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Door Door (NES) artwork

Door Door (NES) review

"The mysterious little puzzle game that is secretly the reason Dragon Quest exists."

In 1982, a teenager named Koichi Nakamura entered his independently created game, Door Door, in a programming contest held by the then-unknown game company, Enix. His entry wound up taking the first-place prize and soon after that served as the first game that Enix ever published. It became a smash hit in Japan and its success allowed Nakamura to found his own company (Chunsoft, which was named after Chun, Door Door's protagonist). The young developer also was awarded the role of director and lead programmer for the first few entries in the megahit Dragon Quest series. If only for that reason, Door Door is an important part of gaming history, and yet it was never released outside of Japan. The reason for that remains a mystery to this day.

Door Door is a puzzle game starring a white, round creature named Chun and an army of aliens. Chun's goal is to trap every enemy found within each single-screen stage behind a door, for reasons that are never made clear. Doors have handles on one or both sides, depending on the situation, and they can only be opened by walking past, approaching from a side that features a knob.

Once a door has been opened, any enemies that walk past the door will automatically enter the room that waits beyond it, at which point Chun can double back to close the door and trap his prey forever. Doors that have been closed with enemies trapped behind them can't later be opened again. You'll receive bonus points for trapping multiple aliens behind a single door and, in fact, many levels will feature more enemies than there are available doors. Unless you slam a door in their faces, enemies only linger in an empty room for a few seconds before they will leave it, which means that luring multiple enemies into a single chamber can be quite tricky.

Levels also contain several types of objects and traps with which Chun can interact. Different types of climbable surfaces are scalable by different creatures. Blue bars stick out of walls, for example, and can be climbed by anyone, while only Chun may climb ladders and only enemies can traverse the chain-link fences. Sometimes, bombs will spawn in seemingly random locations, and they'll explode and kill Chun if he brushes against them. Some stages contain spikes along the floor, and those are fatal to the delicate hero but donít affect enemies at all. Finally, a fall from any height leads to tragedy.

As Chun completes stages, there are a few tricks he can employ to maximize his score. If he lures a few enemies into a door and then closes it only partway, for example, those enemies will be able to escape and no new enemies will enter. This may sound counterproductive, but the strategy can actually be used to close the distance between enemies, making it easier to trap them all behind another nearby door. To obtain high scores, you must learn to predict enemy behaviour and make creative use of available doors.

There are four different types of enemies, each with its own unique (if not immediately obvious) patterns of movement. Certain aliens will constantly chase Chun, following him directly whenever the opportunity arises. Others are distracted by ladders and won't necessarily make a straight line for our hero. Yet another type of alien will jump whenever Chun jumps, rendering it impossible to jump over that variety.

A total of 50 levels exist, featuring a wide variety of layouts among them. They will eventually loop, if you survive to the end, meaning that the game will never conclude until Chun finally runs out of lives. Most stages provide multiple solutions, so that you can usually play it by ear and reach the end in one piece. Every fifth stage is more like a puzzle, though, requiring a specific trick of some sort if you want to find its solution. One stage, for example, features a long platform populated by the enemies that jump when Chun jumps, with the ladder to the only door waiting on the opposite side of the platform. There are additional ladders that lead below the platform, which Chun can climb and the enemies cannot. That point can allow the diminutive hero to sneak past his foes. Another stage consists of a complicated maze, with a single enemy and a single route to the door at the bottom of the screen. Manipulating the enemy's behaviour in that particular case can prove quite tough. Itís one of those stages that will make you thankful there's no time limit.

Door Door has a fairly interesting set of mechanics, and some interestingly designed levels, but it also suffers from a couple of flaws that prevent it from being thoroughly enjoyable. One problem is the music. The theme tune is pleasant enough for a while, but it gets old rather quickly. Thatís unfortunate because it never goes away except when youíre in one of the special stages (and even then, it plays in remixed form). The constant exposure to the same tune gets really annoying after ten or twenty levels, and you still have another thirty or more remaining after that point. Another problem is the hero's painfully slow pace. It takes about eight seconds to walk from one end of the screen to the other. This may help explain part of the game's success in Japan, because it's slow enough to easily follow even when people aren't necessarily comfortable with a controller. For a semi-experienced gamer, though, Door Door would need to be about twice as fast as it is in order to avoid frustration.

Even if certain aspects of the game do get annoying after a while, though, Door Door does have a lot going for it. The lack of musical variety and the snailís pace are easily enough tolerated because the core mechanics are interesting and the level design puts them to good use. Door Door might not fare well if someone were to finally localize it nowadays, but it's a Japanese classic and well worth experiencing.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (May 24, 2013)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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