Can you believe that Death’s Door somehow never made it to an Indie-licious stream this year? It’s one of my regrets because holy heck is this game good. More than good, it’s downright spectacular. Acid Nerve not only crafted an isometric adventure, but they gave it the most charming of life through an art style, music, and premise that make it an absolute joy to experience every time we open it up on our platform of choice. That’s why it’s sitting here at the top - the crème de la crème - indie supreme of 2021.
So here’s the nitty gritty. Death’s Door casts you in the role of a little crow working as a reaper in a society that goes out to cull souls and use their energy to power the doors they use to go out into the world and cull souls. Sounds a bit circular, but the game’s character recognize that as well. It’s part of the cheeky charm. In any case, you are assigned a soul to cull, but before you can do finish the job, a nasty old bird bonks your crow and takes off with the soul, which he feeds into a mysterious door with no effect. According to the old crow, this door contains a soul that he himself failed to capture and it’s going to require some big souls from various regions to get the door open. He’s too old to do it though, the jerk.
That leads into Death’s Door’s gameplay, which is an isometric action affair. You wander about stylized worlds, battling their denizens, solving their puzzles, and eventually fighting the holders of the mighty souls you need. You have your sword, a bow and arrow, and a dodge roll to start, but as you move forward you gain plenty more tools to combat your foes and traverse the environment. In this way, Death’s Door plays a lot like a top-down Zelda game. It’s as charming as one too as your character is quite mute, the worlds you explore are very pretty, and the NPCs (both friend and foe) you meet along the way are wonderfully expressive.
That takes us into the art style of Death’s Door. This game is delightfully lush, yet clean at the same time. Whether you’re wandering through the deathly Hall of Doors, rolling through the leaves at the Urn Witch’s estate, or being flung by vines in the Frog King’s swamp, each world has a rather distinct palette of color to it and so many different and delightful ways in which that palette is used. As for the characters themselves, this game has been described several times over as “Studio Ghibli-esque” and that feels well on the nose, but it goes out of its way to craft its own charming characters out of that inspiration. Composer David Fenn also did an amazing job of giving music to these areas that was just as whimsical and mesmerizing as the art itself.
In an absolutely stacked year of video games, Death’s Door was the only indie game that was so good and beloved in voting it found its way to our Top 10 Games list as well. But make no mistake: the competition was stiff, and Death’s Door served up a delightful adventure of mortality and magic that very well earned it the Shacknews Indie Game of the Year 2021.