There has been a recent trend emerging in the world of indie gaming. I have seen a slew of indie developers release Halloween-themed games about as far away from Halloween as possible where the calendar is concerned.
Then to add the rotten cherry on top of this metaphorical cake, the games always seem to have titles with lazy, inane wordplay that try to indicate ‘it’s a spooky game’ with about as much subtlety as a brick through your window.
Games that spring to mind include the likes of Pumpkin Jack, or Have a Nice Death, and now joining the line-up, we have Death or Treat. I can only imagine what’s next. Perhaps ‘Don’t eat the yellow death,’ or maybe something like ‘What’s black, white, and dead all over?’ Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.
Well, for better or worse, we have a Halloween-themed roguelike in the month of May, and to let you behind the curtain, I was assured by the publisher that this title was a charming mix of Hollow Knight and Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
This will come as no surprise, but that was just about the most egregiously false statement that could have been linked to this title. But hey, I appreciate the hustle on their end. After all, I’m the sitting one here writing about this, quite frankly, sub-par excuse for a roguelike.
That’s right, folks, the game is about as good as the wordplay you’ll encounter in the game’s title, and the writing throughout your playtime.
Death or Treat made me wish for the former as I trudged through the artificially difficult and repetitive levels, and it’s very hard to find anything to praise here, but I promise, I’ll at least try. Here is IGC’s Death or Treat Review conducted on PS5.
Crapchat, S**tter, and Pootube
Hey, look, I can do wordplay too. I’ll be headhunted for the Saona Studios writing team any day now. Just to offer some context, I’ll fill you in on the core plot of Death or Treat. You play as the ever so creatively named ghost, Scary, who is the owner of Ghost Mart and the top producer of candy ahead of the Halloween festivities.
Well, there is a snag in production as a band of evil CEOs have decided to muscle in on his production, and he must take down each of them to save Halloween. Oh, and they all are parodies of social media head honchos. I crowbarred that in awkwardly at the end there because that’s exactly the same approach the game takes to its storyline.
Nothing feels cohesive at all. It’s almost like there were two writers with two completely separate visions. One wanted a simple ‘save Halloween plot,’ and the other wanted to wedge in a satirical take on Social Media for some inexplicable reason.
As you would imagine, this leads to a story that is pretty unintelligible, and even if you could follow it, why would you even bother?
The game’s writing hinges on half-baked puns, and terrible wordplay. I could literally see the cogs turning as I worked through the game.
It was like they had an idea and then worked backward from there. They clearly wanted to call one of the bosses, Jeff Besozebub, so they needed to make a pun on Amazon to make it satanic. But they obviously couldn’t, so his world is called Deviltube. Super inventive, right?
With these wordsmiths at the helm, it’s easy to see how this story never even begins to grab the player. It’s disjointed, uneventful, and even though I was expecting practically nothing from the plot, I’m still gravely disappointed. Get it? Gravely, because graveyards are scary. Honestly, I could have been a force to be reckoned with in their writer’s room.
Haunting, Handrawn Visuals
Moving onto the visual offering of the game and the overall world design, and I’m going to shock you. It’s actually not bad. The game has an impressive hand-drawn 2D animated art style that makes everything feel like a vintage horror cartoon. This is very generous, but it’s a little like Cuphead did a spooky theme on a budget.
The enemy models are cute, the levels you work through are pleasant enough, and even though you’ll never have any attachment to Scary, he does have all the trappings of a mascot platformer protagonist.
I think the visuals from the outside looking in will be the aspect of this game that suckers people into playing this one, but that’s where my praise ends in this department.
While the game does look the part in a lot of ways, it flatters to deceive. The enemy models are essentially reskinned throughout each world, and can be boiled down to tanky enemy, fodder enemy, flying bat enemy, and towards the end, shielded enemies.
The laziness doesn’t stop there, though, as instead of making this game a procedurally generated world as most roguelikes do to keep things feeling fresh and unpredictable, the game instead has a pool of maybe 8-10 levels per world in which players will mindlessly platform through time and time again, adding to the monotony that has already set in due to the gameplay.
Couple this with the fact that the game drops frames and freezes when you collect a lot of Candies, or when you have to fight a mass of enemies, and you have a title that can perhaps put together enough inviting screenshots to entice a few gamers looking for a cozy hack-and-slash adventure. However, once you sit down to play this one, you immediately see through the ruse.
A War of Attrition
We move on to the gameplay, and sadly, there aren’t a lot of bright spots to speak of here that could pull this game out of the fire. Which is a travesty, as with such a poor premise and a lack of variety when it comes to level design, the gameplay needed to be immaculate.
The biggest issue is that it seems the developer understands the definition of what a roguelike is, but has failed to understand what makes a roguelike fun.
I would describe most Roguelikes as a war of attrition to an extent, as you must start with little to no resources, get some, die, and then use those resources to get a little farther next time. Rinse and repeat; then, eventually, you beat the game.
Death or Treat follows this formula but fails to offer ample rewards to the player throughout. Games like Hades, Returnal, or Rogue Legacy do a fantastic job of making each run feel new and exciting, and also do an incredible job of allowing players to increase their stats and change their loadouts regularly, without the game ever feeling unbalanced.
Death or Treat, by contrast, has the players go out and gather resources in tiny quantities, mostly through RNG, which will see players have to go off on about 5-10 gauntlet runs before they are able to upgrade something.
Heck, you even have to get resources to unlock the shops you get upgrades from before you can purchase them. It’s a mind-numbing and tedious procedure, and if I wasn’t obligated to play onward, I would have called time on this game very early on.
