Depending on who you are, Halloween may be your most or least favorite holiday. Either way, you can’t deny that it works well thematically in popular media. The Saona Studios developers understand this, and poured it into their new game, Death Or Treat, a 2D platformer with roguelite elements. You have a hub area where you can equip and upgrade before heading back into the constantly changing ghostly world. You’ll do many runs to progress both in the story and in the hub. Each world presents several levels with different layouts and focus, so you’ll need to be cautious in holding on to whatever health and power you have.
Why Death or Treat?
It’s the middle of Spring, but it’s never too early to think about Halloween and the stories it may bring. Death or Treat brings one such story to play through. Protagonist Scary is a ghost-like denizen of HallowTown who makes a living selling his wares and thriving on candy. However, a group of corporate entities has swooped in and gotten everyone hooked on Storyum. This has caused the town’s economy to collapse and Scary to lose his business. Taking matters into his own hands, Scary decides to pay a visit to each of the corporate heads, bring them down, get rid of Storyum, and bring a bountiful flow of candy back to HallowTown. It’s a sweet goal if I’ve ever heard one.
The Treat Part
If you choose the treat, you should expect something good and sweet. Death or Treat offers both in its experience. The first thing you’ll get to enjoy and the visuals. The stylized hand-drawn art style really makes you feel like you’re playing through a lighthearted cartoon but with spooky themes. You’ve got classic horror stars being imagined as business owners and power-ups with amusing names. The animation is smooth and has weight to it with the most important parts of the gameplay also being the most colorful.
Then there’s the sense of progression. This may be a roguelite, but that’s just one side of the coin. The other is HallowTown and how it’s depending on you to bring it back to life. From the moment you restore your first shop, you’re motivated to rebuild the town as soon as you can. You want to meet other characters and take advantage of their services so you can upgrade abilities, and stats, and gain access to a bunch of new weapons. It also makes it viable to do runs for the sake of resources and candies to fix the town and power up.
In terms of difficulty, the game offers a solid challenge. Enemies will typically attack in large groups and contain a variety of types to split your focus. This means you’ll need to stay sharp as you start swinging wildly at whatever is attacking you. It also feels good to land hits no matter what weapon you’re using, especially since enemies are very generous with loot they drop.
The Death Part
The stakes are through the roof with death instead of trick, and it shows. Death or Treat can be brutal, but it’s unintentional. The controls are the main culprit behind this feeling. In a roguelite game where your main asset is quick movement and evasion, this game sadly falls short. There’s a delay between button press and execution which becomes very noticeable during the platforming sections. I found myself falling off multiple times because basic traversal doesn’t always move smoothly into a jump. This makes the controls feel sticky, which is a problem when you are surrounded by literal crowds of enemies.
On the challenge aspect, there are times when it spikes almost ridiculously. You can go through levels taking small, medium, and heavy hits only to get to a boss that shows no mercy. The first boss can kill you in about three hits, which applies a lot of pressure as soon as you get hit once.
The strange thing is that, at least mechanically speaking, enemy behavior isn’t consistent. Some enemies you can walk through, while others apply knockback and hurt you if you so happen to brush by them when they’re idling. It can take some getting used to, but it will no doubt throw off your rhythm.
So, Death or Treat?
Death or Treat is a 2D roguelite platform game about saving Halloween from a corporate takeover. It’s got amusing and detailed visuals, a good challenge, and a nice sense of progression. The controls feel like they need some tightening, with a bit more balancing between the levels and boss encounters as well as tweaking enemy behavior. No one said Halloween was all fun and games, but both have a chance to pop up when you have to choose between death or treat.
Death or Treat was played on PS5 with a key provided through PR. It is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and PC via Steam.