Let’s help Scary make his wonderful Halloween candies trendy again.
Death or Treat is a 2D hack & slash action-roguelite developed by Saona Studios and published by Perp Games. It was released on May 11, 2023, for PS5 and PC, and is also coming to Xbox, PS4, and Switch.
This young roguelite is as kawaii as its predecessors Ori and Hollow Knight, but much more irreverent. It embodies a compilation of contemporary internet stereotypes, with social media, influencers, and memes that we will encounter as we delve into the HallowVerse.
From the title itself, although adapted to the game’s context and narrative, it is evident that Halloween is the central theme. As a result, we will encounter characters such as pumpkins, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and more.
Death or Treat seems to have risen from the ashes: those of its otherworldly characters and those of the most famous social media platforms, whose decline appears to be forecasted here. However, take this interpretation with a grain of salt, as it is our personal idea.
Irony and provocation are the beating heart of this video game, but beyond that, it is technically well-executed, especially in terms of graphics.
Saona Studios, a Spanish animation and indie game development team, has over 25 years of experience in creating collective games, with the main goal of offering players great adventures with ever-changing narrative and graphic styles.
Perp Games, a global game publisher with proud experience in publishing award-winning titles, exciting indie games, and some of the most recognized franchises in the world, has decided to invest in this project, and we are grateful for it.
A ghost in a tie
Scary is our protagonist. It must be admitted that a ghost wearing a tie has never been seen before. Is he an employee? Or rather, is he the spirit of an employee, forced to confront his boss?
No, because he owns a Halloween-themed store called GhostMart that sells candies. However, fighting his boss is exactly what he will have to do.
The game begins in HallowTown, with a newspaper hitting our protagonist’s face, featuring an article stating that the consumption of Storyum is at 80% and the citizens of the HallowVerse are excited and presumably happy to use this new drug.
Yes, Storyum is a drug, desired by the mega boss Clarl Fackerberg (any resemblance is purely coincidental), who is responsible for its production and distribution (indirectly, of course). Thanks to Storyum, candies are no longer “cool.” Being hooked on a screen is the new trend.
Here, the irony is not subtle, and the criticism is evident.
Storyum, in fact (read “social network”), is causing the population to “disappear,” or at least that’s what the Marshmallow says, who appears to be a ghost like Scary.
Since Storyum seems to be the problem, both causing the disappearance of the residents and the commercial difficulties of GhostMart, where customer traffic has decreased, what else can Scary do but reach the boss’s headquarters to defeat him and return to enjoying candies as before, abandoning this new and dangerous trend?
Thus, this parallel reality exists, where we will visit places with evocative names and encounter more or less annoying small enemies.
But let’s see what’s in the HallowVerse…
Snapchat or any other “chat”? But perhaps it’s no coincidence that Snapchat’s logo is a ghost…
It’s undoubtedly fun and intriguing to recognize the numerous references in the game, so please forgive us if we make assumptions.
We initially found ourselves in Darkchat, (the Storyum factory), where Scary finds himself in a labyrinthine chemical laboratory, guarded by pumpkin-headed scientists in lab coats, trying to prevent our little ghost from progressing on his journey.
If we manage to reach the end, we will face a battle with the first boss, Stephen Pumpkin, the epitome of a sadistic scientist with a giant pumpkin for a head.
The second world is RipTok, filled with kicking tombstones, skeleton streamers, and flying dolls that throw little bombs at you. As the final challenge, we encounter the wicked witch Clintok, who unleashes powerful attacks with her scythe.
Once we overcome that, we will arrive at Deviltube, the realm of the demonic Jeff Beelzeboss, who strongly reminds us of the chief of a certain parcel delivery company. In fact, it will be easy to notice the presence of many emblematic delivery vans.
Faceboo! is the final world of this absurd journey, where, in my opinion, the most cutting irony resides.
We are immediately greeted by a floating elderly figure who hurls the usual little bombs at us, and we quickly notice a suburban housing scenario well-equipped with elevators.
Here, after climbing the “peak” and reaching the Zeppelin, we will finally confront our cigar-wielding boss, whom we will have to face not once, but twice. But after that, Scary can happily and peacefully return to his candy production and restore the former glory of his GhostMart.
A less traumatic roguelite
Death or Treat is fast-paced and action-packed, and it seems designed for those generations that are said to have neither patience nor a very high attention span. However, being a roguelite, the game can still be repetitive.
Fortunately, it’s quite easy to unlock the “worlds” by collecting the right ingredients.
Each time we “die,” we return to the Humble Village in HallowTown, which is the starting point of the game. We can carry a certain number of collected ingredients with us, and a series of characters consistently welcome us, offering opportunities to enhance our skills and weapons.
The first character we meet is Joe Bite Them, our guide and ferryman of our soul. Alongside him, we encounter a range of characters, some clearly referencing others. For example, there’s Jobs, who advises us on where to go for our power-ups, sporting his black turtleneck.
Frankie’s Forge is essential for weapon crafting, while Candleman allows us to create missing ingredients using basic ones that we can collect as we progress through the various levels.
At Pumpkin Gates‘ Necrosfot, we can enhance our magical skills, while at Marley’s Detox Bucks, we can increase our health and ability regeneration.
Once equipped with what we need, we can embark on our journey again and choose what loadout to face the enemies with, selecting our fighting style, and not forgetting to give a pat to the ghost dog, who randomly rewards us with a certain number of candies, a vital form of currency.
But it doesn’t end there, because before each boss level, we will encounter another character, Hatter, who will offer us the opportunity to purchase special potions. However, be careful because they may not always be helpful.
At this precise point, we will also find valuable assists, each different in their own way, who will have our back from this moment onward. And how could we not mention Wilson, who spits out pink little bombs in sync with our attacks. Of course, let’s not expect miracles, but they still provide us with something extra.
Notes and Trinkets
If we want to make a comparison, in addition to the ones already mentioned, Dead Cells is quite fitting, as it closely resembles it in terms of mechanics and cleverly and ironically exploits existing elements from other video games, such as weapons and powers borrowed from games like Blasphemous, Curse of the Dead Gods, Guacamelee, Hyper Light Drifter, and Skul.
Although patches have been released after the game’s launch to address frequent minor frame rate drops, currently, at least in our experience, there hasn’t been much improvement, sometimes resulting in input lag or loss of button pressure.
We encountered some difficulties with the controls, especially for our playstyle, and the lack of the option to utilize the directional pad as a movement control in the game.
At times, when releasing the analog stick due to the frenzy of gameplay, the spring-back motion caused us to turn in the opposite direction from where we were striking or moving. Only after adjusting the “dead zone” of the left stick to high levels were we able to slightly mitigate the issue.
This could have been avoided by configuring the sensitivity of the X/Y axes with a minimum threshold and a dampening curve.
We hope that future updates can address these issues.
The background music is quite enjoyable, to the point where it stays in your head even after turning off the game. However, the sound design, while very well-crafted in all its aspects, has a minor flaw: some sounds could have been better balanced, as they tend to be too loud when combined. This could have been avoided with a small phase or pitch adjustment.
Painted by traditional illustrators and featuring traditional animation, which is extremely interesting and expressive, Death or Treat excels in its visuals. While it clearly draws inspiration from Hollow Knight, it still possesses its own unique personality.
In summary, this video game playfully satirizes everything, which makes it impartial, yet it also seems to take it personally.
However… These developers who ask us to leave our screens while keeping us hooked on them…
Death or Treat
- Stunning and original graphics
- Sharp irony
- Fun and fast-paced, for a roguelite
- Some difficulties with the controls
- Some sounds could have been better balanced