Everyone has bad days, even the CEO of Death Incorporated. Have A Nice Death is a 2D platformer-style roguelite that puts you in charge of an overworked Grim Reaper. There is more to do at Death Inc. than ever before, and after suffering a nervous breakdown as a result of being incredibly burned out, the big boss is back and ready to crack the whip.
The game sees Death making attempt after attempt to clean up the many departments of Death Inc., hacking and slashing through each one to blow off steam and treat his burnout in the process. At the end of each level you'll have a rather violent meeting with one of the Sorrows – the higher-ups at Death Inc. who are notorious for slacking off – but you'll have to defeat all manner of biome-specific enemies and Thanagers if you want to get that far.
I've invested an embarrassing amount of time into this game for someone who's barely made it past the first department. Difficulty balancing aside, it's a top-tier roguelite with kooky characters, beautiful artwork, and plenty of diabolical death and dying puns for good measure.
As a huge fan of Hades and some of the best roguelites, I was incredibly excited to play Have A Nice Death. It's only the second game from indie developer Magic Design Studios, and I love the idea of a rogue game with an underpinning storyline and vibrant characters, drawing you into it and making those permadeath moments a bit less frustrating. Just like in Hades, Have A Nice Death sees you playing one character over your many, many runs, and with each death you unlock a little more information about yourself and the world around you.
Death can interact with his wide-eyed intern Pump Quinn, or chat to the resident Death Inc. artist about switching up the decor. He can also eavesdrop on conversations between various characters in the breakroom, where you'll go after defeating each Sorrow for a moment of respite. These moments of planned storytelling amid the randomness of each procedurally-generated department chamber adds texture to the unique underworld of Death Inc., with new conversations popping up every so often and permanent unlockables available with the Gold you collect both during and after each run.
Unlike in Hades, however, the combat system is a little tougher to parse, and you'll find it challenging to construct specific builds from the outset. This is because your starting weapon stays the same, and the two additional weapons or spells that you can unlock over the course of your run are randomly generated. You can be assigned one at random from Jocelyn, who seems to be the elevator guardian of sorts by altering your run with contracts of varying conditions.
You can reroll her contracts at the beginning of each attempt, but you won't get to choose your weapon unless you've just purchased it from Joe's shop; the first time you buy a new weapon, you can select the "Joe's New Stuff" contract from Jocelyn's list to ensure you bring it with you. Contracts add special conditions that make each run unique, and once you've racked up enough XP, you'll be able to take on multiple contracts at once.
Because weapons and Curses (the game's answer to Boons, given to you intermittently) are random, there's no way of tailoring your build outright. This requires you to have a sage understanding of the different floors you can access in a department. The end of each floor takes you to an elevator, and here you'll be given a choice of where to go next. If you only have one weapon on you, check out the Equipment Storage level to get a guaranteed weapon drop. If it's life-giving anima or magic-fuelling mana you're after, check out the Vitam/Mana Department. You need to know how and when to top up your stats and gear on the fly, and this makes for a very steep learning curve.
Die, die again
Dying isn't a big deal in a roguelite or dungeon crawler, but winning still feels good. Thankfully, Have A Nice Death will take it easy on you when playing in Self-Fulfilment Mode. This gives you three animas at the start of each run, 50% more HP after defeating a Sorrow, and reduced damage taken by Minions in each level. Your animas will also replenish more health with each death, so each run should leave you feeling stronger for longer.
Again, this is similar to God Mode in Hades, albeit not quite as super-charged. I could certainly do with increased defence stats after each death, and the reduced damage from Minions definitely means you're in for a nasty surprise when you reach a Thanager or Sorrow since they can hit hard. It's frustrating to speed through regular levels with ease, using nothing more than your regular scythe and maybe one anima to seal the deal, only to be confronted with the might of Brad Proudfoot's boulder rain attack.
It's very much a matter of patience, and it did me some good to learn each boss's attack pattern so I could dodge, jump, and hit them with a heavy attack while they prepare. Both your own attacks and those of your enemies can be interrupted, but I do love hitting a Thanager with a heavy whack of the light saber-like Slaygore to shave off those last few health points.
Even though it's almost impossible to guarantee a specific spell or weapon spawn, my favorites include the Bees (especially if you have the Poison Curse to deal damage over time), the Revelation Bow, the Selenite scythe, and the Lybris Skulls spell. Basically, ranged attacks are my friend, because I spend most of my time dodging incoming ones and building up charge for a Frenzy Attack.
Have A Nice Death is all about trial and error. Whether you like to get up close and personal with piercing sword attacks, pummel your foes with magic spells, or allow some venomous bees to do your dirty work for you, one of the beauties of a roguelite is the fact that there are many ways to achieve the same goal. As difficult as this one is, it's been a delight getting to know the many faces of Death Incorporated. It's surprising how quickly I've grown attached to a Grim Reaper, but here we are.
If you're already excited for Hades 2, here's everything we know about the game so far.