Even though the progression is slow, it might have been tolerable had the upgrades been of substance, or if the gameplay itself felt smooth, but neither is all that impressive.
Starting with the gameplay, the combat ranges from anywhere from mediocre, to inconsistent and frustrating. At its best, it feels like a mindless hack and slasher with a light and heavy attack to see you through every battle.
However, you’ll usually catch the combat at its worst, as there always feels like something is working against you. It might be that you chose a weapon like the Chainsaw that inexplicably doesn’t have a functional upward attack, or you might just get caught between two tank enemies that launch you back and forth, stun-locking you until you die.
The same can also be said of platforming and traversal in this game, as fighting in the air is a struggle, the movement in the game is generally unsatisfying, and on some occasions, you’ll start a level by immediately spawning in a pool of spikes or acid.
It is possible to master this game’s mechanics, and I feel that I did it to a reasonable degree. However, what’s really hard is seeing how anyone could have any fun doing so.
The Epitome of ‘It’ll Do’
Then just before we sign off on what is a pretty damning review, I have to take one final swing at this one, because this title is a prime example of what’s wrong with development at the moment, and while it’s commonplace in AAA development, it’s horrible to see this trend seeping into indie dev.
It seems as clear as day that the developers cut corners when putting this game together, and while sometimes that is necessary to get games out the door, the mistakes I found throughout my time with this game are simply not acceptable.
I mentioned already that there was random code and text within the game that had absolutely no place on screen, and that the game ran pretty terribly as well. That’s all true, but I think one mistake sums up the problem perfectly.
If you have got to this point and find yourself still wondering why the hell this game is called Death or Treat, don’t blame yourself, because it’s very easy to miss. Basically, after every boss battle, the game will ask you ‘Death or Treat,’ which boils down to whether you want to get a bunch of candy and start from the beginning, or push onward to try and finish the game.
That’s it. Nothing more elaborate than that. I thought to myself, that might be the laziest writing of all within this title, but then I thought, I suppose they had to call it something, and this does somewhat justify the roguelike angle to some extent.
Then just when I was about to forgive them for their lack of innovation and creativity, I was met with two options, ‘Response Button’ or Response Button.’ The decision that they have based their whole game around, and named their game after, is so badly implemented that the player literally doesn’t know which option they are choosing in the corresponding menu.
Now full disclosure, I have since received correspondence from the developer to let me know that a new patch will be coming very soon that will fix a number of the issues I have raised, and in most cases, I accept that and give the developer the benefit of the doubt.
However, in this case, I say that they are perpetuating a problem in the industry where developers feel that they can throw out any old s**t to potential players and fix it later. It’s nefarious, abysmal behavior, and it shows no respect for those that have eagerly awaited the release of your title.
If you want to play a game that offers a roguelike experience that you might actually enjoy. Or if you want a game that offers a some spooky goodness, then you might want to check out these titles below:
- Rogue Legacy
- Dead Cells
- Enter The Gungeon
- Have a Nice Death
Aside from the cute, cartoon visuals, there is very little I can praise about this game which is a lesson in how not to create a Roguelike.
From a design standpoint, and with reference to the plot, it just seems like a handful of ideas that don’t quite go together. So naturally, they proceeded to throw a lot of s**t at the wall to see what stuck. But sadly for them, and me, all the doodie promptly fell to the floor, creating the steaming pile I just had the displeasure of playing through.
Speaking of playing the game, it’s like death by a thousand cuts. Slow torture, which has you play through a series of repetitive levels, and fight the same pool of enemies over and over again, all for a minuscule reward that ensures that you’ll need to do it about ten more times just to make any tangible progress. Plus, the game is so lazily put together that even some of the UI has typos and random code left in.
This would all be fine if the combat was fun, the upgrades were rewarding, or the platforming felt tight, but literally, no aspect of the gameplay feels refined, leading to an inability to progress based on skill alone, meaning you’ll need to play this one as a numbers game, eventually getting enough loot to get the best weapon to clear the game with ease.
Roguelikes were a hard sell for a very long time before Hades came along, and if you want to know why that is, all you have to do is play this game.
- Cute, vintage cartoon horror visuals
- Easy to grasp combat
- Has a reasonably consistent difficulty curve
- Some boss battles are mildly entertaining
- Combat and platforming range from deeply unsatisfying, to just plain broken
- The plot and the writing within are lazy and half-baked
- Lots of issues relating to performance, basic coding, visuals, and more
- Progression is a massive grind right from the beginning
- Lack of level variety for a roguelike
Question: How Long is Death Or Treat?
Answer: This will depend on your skill level, and how lucky you are on each run, as a lot of the in-game items needed for progression are governed by RNG. However, I reckon that somewhere in the region of 10-12 hours would get you to the point where you could have a shot at taking down the final boss.
Question: What is the Hub World Called?
Answer: The hub world in Death or Treat is called Hallowtown, and this is the area where you will be able to buy weapons, skill upgrades, health upgrades, and inventory upgrades before you head out on another run.
Question: Who is the Final Boss?
Answer: The final boss who you will find in Faceboo is Clark Fackenberg, a play on words poking fun at Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg.
Death or Treat Review: Playlog
Callum played this game for 9 hours, reaching Faceboo and calling it a day there. While the trophy list is very straightforward, and the game isn’t all that hard after you get a decent weapon, Callum can’t see himself subjecting himself to this title again.
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