Have a Nice Death on PC
It will never fail to be impressive how the roguelike genre manages to incentivize dying. You take a core part of the gameplay that everyone is trying to avoid and make it vital to progression in a way that doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out. Amazingly, Have a Nice Death has managed to iterate on that concept in a refreshing way despite the bar being set so high.
In Dead Cells, there’s a crazy amount of weapons and items to unlock and find. Cult of the Lamb makes players want to go on crusade runs with the sole objective of building up a certain stat or collect important resources. Hades combines a flurry of stackable abilities with an ever-progressing narrative.
Have a Nice Death manages to do all of this in one way or another and adds its own unique mechanics and incentives for being okay with dying. Which makes sense, considering the literal name of the game.
To start, there’s an almost endless combination of weapons, spells, and curses to stack in this game. Alongside his trusty scythe, of which there are different forms (one for range, speed, strength, and balance), Death can wield everything from a rocket launcher to a pet slime that will go out and attack his enemies.
Curses are also super important, as they’re abilities that act as buffs for Death or imbue his weapons with status effects that’ll harm his enemies. The problem is that the more you unlock, the more risks and penalties the HR department will enact on you.
While you may love the fact that you’ve gotten your burn effect on your scythe to a high level, the fact that it came with something like higher enemy attack power might not have made the risk worth the reward. Thankfully, there’s a pretty good balance to this, making it so that Death feels plenty powerful without making combat too easy, either.
It’s because of that balance that I ended up with a new building or approach that I found myself saying “oh, this is my new favorite” almost every run. Where one run I’d be obsessed with the distance scythe with a lightning effect combined with heat-seeking arrows and fireballs to make the ultimate ranged build, the next was all about DPS and close-ranged thanks to the heavy scythe and Poisoned Gift stack.
It’s honestly just crazy how many different combos you can make in the game. The catch is that you’ll need to spend the gold you earn from each run in the hub world to even get the opportunity to find these weapons. While definitely steep, there are plenty of objectives throughout each level that you can complete to get a discounted rate.
So if the objective is to kill a certain miniboss four times and you’ve already done it twice, you can now get whatever its reward was for 250 gold instead of 500. This is also the case for contracts and foods that can be found while roaming or purchased at the store during each run. Alternatively, you can also just spend your gold at the marked-up price and cut out the middle man if you’ve grinded enough, but it’s certainly a nice incentive to both save up your gold from each run and take specific paths.
For example, if you find yourself a bit low on a certain resource and want to stock up, then choose to follow that path at the end of the level. If you want to think in the long-term versus short-term with these choices, though then you’ll want to look more carefully at your choice of path.
While it would obviously be nice to go the health route to try and make sure you keep your health bar as full as you can and make things easier, sometimes the hard route will work out better. If you decided to fight one of the quick but difficult minibosses instead of the horde of enemies throughout one of the generic floors, the risk might pay off.
Not only do minibosses give you better rewards for the run that you’re on, but they’ll also provide you with more XP, gold, and even objective rewards. Even if you end up dying later on, the XP you earned will unlock better-starting incentives, while the gold can be invested into weapons, contracts, and foods that can be unlocked that’ll help you during the beginning, middle, and end of future runs.
Regardless of the decisions you make or the routes you take, it’s by no means going to be a cakewalk, even if you’re armed to the teeth. That’s because the variety of enemies that make up Have a Nice Death, including the small mobs on the way to the bosses, are versatile and deadly.
Sure, there’s definitely some pretty weak ones that just have basic ranged or melee attacks, but there are also plenty that either wield one powerful attack or multiple unique ones that might confuse you. For example, there’s one gun-like ad in the Pollutions Department that fires a tracer round that follows Death and explodes after a certain time.
However, that same enemy can also fire a horizontal beam that takes up the whole screen if given time to fire. While they obviously have their tells regarding which attack they’re about to do, it’s very easy to get hit by one of these when there is a room full of other enemies you’re trying to deal with simultaneously.
Yet, even despite the fact that the game has these sections where they’ll place you in a small room with a bunch of enemies, the chaos is always calculated and invigorating. Memorizing certain minion attack patterns and finding a way to avoid them while also dealing with the other attackers that might have different patterns is super satisfying.
And you’ll be thankful you did learn all of those patterns and moves, as the Sorrow, AKA the bosses of each world, that runs each department wields them each but with far more intensity. Just because you know that Mr. Gordon Grimes is going to throw sludge at you as his minions do, it doesn’t make it any easier to avoid, especially since he has more that do a lot more damage.
Combine all this with the fact that you’re usually walking into a Boss Fight with lower health after having dealt with not only their minions but previous Department heads, and you can see how Have a Nice Death might be a bit of a grind.
XP and Gold are definitely slow to accumulate, even during the longer runs, and health is easily the scarcest resource in the game, especially given how difficult or congested some areas are. If you are patient, though, Have a Nice Death does once again reward you in kind, as direct elevators to minibosses are unlocked after passing a specific level threshold.
This means that if you’ve put in the work, you won’t even have to deal with Brad or Grimes, as the elevators allow you to skip straight to whatever boss you’ve unlocked. Even given this option, I rarely found myself skipping out on going about each department, as there were also plenty of story elements to be found while exploring that I would have otherwise missed.
Those stories include a Koffee drinking competition between a zombie and a skeleton, a prank war started by the receptionist, or a strike in which the union boasted a ton of weird demands. It’s also worth noting that the art and design of each level and character are so detailed and well done.
You can really tell a lot of work went into the hand-drawn art and the dark comedy behind a lot of the characters, as everything from attacks to simple movements featured their own vibrant flourishes and colors. Simple things like seeing the slacker frat boy demon Brad with his feet up playing paddle ball before Death walks in, to the macabre look and attacks of W. Hung – a miniboss with a rope around his neck that went to hell for hanging himself – really do add up to make for quite the interesting array of characters and worldbuilding in Have a Nice Death.
As you progress and beat bosses multiple times, you’ll also have different conversations that build upon their character and even create new, more difficult bosses. Beating Brad a handful of times turns him into the super serious security guard he’s supposed to be while still, though he pretends he’s someone else -Brad’s bodyguard, AKA his own bodyguard – and is only following his orders to attack Death.
This is just one of the many different incentives to continue replaying Have a Nice Death, even after you manage to beat it the first time, as you’ll learn even more about the reasons why everyone is acting the way they are, leading to a multitude of different possible endings, including a secret one.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for roguelikes these days, but I can’t say enough good things about Have a Nice Death. The detail that’s gone into the designs for its level, characters, combat, and core gameplay loop is incredibly intricate and well thought out.
If you love a solid challenge that gives its players a justifiable reason to be okay with a trial-and-error approach to progression, then Have a Nice Death is the perfect pick for you. Being able to experiment with even more insane builds to replace your favorites while also hearing about what an HR nightmare all the employees are in its hilarious story is just the cherry on top. It manages to create yet another engrossing experience where you’re not only okay with dying but actively welcome it, which is a hard feat to achieve for a medium that’s so often known for punishing players for just that.
Here’s to hoping that Magic Design Studios gets the recognition it deserves for crafting one hell of an underworld experience and that it’ll be able to build upon it even more from here.
Reviewer: Andrew McMahon | Award: Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by Publisher.
- An endless array of Builds to experiment with.
- Death is incentiviced, making for a satisying gameplay loop.
- Lovingly hand crafted world full of colorful characters and dark humor.
- Challenging yet rewarding boss fights.
- Plenty of replayability.
- Rewards and leveling can be a bit of a grind.
March 22, 2023
Magic Design Studios
PC & Nintendo Switch