They say that in life, only two things are certain: death and taxes. Well, the former is certainly true in Have a Nice Death, a roguelike from the depths of the underworld. I suppose the latter is true too, depending on how much toil you give it.
Yes, another roguelike fresh off the back of my last review, Have a Nice Death is a 2D rogue that focuses on trying, dying, trying again and dying hopefully less frequently. In stark contrast to Trinity Fusion’s future vision, HaND is instead cutesy-but-grim. Like an early 2000’s Cartoon Network show.
Again, does this fit nicely into the ever-growing rogue’s gallery, or should Death just call it a day and hang up the scythe? Let’s find out.
Death Is Coming, Look Busy
Death, across most media, is regarded as the final word. The last judgement, the ultimate decider, whatever guise it may take. Personally, I’m more acquainted with the Terry Pratchett version of Death, a personification with some elements of humanity about him. Which, thankfully, this version does too.
But with being the CEO of ferrying souls and whatnot, it gets a bit busy. So, like any CEO, Death began to delegate. Sharing the load, as it were. There’s only so many school shootings, natural disasters and other deaths that the big cheese can attend before it becomes boring. So, Death outsourced.
And is the way with most outsourcing, the underlings get ideas above their station. Insolent employees is the last thing Death needs, so it’s up to the… thing behind the scythe to cut them down to size, as it were.
I Am Become Death
That wasn’t a clever riff on Oppenheimer’s infamous words, by the way. In Have a Nice Death we quite literally play as Death: scythe, scowl and cowl. This embodiment of the Grim Reaper moves quite nimbly across a 2D plain, in standard Metroidvania affair across landscapes that uncover as we progress.
Gameplay – and violence – wise, HaND plays as much like any 2D game one would expect. Death’s scythe is mapped to the square button (on PS5), with scavenged weapons mapped to the others when equipped. Jumping is a face button, dash mapped to R2, creating a decent enough control set to keep the reaper reaping.
In terms of how it plays, it’s very fast and frantic. As players move from area to area, there’s a constant stream of enemies in the way. Admittedly they don’t respawn once cleared, but as far as going forward is going, you’ll always be busy.
And to top it off, before the bosses come along, arenas will block you in for the occasional wave-like moment. It’s all pretty standard, but standard isn’t a bad thing. It’s wherever it can get us hooked or not that adds value.
Death Comes In Many Styles
What makes a strong case for replayability, especially in a roguelike/lite, is variety. Being able to mix up weapons and perks, random or intentional, adds that frison of the unexpected. Fortunately, Death comes in many guises, and so does his weaponry.
Well, if you consider “different variations of scythe” variety, at least. But as banal as I make that sound, it is actually quite fun to mix and match. There’s your bog standard scythe, as we know, but then we can branch into sickles. That’s wright, two tiny scythes, or if one wants to go all Death Maul there’s a double-ender for them.
Don’t expect for RPG levels of differentiation between them, it’s pretty simple. Sickles are less damaging but quicker, the dual-bladed one slower but stronger. There’s no “best” weapon form, the idea is players find what they like.
And that’s before we get into the curses…
I Curse You In Death
Again, this section won’t come as a surprise to anyone that’s played a rogue recently. Perks, buffs, boons… however you want to dress them up, it’s all the same. Have a Nice Death is no different, but does add a little spice in there too.
This time around it’s “curses”. Same dealio: players pick those that they favour, be it for better attack, stronger defence, more mana for spells or a quicker skill cooldown timer. Again, like others, the best thing to do is have a fiddle and see what works best on a personal level. Me, I tend to mix attack and defence, didn’t really use spells.
The other sneaky caveat with these curses is that some will… well, curse you too. That is, some have certain criteria when picked. Be it at the start of a run, which will only grant a buff if, say, one defeats twenty enemies without being hit. Others can be picked up along the way, again with similar parameters.
It’s all about balance and finding out what suits you. I like being offensive, and in games, so I tend to favour brute strength over spells and whatnot. Does it always work? Absolutely not, but it’s how I roll [my chances].
A Funny Kind Of Death
So, basics of gameplay covered (in that it’s more of the same), what does Have a Nice Death bring that’s new? What killer hook does it have over something like Trinity Fusion or Dead Cells? Well, in terms of gameplay, not much.
But in terms of style and writing, it has possibly some of the funniest, deadpan humour going. Death is cynical, as much as any “man” would be in the face of insubordination. His coworkers, a mixed bag of ghouls, inanimate objects and angry little Edna Mode-types are either rooting for him or so apathetic it adds a great sense of anarchy in the business of death.
And to use the Hades comparison, dying brings more reveals and plot information each time a new cycle starts. So there’s the impetus to keep going, even if dying is annoying. Some of the writing will illicit a placating smirk to make you want to go again.
Spawning in Death’s chair sets of a little “Welcome to the afterlife” jingle that just smacks of Phineas and Ferb’s “Doofenshmirtz evil inc.” ditty. Honestly, me writing it down doesn’t do it justice.
Two Coins For The Boatman… Oh, And The Rest
If I had any grumbles, it would be that the monetary risk/reward doesn’t seem very well balanced. I understand the premise is to keep on trying, spending what you’ve earned on upgrades, and then doing that again. But the payout/collected earnings on a run seem very minimal for how far we get each time.
The same applies for weapon upgrades: granted, it’s not going to hand out the top tier stuff straight away. Yet finding the necessary materials to upgrade seems more fitting of a Metroidvania, which rewards exploration, than a rogue that usually has one direction.
The other grumble, speaking of reward, is in the health system. See, HaND has a similar mechanic to Bloodborne, of all things: a life bar with a maximum amount that can be decreased. Potions, or Anima, come in blue and gold forms. Blue restores health, whilst the gold version restores health and the damaged maximum.
But again, the restorative qualities (especially early on) are negligible compared to the damage Death takes. Many a time did I find myself entering a boss fight with little health, no Anima, and said boss dealing a lot of damage in singular hits. Is it indicative of my skill level, or is the game unfair? Perhaps that’s something you all need to experience individually.
Catching Your Death
In conclusion, Have a Nice Death is a blast, if a little on the challenging side. It’s got a dark-and-also-colourful visual style, thanks to its varying hubs, alongside well-written and funny dialogue. Again, to make that Cartoon Network comparison of humour that’s both base level giggles and high-brow witticisms and meta-culture references.
The gameplay has its difficulties, some that come with the rogue label, others that feel cheap for the sake of it. Fortunately for the former, HaND does have a few adjustable difficultly levels. The latter, however, can’t be helped. It’s just a case of grinning and bearing.
Overall, I highly recommend Have a Nice Death. I thought I’d feel burnt out with rogues right off the back of Trinity Fusion, but I would say I had more fun with this one. If Trinity Fusion is your serious, Toonami rogue, HaND is your Amazing World of Gumball: childish humour and adult crassness.
Proving that even the Grim Reaper can’t catch a break, Have a Nice Death is another rogue filled with snappy combat, gorgeous visuals and slick writing. It’s hard, and sometimes doesn’t feel rewarding, but it’s definitely worth the grind. Feeling like Death never felt so good.
Have a Nice Death is available now on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Xbox One and Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Developer: Magic Design Studios
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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