The 2D action roguelike category of games is densely populated these days, especially as an influx of new indie titles over the last few years has continued to delight old and new fans alike. As such, it takes a little extra something to not only survive but flourish in one of gaming’s oldest genres. Have a Nice Death manages to slice through the crowded field with gorgeous visuals, a plethora of weapons and spells, and fun boss and mini-boss fights that are difficult but somehow remain entertaining even after repeated play-throughs. It succeeds in standing out as a deeply enjoyable and rare treat, and Have a Nice Death should be added to most gamers’ must-play list of titles launching during the month of March.
Although the main story crafted by developer Magic Design Studios starts off feeling pretty simplistic, the game’s lore and story still manage to keep one’s attention and become much deeper than what is seen at first glance. Death is tired of the non-stop killing he has to do and decides to give the task to various department heads of his company Death Inc., only to find that they are too eager with this task and almost bury Death underneath a mountain of paperwork. Feeling burnt out and rejecting the nitty-gritty work of pushing papers all day, Death decides to take his subordinates to task for their behavior.
Before too long, players will get hints that something else is afoot as well, adding more reasons to keep slaying while traversing the many floors of Death’s company. Players should be prepared for the live, die, repeat gameplay loop all while trying to discover the game’s various side missions alongside the main story. It might be basic at its core, but it will still manage to keep players engaged while choosing which level or difficulty setting to battle through and stays fun while trying to find the game’s multiple endings.
The art style of the game might seem almost too ‘cutesy’ at first glance, but Have a Nice Death deserves praise for its fetching and sometimes facetious visuals. It sports deep and detailed backgrounds that don’t steal attention but still manage to set the immersive tone for each level and each section in dynamic ways. The various level structures and layouts flow together seamlessly, giving users a dynamic sense of battling through the various floors and areas of Death Inc. The game can also switch up backgrounds and foreground styles for various levels on each run, keeping an overall theme but changing details. So instead of moving through a library players might find themselves instead traversing an overgrown garden. It helps with staving off visual boredom and also does affect some of the level design by generating maps that require more vertical movement than horizontal, as well as being a way to introduce new enemies.
Along with each area of Death Inc. carrying its own overall theme, the character designs are a quirky beacon of creativity, though early on it can feel like there are too few enemy varieties within each area. Since the game starts by the reception desk of Death Inc., the area is full of neatly dressed office worker enemies with flames for heads as well as books that shoot paper airplanes with an enjoyable jet fly-by sound. Later enemies might be as simple as a walking and smoldering cigarette in areas dealing with addiction, or a heart with arms that explodes after getting hit enough times. Although players will find themselves facing only a variety of five to six enemy types in an area, each is expertly designed with a hearty mix of comical and menacing, and this extends to the bosses and mini-bosses as well. Regardless of if they are larger or smaller than Death, most bossses have attacks that take up or reach across the entire area, forcing players to learn to dodge with an invulnerable dash. The mini-bosses are especially enjoyable, and even though their designs might appear more simplistic and cartoon-like than others, there are a few that will instill even more fear than the end-of-level bosses.
Character animations are well done, with almost none appearing to move or animate erratically unless their design calls for it. Even the amorphous blobs that change into various enemies transition smoothly and use their fluidity to their advantage. Death himself is a great example of the care that went into the game’s character design and animation. Though he doesn’t possess legs or feet and floats above the ground, Death’s attack animations are brilliantly done, as his cloak itself morphs into the various weapons he finds. Changing from a bow to a spear is done with no wasted frames, and allows quick change-ups when attacking enemies in order to string multiple attacks together.
Not to say there are only bows and spears to choose from; the game really shines when showing off its arsenal. Death has a small variety of his well-known scythes available as his primary weapon and each one offers different attack animations, speeds, and reach distance. After choosing the main scythe weapon, the game’s options expand drastically larger with Spells and Cloak weapons.
Discoverable in various areas or bought using currencies found while playing, spells in Have a Nice Death run the gamut from silly to severe with a wild assortment in between. Some are as basic as summoning a small blob that rushes out and chomps repeatedly in front of the user, while some offer increased damage at the cost of health buffs. As they unlock more spells, users will feel that some are more useful than others, but even the most unassuming spells can be buffed to the point they become powerhouses against regular enemies and even some bosses. Most are cast-able on the run as well, negating the need to stop moving in order to unleash them. Players can also opt to carry two spells instead of a Cloak weapon and build their character to be a magic-only champion.
