While some may find it premature to celebrate Halloween in May, Saona Studios, an indie game developer, doesn’t agree. They are releasing their first project called Death or Treat, a 2D hack-and-slash action roguelite game featuring the adorable ghost, Scary, who owns a candy shop named Ghost Mart.
The game’s plot involves Scary taking on the large evil corporation Faceboo and its subsidiaries, which are stealing customers from the small businesses in HallowTown. The game’s colourful and vivid visuals are impressive, but a few technical issues and questionable design choices detract from the overall experience.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Death or Treat looks absolutely stunning, with its hand-drawn animations and charming art direction. The stark colour palettes truly bring out the Halloween-y atmosphere, in both the environmental design along with enemy varieties. Each locale is distinctively unique, with its own moody vibe, such as the dreary factories of DarkChat, the gloomy crypts of RipTok, or the corporate offices of Faceboo. It doesn’t matter that Halloween isn’t in season right now because the visuals here are an absolute “boo-eaty”.
“As a literal ghost, it’s baffling that you can’t go through environmental platforms.”
In case you haven’t realised yet, the fictitious names used in the game are satirical versions of real-world tech giants Snapchat, TikTok, and Facebook. At first, I found it amusing, but my opinion changed when I discovered that the primary villain’s name simply replaces the Z in Zuckerberg with an F. While I acknowledge the negative public perception surrounding this individual and their company, I find it distasteful to incorporate this stance into a video game.
The game itself admits to taking heavy inspiration from Hollow Knight and the Ori series, but sadly it doesn’t deliver anything close to the heights of either aforementioned titles. Combat can feel intuitive and smooth at first but ultimately lacks a certain snappiness to it. Multiple questionable design choices also prevent the game from reaching its true potential.
For starters, there are no invincibility frames from dashing, which pretty much defeats the purpose of even having that ability in a combat-heavy game like this. You also can’t cancel out of your dodge animation, which makes avoiding enemy attacks harder than it needs to be.
As a literal ghost, it’s baffling that you can’t go through environmental platforms when all the enemies can. The most egregious of all is how environmental objects on the screen that are intended to provide depth of field make it impossible to see where enemies are attacking.
Death or Treat Lacks Basic Roguelite Quality of Life Features
Death or Treat is a roguelite game, which means that when your character dies, you must restart the game from the beginning, with the exception of certain permanent progression elements. With each subsequent playthrough, different strategies should be required depending on the choices made during the run. However, the game lacks diversity and choice, as only one new passive ability is offered per area, and most of these abilities are simple number buffs that increase health or damage.
Although health and healing are important components of roguelite games, Death or Treat makes it difficult to find healing items since they are rare and randomly generated. Furthermore, there is also an absence of life-steal abilities and purchasable potions. While defeating bosses restores your health to full, there are few other opportunities to heal, leaving you to rely on the occasional drop from random enemies.
The permanent progression in Death or Treat comes in the form of rebuilding HallowTown. During each run, you gather materials from enemies which can then be used to open shops and purchase upgrades and weapons. However, the game’s mechanics can be overly tedious, punishing you for playing well and having long runs.
When you embark on each run, you gather random material drops from enemies that are used to purchase or unlock items back in town. Unfortunately, you are limited in how many items you can keep, forcing you to dispose of excess treasure in the trash. This essentially promotes you to intentionally die and repeat your run if you hit your item cap. I’m unsure if this was the developer’s way of getting players to replay the game more often but it’s definitely a puzzling design choice.
“Death or Treat experiences frame drops and freezes during intense action sequences.”
Your first few hours of Death or Treat are quite basic, as you only have one weapon and three abilities to choose from. Unlocking additional abilities and weapons takes time, and the cost of purchasing upgrades is prohibitively high, requiring numerous runs to fully upgrade. Currently, there are only four locations in the game, each with a boss fight at the end. These bosses have unique movesets and animations, and they can deal significant damage, often resulting in the player being defeated in just a few hits if they are not careful.
As an indie game, Death or Treat performs adequately, with relatively quick load times, but the game experiences frame drops and freezes during intense action sequences. Sometimes, button inputs are not registered, resulting in the player’s actions being delayed or not executing at all. While I didn’t expect many accessibility options, the in-game dialogue text is difficult to read due to the font style and tiny size, which could be challenging for some players.
While Death or Treat boasts charming hand-drawn animations and artwork that make it an eye-catcher, the game falls short due to certain jarring gameplay mechanics and poor technical performance. Despite this, if you’re looking for a goofy, lighthearted roguelite to pass the time or scratch that early Halloween itch, it might be worth checking out. Additionally, a free demo is available on Steam, so you can try it before you buy.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PS5, code was provided by the Publisher.