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When I reviewed Neoverse at the end of last year, I ranted about inevitable comparisons to Slay the Spire. Here, it’s no different. When you think about it, deckbuilders like Doors of Insanity, Neoverse, and the like, are backed into a corner. You can only play so much with the fundamentals of the genre before it becomes unrecognizable. The best you can hope for is to create a rock solid base and break away from the crowd through other means. Doors of Insanity does exactly that. It boasts such a forceful personality that it defines itself as an unforgettable experience. It might be one of the most idiosyncratic experiences I’ve ever had while gaming.
Off the bat, Doors of Insanity’s gameplay feels familiar. That’s because it is. Like I said, it follows a fairly typical deckbuilder pattern with a few unique mechanics.
The first that comes to mind is the dice system. A handful of certain attacks and cards will also reward you with a six-sided die. These die can then be used to defend or attack. The benefits are marginal, but can mean the difference between life and death during tight runs. It will be interesting to see as the game progresses out of early access, if more creative players are able to develop builds that revolve around the dice system. As for me, I couldn’t make it work, and the system exclusively manifested itself as nothing more than a nice bonus on most turns.
Perhaps the most peculiar element of Doors of Insanity is the ability to level up between runs. This actually occurs in a handful of ways. You can unlock permanent benefits such as more absorbtion from defensive cards or the ability to raise your attack stat. You also gather magic crystals during your run which can be used to purchase cards and equipment before your next run. If you choose to invest, subsequent runs will inevitably feel considerably more simple. Hardcore deckbuilder fans among the crowd may forego the levelling system as it tends to take the teeth away from the game.
Speaking of items, they offer a decent amount of customization for your character—both in terms of attributes and aesthetics. A player who opts to use a one-handed weapon and a shield is playing more defensively whereas a player who equips a two-handed weapon is playing a riskier, higher damage build. There are also slots for gloves, legs, chest pieces, helmets, and other unique items. While it is nice to see these items reflected on your character, the visual outcome is, more often than not, absurd.
Also, while we’re on the subject of customization, I should touch on the cards. The offerings are fairly standard, but relatively limited. If Doors of Insanity could expand anywhere, it would be here. They need to add a larger variety of cards and come up with even more creative abilities. As it stands, they mostly revolve around summoning, attack, and defense cards.
It’s fine, but the fact that you start each run with basically the same few cards means that you’ll quickly grow tired of seeing them. The only reprieve offered here is that Doors of Insanity offers a card into “purgatory” after each failed run which means it transfers to your next run. But, beyond that card, you’ll be starting with the same deck every run.
Don’t let me mislead you. Doors of Insanity’s functionality is rock solid. It’s beautifully designed. And, despite how it may sound, there is already a surplus of creative builds available. It’s just that very few games wield as much charm as Doors of Insanity. It’s a strange mix of fantasy tropes, tried-and-true memes, and hilarious takes of genre cliches.
After about the first five minutes, I’m completely engrossed. A run in Doors of Insanity is akin to being mocked (or, at times, cheered on) by friends. It all feels very personal—in the best way possible. When I come across a random encounter of a desperate man asking me for money, I choose to give it to him expecting deckbuilder standards to dictate the outcome. Instead, he just thanklessly wanders off. Following that, I defeat what looks like jar of peanut butter in a fight, and he joins me as a summon. When I die, a group of skeletons dances with my casket on their shoulders and mocks me.
Look, on the surface, Doors of Insanity is a fairly standard deckbuilder. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s right up there in terms of playability with all the greats of the genre. It’s much more than that. Doors of Insanity is a strangely enchanting game. It never takes itself seriously, but the effort put in is seriously impressive. If you’re on the fence, don’t be, this is a game that needs to be played to be believed.