Yeah, Death or Treat is a tough one. On paper, it should work. An action hack-and-slash rogue-lite 2D game with beautiful hand-drawn environments sounds cool, right? Unfortunately, a subpar gameplay experience and horrible performance make this a tough game to recommend.
In this rogue-lite you play as Scary, a tiny ghost, who wants to fight back against big business as it has ruined the lives of the small shop owners of Hallowtown. Who are these big businesses you might ask? Well, of course, Darkchat, RipTok, DevilTube and Faceboo.
Yup, it’s one of those games that plays around with some social commentary. I generally love when games try and succeed in doing that. But who are these small businesses that have been affected by these big corps? Well, of course, you have Necrosoft run by a creature named “Pumpkin Gates”. There’s also another pumpkin creature called just straight-up “Jobs”. Oh, and there’s also another shop by a vampire named “Joe Bite Them”… yeah like the POTUS. I mean, what? These are not small guys that you need to fight and protect. What?!
This setting doesn’t really make much sense to me, but hey whatever, as long as the gameplay is good, right? Unfortunately, the gameplay in Death or Treat is not good. First, the performance on the PS5 is terrible. There’s a constant and very distracting screen tearing with the frame rate jumping all over the place never hitting a stable 60fps. Often, when there are a lot of collectible coins on screen, the game just freezes for a couple of frames.
Now, I know that these performance issues can be fixed with a patch or two. However, in my opinion, these patches would need to do a lot more than just fix these performance issues in order to make the game enjoyable and fun.
Combat is well, boring at best and extremely annoying at worst. If you just mash the attack button, all of the enemies, apart from one type, get stun-locked and you can just keep hitting them until they die. Boring. Since you are a ghost, I guess, there’s no contact damage with the enemies so you can just phase through the enemies. Boring. There are a couple of weapon types, but if you just mash that attack button you are golden nonetheless. Boring. You have a dash ability, but in combat, dashing does basically nothing. You can’t dash through projectiles and once those enemy types that shoot at you are introduced, fighting them gets tedious. Boring and annoying.
Now in other rogue-likes, each run is unique as you will pick up different objects or trinkets at random that will synergize and create a unique build. This doesn’t happen in Death or Treat. Before you reach the boss room, there’s a merchant, which by the way looks like the Resident Evil 4 merchant and I’m all for it, that sells potions for extremely cheap with random effects like agility up or damage down, but it feels like they don’t do anything. In this final room, you will also choose one of two trinkets that again, feel like they don’t do anything. Extremely boring.
Enemies and bosses, when killed, might drop unique materials. You need these materials to unlock new shops and shortcuts in the hub area, improve your character stats, the usual stuff. But unfortunately, again, these upgrades feel like they do nothing apart from just pad the game time with useless grinding. There’s no real sense of progression whatsoever.
Traversal, unfortunately, and I am really sorry for using this word like 100 times already, feels exactly the same. These levels do not feel procedurally generated like in most other rogue-lites as there’s no level of randomness to them. After a couple of runs, you will see the same exact layouts over and over again and these are not good layouts. There are some “platforming” sequences, but those are hindered by the many unavoidable projectiles that come your way. What feels randomly generated is the enemy placements, there are a lot of them at all times in all places.
For the first couple of runs, I button-mashed my way through all of the enemies in all rooms, and that ultimately got boring extremely fast since the materials I needed to unlock new shops and whatnot were dropped only by the boss. So, I just started to book it. Since you phase through all enemies, I just ran straight to the boss room each time on each run. You shouldn’t be able to do that, especially in a rogue-lite game.
The only good things about Death or Treat are its visuals and music. The gorgeous hand-drawn parallax backgrounds and the character animations are some of the best I’ve seen in a 2D game. Add on top the cool funky music and Death or Treat is a treat, pun not intended, for your eyes and ears. Too bad that everything else feels so rough. Unfortunately, and this is the last time I use this word in the review, I can’t recommend Death or Treat to anyone. Thanks for reading!
The game was reviewed on a PS5 using a code provided by PR. Death or Treat is available on PC and PS5.