Deviltube, Riptok, Darkchat, and FaceBoo may sound like the names boomers give supposed society-destroying social media apps, but are in fact the districts Scary – Death of Treat’s diminutive hero – must traverse to save HallowTown from sinister conglomerates. The Halloween spirit is missing, while the town itself is just a shadow of its former self, with the HQ’s for said devilish corporations looming in the distance. We could make a joke about the townsfolk being turned into smartphone zombies by consuming too much social media, but it appears most were zombies all along.
I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Death or Treat heading in. A Metroidvania was my first guess – something soon dispelled upon discovering that Scary has a double jump from the outset. It’s perhaps best described as a Roguelike platformer with crafting elements; one with lavish visuals, with each character blessed with fluid animation. The hand drawn backdrops are also richly detailed.
Scary heads into short platforming stages, formed from a randomised selection of areas, and must beat a boss of the traditional memorise-the-attack-patterns variety before heading to the next district. All the while, resources are gathered that are used to re-open the town’s shops, upgrade equipment, and unlock more backpack space. More room for more resources.
Even if you fail a run, resources are kept intact – and so after just a few runs, you should have enough for at least one minor upgrade. Some resources are gatekept, however – bosses only drop certain items, mostly used in weapon crafting, so you’re going to need to beat them a couple of times to form a stockpile. While the town is empty initially, it only takes around an hour to re-establish its weapon forge and health-boosting coffee shop. Most locations are in keeping with the tech giant/conglomerate theme, with NPCs being parodies of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, et al.
A few other randomised elements feature beyond the sequence of platforming stages. Occasionally, it’ll throw you a lifeline in the first area and provide a perk, such as a ghostly AI-controlled buddy, or the ability to drop bombs while dashing. Then before a boss battle, there’s an opportunity to purchase mysterious stat-altering potions. These may cause more harm than good, altering the size of Scary’s health bar and adjusting cooldown times for special attacks. Drinking all four can potentially make Scary super strong, or extremely feeble – it’s a gamble.
The only thing you can depend on here are the weapons and special attacks chosen before heading into a stage. Special attacks can be upgraded, and so, it’s likely that you’re simply going to stick with whatever one you’ve poured resources into. There aren’t many weapons to experiment with initially either, with the second set not unlocking until making good headway.
Combat is of the messy and chaotic variety. The platforming sections feature large groups of enemies of various types (projectile throwers, slow heavy hitters, chargers, etc) that patrol their platforms by walking left and right. Aside from projectile lobbers that attack from a distance, they’ll only engage in battle if you start attacking them first. It’s possible to uppercut more than one enemy at once and then land a ground pound, or perform a special attack and harm several at once – which can be both fun and satisfying.
In most instances, though, there’s a bit too much going on at once, and with no defensive manoeuvres apart from dashing – which feels quite slow – it seems that Scary always takes at least one hit. If you reach a boss with little to no health, chances are you’ll only have a ghost of a chance of progressing.
I found Death or Treat very easy to get into. The lavish presentation does a good job of pulling you into its weird and wonderful world, and the controls are easy enough to master. It even provides a breakdown of available attacks at the start of every run. Beating bosses after several failed attempts can feel satisfying, although that’s partly because you must ‘run the gauntlet’ just to get there in the first place. When I reached a point further than before, it did feel genuinely exciting – remember, one shot is all that’s provided – but upon dying, I didn’t always feel like every death was fair. Entering a new area only to be confronted with an incoming wave of projectiles, having to blindly leap across spike pits, or being attacked by off-screen projectile lobbers all felt like platforming fubars.
It’s strange that Death or Treat makes these kind of ‘old skool’ mistakes, as it manages to make a reassuringly positive first impression thanks to its slick presentation. This is a game delivered with confidence and gusto, but one that also serves to remind that good looks will only get you so far.
Published by Perpetual-Europe and developed by Saona Studios, Death or Treat is out now on PC, Xbox Series, and PS5. PS4 and Switch versions coming soon, along with retail releases.