Death or Treat review: If you dare

Saona Studios
Saona Studios /

Title – Death or Treat
Developer – Saona Studios
Publisher – Perp Games
Platforms- PS5, Series X, PC
Release Date – May 11, 2023

Death of Treat is the premiere game from indie developer Saona Studios with Perp games as publisher. It’s a 2D roguelike platformer centered around a Halloween theme that greatly resembles Have a Nice Death in terms of gameplay and art design. It presents some unique elements and setup, but many design choices and technical glitches drastically hold it back. Our Death or Treat gameplay review awaits you below – if you dare. Bwahahahaha!

In Death or Treat, we play as Scary – a ghost who owns Ghost Mart. It’s the leading developer for Candy- a huge deal around Halloween obviously. The entire premise is obvious parody on social media and how people need to fight to save themselves from the so called evil conglomerate. Being from HollowTown, Scary must save his town from the evil company stealing jobs from its residents. That company, of course, is called Faceboo and its owner is Fackerburg. See what I mean?

Screenshot-20230510-123750-You-Tube /

Starting off in HollowTown, this serves as our hub world in between levels and at death. We can purchases skill upgrades, extra health, regeneration and additional weapons. There’s a huge design flaw here, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let’s start with the art design. The hand-crafted appearance and color palette is appealing and well-suited to the Halloween motif. Unfortunately, it’s held back by the 2D setup. During the levels, it’s extremely hard to notice what items are barriers or obstacles and which ones you can pass through or jump on. There is no depth perception in the game. Most 2D games see the background colorful and flat with the traversable foreground items in more 3D for easy navigation. That doesn’t happen here, and I found myself jumping into barriers I thought were platforms or falling through a background piece I thought was a platform I could land on. There’s no way to tell these items apart, and it hurts gameplay drastically as it constantly puts you in harms way of enemies.

There are four different worlds to play through. In addition to Faceboo, we have DarkChat and RipTok we’ll need to navigate.

Each world has its own level design within the roguelite setup, meaning the levels change each playthrough and there is no map or navigation assistance of any kind. In addition, each time you die you are forced to start the entire game over from the beginning with the exception of a few upgrade items you can choose to keep.

Now, here’s the design flaw I mentioned above. Death or Treat is designed to make you force yourself to die in order to progress and not waste time. We are limited to keep only 5 items at the beginning of the game, but those can be upgraded utilizing items found in the levels such as pieces of wood, bat wings, metal nuggets, pumpkin seeds and more.

Screenshot-20230510-123812-You-Tube /

While playing, I was able to get to the fourth world after what was WAY too much play time. Let’s go through the overall setup, shall we? You begin the game and die, you can bring back up to 5 items at first. If you have enough of the items needed, you can purchase the upgrades mentioned above. However, you won’t want to do that. You’ll want to upgrade the max items you can return first.

The initial upgrades take basic items, and the more you unlock the more the items required become found only later in the game’s levels. Therefore, if you plow through the game first and get past the 1st level and die, you won’t be able to bring back all your materials. So, you are forced to basically die in the game when you hit your max cap of materials and bring them all back to unlock what you can.

Now, go back in and wash, rinse repeat until you have enough materials from later levels to unlock the next upgrade – oh yeah – and hopefully not die before you get there because then that run has become a waste of time. Now, once you unlock the upgrades for the needed materials, you’ll need to GO BACK into the levels to get more materials to unlock the portal for the world so you can save yourself the headache of plowing through the entire game yet again.

I learned the hard way at first because the game doesn’t explain any of this to you at all. There’s no description, no navigation and the dialogue boxes are so small you almost need a magnifying glass to read. As a result, I bought a new attack item that took me four runs to get enough materials for. So, all those runs were pointless as far as my progression goes.

Outside of the level setup, the gameplay and combat mechanics were decent. As Scary, we can jump, double jump, attack, dash and utilize one special ability. This charges as we kill enemies, and the only way to heal is to kill enemies. Unfortunately, there is no in game notification of how much you are or if you are even healing at all. It just….heals. The dash is another odd setup as it doesn’t include any kind of invincibility. All it does is allow you to move faster, but you can still get hit. Not to mention the fact that we literally play as a ghost, but yet can’t go through any obstacles.

The enemy variety is surprisingly the best part of Death or Treat. Each of the four worlds has its own variety on enemies. The bats in the first world of Dark Chat that fly around are replaced by witches in the second world. These also throw what appear to be electrified balls at you that you can hit and ricochet back into them or any enemies in its path. More powerful enemies have a red dot above them. Being a 2D game, Scary can run past enemies and appear to “run through” them without getting hit. This helps with the bigger enemies as you can keep running right to their back to get a few hits in before switching to the other side. The bosses are a real pain, and the aforementioned upgrade system makes it even worse. They take a bunch of hits before defeat, but can wipe you out in about 3 shots. If you die, well, see above.

The interesting thing about Death or Treat is that the premise is solid and there have been roguelite platformers or simply roguelite games in general before this one. It seems what the developer tried to do in order to make it stand out did succeed, but for a much more negative reason than intended. Having a game design that forces players to die in order to progress instead of rewarding them for skilled gameplay is extremely counter-intuitive. It was a huge step back for me as someone who greatly values my time. Seeing as the entire game is centered around this setup, it’s not possible for it to be fixed with any sort of patch. As a result, I’d be wary of Death or Treat going in due to this setup.

Death or Treat (PS5) Score: 6 / 10

Death or Treat has a few good qualities but is held back by a design that’s intrinsic setup is outshined by poor execution.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.