Candy and ghosts go together like peanut butter and jelly. With Halloween being such a huge business, it makes sense that trade in candy, and other confectionaries, would be a common occupation for ghouls and ghosts. Death or Treat stars a ghost named Scary, who takes pride in his Ghost Mart business.
All the undead were enjoying their sweet treats without care for dental. Out of nowhere comes antagonist Clark Fackerberg, who introduces a new addiction to the underworld that suddenly makes candy less popular. Sure, Scary could file a complaint with the relevant consumer and competition authorities, but there's no time for that, those candies have a use-by date! So it's now up to our ghostly hero to take on Clark and his empire with his own two fists.
There's definitely a tongue-in-cheek social commentary here, all with a playful spooky touch. Clark represents the big bad media that also engages in manipulative anti-consumer behavior. The levels alone are puns on major media networks and are far too obvious to miss.
Bringing this interesting setting together is the unique art style, which is perhaps the strongest aspect of Death or Treat. The game uses fluid 2D animation, and overall artistic style and direction feel like a marriage of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Fantasia (1940). It's a treat to watch and witness in motion, and the character designs are charming and original in their own right.
In terms of gameplay, Death or Treat is a hack-and-slash action game first and foremost, all situated in a roguelite design where repeated playthroughs and resource gathering are essential. There is some measure of level design here, but nothing close to a typical Metroidvania romp as combat is the main crux of gameplay engagement.
Thankfully, our hero Scary is more than versatile enough to cope with the combat-heavy adventure. Combos can be easily chained using a combination of light and strong attacks, and players can get pretty inventive as they take on hoards of enemies. There are special magic attacks too, and most of these will need to be learned gradually as the game progresses. The rogue-lite design has largely to do with gathering ingredients necessary for upgrades, which are in the form of new magic attacks, weapons, inventory slots, and candy.
Progression can feel slow, and while Scary's repertoire expands over the course of the game, it demands a great deal of player investment, as the gameplay loop can start to feel like a grind given the primary focus on combat. The enemy encounters feel congested right out of the gate, so this is a case of a game that starts out rather slow and repetitive but rewards persistence as new combat abilities are acquired to take on a more diverse cast of foes in later levels.
Death or Treat is a decent adventure but a tough sell in an already-crowded market. In fact, a fellow SuperJump writer pointed out how uncannily similar the game is to Have a Nice Death. Regardless, if you're a genre fan and enjoy the grind of smooth 2D combat, then Death or Treat could be an interesting distraction.
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