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Death Or Treat Review

A pale shade of white

I was never a big fan of Halloween as a kid. Maybe that’s more to do with growing up in a country that, until recent times, never truly embraced the idea of going out in the middle of the night and scaring the hell out of old grandma’s in order to secure the coveted treats Mum never let you have. Admittedly, older and (partially) wiser Mark is more aware of the spooky season and I’m happy to indulge in the pastime, but running around collecting candy and wearing unlicensed Avengers cosplays continues to elude me.

Two things that haven’t passed me by, and I’m very glad of it, are the roguelike and roguelite, two continually popular video game categories that have played a significant part within the design documents of numerous indie and AAA releases in recent years (the appropriately titled Rogue Legacy and Supergiant’s magnum opus Hades instantly come to mind as examples). That also means just about everyone will take a crack at the trending topic and, unfortunately there will be those who fumble at the chance of making a name for themselves in the process.

Which leads me back to Halloween, the main theme that drives Saona Studios’ debut title Death or Treat, that does its best to mimic its contemporaries in delivering a compelling roguelite adventure, but doesn’t quite hit the dizzying heights that made the biggest indies in the business household names. Much of that stems from a lack of fluidity and a guiding hand towards originality; much of what you see here will feel familiar and largely accomplished before. Truth be told though, the bar has been set so high by the aforementioned success stories that hitting the same level of quality can be a mighty task.

Get it? B Positive? Heh.

Death or Treat does have some solid foundations which are worth a gander. Its platforming is decent, as you guide a rather cute lead character through what remains of HallowTown in order to save the season of spooks. Every run you make through the randomised areas vary just enough in the early going, avoiding any major difficulty spikes in the process and fairly rewarding you if death comes too soon. But the more hours you pump into it, a greater sense of familiarity sinks in and less appealing need for another run soon follows. That’s the catch with any kind of dungeon crawler, unless you put the time into diversifying your enemy types and have that killer hook for players to sink their teeth into, you might just lose your audience before too long. Here, it won’t take long to see the vast majority of what you need, which is a damn shame considering its premise and the appeal of Halloween itself.

It doesn’t help that Death or Treat’s best elements show what the dev team are capable of. Boss battles are a standout, adding some much needed strategy to proceedings instead of just mashing the attack buttons in unison. Likewise, there’s some very nice animation at play across both its lead character and the world around it that makes it feel more out of the realm of traditional animation than the likes of Dead Cells. It’s everything in-between that holds Death or Treat back from going beyond good, every world littered with the usual assortment of collectibles and enemies that are solid but unsurprising, every combat mechanic lacking that suitable punch behind each swing to make a satisfying impact.

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If you stick with the hack and slash for a good while, there’s a decent amount of content to get through that should appease fans of the sub-genre, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d done all of this before in much better and polished circumstances. That shadow constantly loomed over Death or Treat and it’s a hard one to shake off, especially when we’ve already had the strikingly similar Have a Nice Death earlier this year, which had the advantage of an early access period to polish up any loose ends. Maybe that could have benefitted Death or Treat in some way, maybe even launching around the holiday season it’s based upon, but sadly this little ghost will have to settle for a slightly emptier bag of candy than anticipated.

Things can get a little hectic at times

Final Thoughts

Death or Treat’s publisher make mention that the likes of Hollow Knight and the Ori series are titles this little indie is trying to follow in the footsteps of, but it’s a lofty goal that the game unfortunately falls short of in trying to recapture that magic. That’s not to say it’s a title you shouldn’t at least give a chance, its leading ghostly apparition has some charming moments, but when you add up all the sums it doesn’t amount to the same kind of quality or dedication to detail it could have. I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s a hollow experience (excuse the gaming pun), but there isn’t enough here for me to really latch onto the experience for as long as the dev team were hoping for.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Death Or Treat Review
Who put an apple in here?
There are more polished, quality roguelites out there that will engage you for a longer period than Death or Treat, but that says less about its own achievements and more about the incredibly high bar set by its predecessors.
The Good
Charming lead character design and world
Solid platforming
Boss battles are a standout
The Bad
Absence of originality or a unique hook
Combat lacks a satisfying punch behind it
Minor bugs hurt the experience
Longevity is an issue it doesn’t quite overcome
6.5
Has A Crack
  • Saona Studios
  • Perp Games
  • PS5 / PC
  • May 11, 2023

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Death Or Treat Review
Who put an apple in here?
There are more polished, quality roguelites out there that will engage you for a longer period than Death or Treat, but that says less about its own achievements and more about the incredibly high bar set by its predecessors.
The Good
Charming lead character design and world
Solid platforming
Boss battles are a standout
The Bad
Absence of originality or a unique hook
Combat lacks a satisfying punch behind it
Minor bugs hurt the experience
Longevity is an issue it doesn’t quite overcome
6.5
Has A Crack
Written By Mark Isaacson

Known on the internet as Kartanym, Mark has been in and out of the gaming scene since what feels like forever, growing up on Nintendo and evolving through the advent of PC first person shooters, PlayStation and virtual reality. He'll try anything at least once and considers himself the one true king of Tetris by politely ignoring the world records.

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