Nothing draws me more to a game than an interesting visual design. So many indie Steam games look similar. So when I see something new and interesting I always go for it. Now anyone who was a fan of Skull Monkeys would know that claymation isn’t new, but it has been overlooked as a visual style for games as of late. When I saw Don’t Open the Doors! an isometric claymation dungeon crawler, in my inbox I was intrigued. However, I soon discovered I was not uncovering a hidden indie gem. In fact, I write this article as a record of my disappointment.
I only got about 2 hours into playing Don’t Open the Doors but I feel I got a good insight into the feel of the game. The ideas were there but the execution was off. After experiencing multiple near-identical dungeons, buggy gameplay, and frustratingly difficult controls, I was done.
The unique selling point of Don’t Open the Doors! is the cute claymation style which is pretty well done. The developer obviously put a lot of time and effort into these effects, but they are severely let down by the camera which is fixed at a level of zoom so far out that you can’t admire anything. The game plays out in an isometric style more suited to mobile platforms, making it jarring to play. The controls aren’t smoothly designed. The aim of the dungeons of this game is to avoid enemies and projectiles as well as pulling off some precise platforming. However, the controls zigzag instead of moving smoothly outside of the diagonal axes, making movement difficult.
Simply put, the game needs a lot of polish. Enemies can attack from any of 8 directions while I never really figured out how to attack outside of the diagonal 4. You start out with so much health and maneuvering is so difficult that the clearest option is to run through the obstacles rather than trying to evade them. The key to good real-time combat is feeling that damage is fair. Here it always feels like there was nothing you could do to avoid attacks.
The game’s difficulty is increased by adding enemies, but these are still impossible to evade. Generally, the controls are so imprecise you feel no pleasure from completing a dungeon. All the dungeons seem to be variations of the same thing instead of changing things up. There are weapon upgrades but they seem to do little to change up gameplay, often they can only be used in certain circumstances.
The worst thing, however, is the writing. Admittedly, this game was created by just one guy. Few developers are jacks of all trades like Toby Fox (Undertale) or Thomas Happ (Axiom Verge). Fox’s art style is quaint in its ineptitude, and Happ was clearly heavily influenced by other classic games musically. However, the games are so amazing in every other aspect that no one pays these facts much mind. I’ve heard people praise the writing here saying it was quirky and fun and helped give the game character. Personally, I found it pretty bland, with textboxes that were so incredibly long with multiple choices that made no difference on the overall outcome.
The one thing I thought was a nice touch was after you leave the first dungeon with your first weapon the guard starts running around screaming and if he runs in a good position you can actually smoosh him. This was a nice bit of player agency, but touches like this can’t make me recommend Don’t Open the Doors! overall. There are some nice ideas here but it is so hugely let down by a buggy, almost unusable controls, and large amounts of text. As is, it would need a lot of work done to it to make it worth the average player’s time.
Don’t Open the Doors! was played on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.