Players can also choose a pair of Cloak weapons and neglect their mana pool and spells entirely. Choosing a spear that lunges forward as it deals damage or a bow that fires tracking arrows or a rapier that quickly stabs at enemies three times allows for much greater freedom in choosing how someone wants to tackle their next run. There are seemingly as many of these weapons as there are spells to choose from, so players will have even more options. As well as their regular forward attacks, some Cloak weapons have different moves based on the direction the user is pressing when they’re activated. For example, a spear might stab upwards instead of forwards based on the directional input when activated. Not all Cloak weapons change in this way, so testing and trying the vast variety of options is a gratifying, and needed step.
The last combat system that will influence every other choice is Frenzy attacks: super attacks that can be used with each and every weapon and spell that usually cause havoc and damage across wide portions of the screen. These large attacks change based on what is equipped, and will also affect a player’s decision-making process on if or when to exchange one weapon for another. The gauge for Frenzy attacks builds during combat, and users will be able to use this to clear harder or congested areas easily or choose to save them for the boss or mini-boss encounters, though it is usually easy to fill the gauge as the fight goes on. Most have an invulnerable window when they’re first cast, so quick-thinking users can activate Frenzy attacks in an effort to avoid damage as well.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Have a Nice Death is the mesmerizing variety it offers for play styles and build choices. The game allows players to experiment to find what they like, though during some runs players may find themselves stuck with their least favorite choices. This will most likely be a negative aspect to many while fighting to progress through the game, but others will find that merely being forced to improve their skills with a variety of fighting styles negates their boredom. As the player levels, a few options for choosing specific scythe weapons open up, but even those are still at the whim of the dreaded RNG gods. There will be weapons and spells a player seems to see only once after 20 hours of playing, which can be a bit sad after finding something incredibly fun or powerful.
On top of the plethora of weapon and spell choices, are the games Curses. While the word curse usually implies something negative, in Have a Nice Death most are actually beneficial. Normally given at the end of boss fights or found in a specific area that a player can choose to traverse, these curses offer a variety of bonuses that can entirely change the way a user chooses to build Death’s weapons and skills during their run. The game does well balancing the positives and negatives in such a complicated system, though there were a few oddities experienced during the review process. Being given the choice between all store prices being increased by either 10% or 50% as the negative options is silly, but it is easy to recognize how hard it could be trying to balance an RNG system such as this.
The writing throughout the game maintains a sarcastic and witty streak from beginning to end, noticeable mostly in the dialogue between Death and his subordinates and the employee handbook. The handbook contains information on everything within the game, from spells and weapons to enemy descriptions that unlock as Death fights more of the same enemy. These can range from basic background stories to absolutely hilarious and well-written observations about specific minions. Death’s interactions with his subordinates are very funny as well, as they send him on various mini-quests to find lost items such as a shoe or just to mess with other characters. Some characters seeming reliance on coffee was a neat addition as well, though running through all the dialogue options quickly means there isn’t much talking to them anymore until certain thresholds or specific requirements are met.
There are a few noticeable and inescapable issues with Have a Nice Death, though like most things they are subjective and may or may not annoy users. Though the areas are pretty to look at, there is the issue of constantly traveling through the same areas over and over again. If played long enough, most users will get a feel for the way the game decides to lay out its levels, and this removes the fear of getting lost within an area. Similarly, slaughtering the same flaming-headed office workers over and over does dull the enjoyment a little, especially when the game forces the player into walled-off sections that require Death to defeat everyone to proceed.
The game’s music and sound design are also enjoyable, though after listening to it loop repeatedly it does become rather stale. Magic Design Studios also made the choice of including a sort of record-scratch effect whenever Death is hit by something, which some will find more annoying than helpful. It really only becomes useful when losing sight of Death during a dash, and hearing the sound can help players realize they didn’t end up in the correct spot. It is one of those choices that makes sense, but still is a little distracting whenever it occurs. The little tune that plays whenever Death is sent back to his office, however, will stick in a player’s head long after their play session.
Though the game is in early access right now, Magic Design Studios and publisher Gearbox Publishing have promised new content with the 1.0 release on March 22. These will include new Cloak weapons and Spells, a new area to explore, 600 new lines of dialogue, new quests to find and solve, and more. Fans who have already deeply explored the afterlife during early access will have plenty of reasons to make time to return to the floors of Death Inc.
Have a Nice Death is a gorgeous, weapon-filled adventure that could slice and dice its way to the top of the roguelike genre. Its almost ‘cutesy’ nature plays well against the sometimes dark themes it contains, but the vast array of weapon and spell combinations will be what draws and then keeps players within the walls of Death Inc. It has the rare ability to be enjoyable for both the high-difficulty, build-crafting RNG fans and the more casual crowd. Players will delight with its sublime art, memorable fights, and its well-crafted, lore-filled world. If someone has to be Death, Have a Nice Death is going to make it enjoyable.
Have a Nice Death is currently in early access and will officially release on March 22 for PC and Switch. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.