach.
To make matters worse, you can’t cancel out of an attack into a dash. And attack animations are rather sluggish. This makes it very easy to underestimate how long an attack will take and get hit. And Scary can’t really afford to take any more hits than necessary. Especially since the game doesn’t allow players to grind for upgrades.
Major Design Flaw for a Roguelite
This game has a major design flaw for a roguelite. Namely, it blocks your access to upgrades after a while. If you can’t make it past the first boss, you can’t unlock better weapons, skills, or health buffs. This is a problem for people who can’t make it past the first boss because they aren’t doing enough damage. Or don’t have enough health. For a roguelike, this would be understandable and even desired. But roguelites are supposed to be slightly more accessible to the average gamer.
Melee weapons seem to do very little damage but are fast and easy to use. The ranged weapons are even more sluggish and floaty but do lots of damage. I feel like I need to compromise either ease of use or impact and I don’t enjoy it. It’s also hard to tell where a melee weapon’s hitbox is. This makes the first boss much harder than it should be.
In short, Death or Treat is a very pretty game with a nice soundtrack. It looks like it should be fun. Unfortunately, after a certain point–when you reach the first boss–it stops being fun. I really hope the control issues are the result of a lackluster PC port and not inherent to the game. Either way, I don’t think I’ll play it again until the controls are fixed.
***PC code provided by the publisher***
- Lovely graphics
- Fun character designs
- Nice sound design
- Gorgeous level design
- Floaty controls
- Blocks upgrades
- Scary is squishy
- Aerial combat sucks
- No attack cancellation