Some roguelikes just hit differently to others.
We had high hopes for Death or Treat based on our preview last month. This ghoulish action-platforming roguelike sees you play as Scary, a cute ghost with a very important mission. You see, his home of Hallowtown isn’t quite the thriving spooky-metropolis it once was. And so to restore it to its former glory, Scary’s got to head out into the world, collecting resources to re-open all the closed down establishments in town. Along the way, he’ll be taking down various internet establishments, too.
Yes, despite Death or Treat being a cute-spooky Halloween-themed adventure, the worlds you find yourself travelling to are riffs on big social media companies. There’s Darkchat, Riptok, Deviltube and FaceBoo!, to name just a few. Sure, they may raise a chuckle – as might some of the other names you encounter in the game, such as store owner Joe Bite-them and ultimate boss Clark Fackerberg – but we’re really drawing a blank as to how it connects to the ghostly setting of the game.
That ghostly setting, complete with spooky enemies such as bats, skeletons and spiders, really is the best thing about Death or Treat. It looks simply wonderful; its 2D environments are expertly crafted and character sprites are perfect. Animations are great too, with each of Scary’s attacks having real meaning behind them.
Being a roguelike, each death in Death or Treat means being taken right back to the beginning. But since you earn resources after every run, it doesn’t feel completely wasted. At least not in the beginning. The resources you gather can be used to reopen stores back in Hallowtown, and once they’re open you can buy upgrades for Scary, such as better weapons, enhanced special attacks and improved health and regeneration. After a few runs, you’ll have earned enough to make a few unlocks, but after a while, the pace slows down.
Despite each area of Death or Treat having its own boss, you’ll still need to start right back from square one each time you die. And with each world getting progressively more difficult, with enemies that eat more of your health and bosses with trickier attack patterns, chances are you’re going to die a lot. Thankfully, you can unlock shortcuts to each new area once you’ve reached them – but they cost a lot of resources, so expect to have to play through the earlier areas a lot before you’ve earned enough to skip them.
And, despite a bit of random generation and eventual weapon and skill upgrades for Scary, making your way through Death or Treat‘s levels does soon feel repetitive. Our favourite roguelikes, like Neon Abyss, keep runs feeling fresh thanks to random allocation of weapons and a host of pick-ups that change up your skills and abilities. There’s none of that in Death or Treat. You’re stuck with the same attacks and and the same limited pool of special moves. Occasionally you might stumble upon a useful item – like a floating pumpkin that assists you by shooting enemies – but they’re few and far between, and not exactly noteworthy enough to radically change your experience.
It means that ennui does set in after a couple of hours with Death or Treat. Sure, seeing Hallowtown come back to life as you spend resources is alluring. And unlocking a new weapon feels great for a short time. But the grind of jumping back into those social media-themed worlds soon takes its toll. The resources you need for later upgrades become more and more rare, and you’ll need to manage to reach the third or fourth world if you want any hope of getting any of them. Until you have the best weapons and highest upgrades for your skills, it’s a really tall ask. But to get those best weapons and upgrades, you need to have gathered rare resources, only found in the later worlds. And so, it becomes quite the slog.
We’ve primarily played Death or Treat on PC where, with our i7 processor and RTX 3070, it runs like a dream on Ultra settings. However, we’ve also tried the PS5 version, where we’ve experienced slowdown and constant screen tearing that VRR can’t fix. An update patch will hopefully fix this imminently, but it’s undoubtedly going to be disappointing to anyone jumping in on PS5 at launch.
Had there been more variety on offer, a few more random elements to make Death or Treat‘s playthroughs feel more varied, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this roguelike. It looks great, its Halloween theme is wonderful, and even though its internet parody worlds might be a little tonally dissonant, they still raise a smile. But there needs to be more to keep it feeling interesting, and as it is, slashing through the same enemies in the same environments time and time again just isn’t quite enough.