It has been roughly a year since Gearbox Publishing and Magic Design Studios released Have a Nice Death on Steam Early Access. After a tough year at the office, Death is finally ready to make his presentation to the board of PC and console players, as the game is finally reaching its 1.0 update. While there isn't too much that's changed about it mechanically since the last time we checked it out, that's certainly not a bad thing, because Have a Nice Death is a fine roguelike platformer that's worth clocking in for.
The story of Have a Nice Death is a simple one. Players are in the role of Death himself, who has had enough of the influx of departed souls entering his domain. The Grim Reaper is badly in need of a vacation, so he needs to deal with the Sorrows, appointed ghouls and baddies who have been taking their jobs a little too seriously and making far more work for Death than he can keep up with.
Players will journey across the various floors and departments of Death Incorporated in order to take down the Sorrows, cut down on the flood of souls, and help Death regain his former power, as a result. Most of the game consists of 2D combat, light platforming, and a roguelike presentation that sees Death becoming gradually more powerful with each failed run.
Combat feels quick and responsive with players utilizing variants of Death's signature scythe, which hits hard, covers a long range, and can often hit more than one target. As far as standard weapons go, it's a strong one and it was rare that I would resort to other means of attack, especially as I grew familiar with most enemy attack patterns.
It's also possible to pick up secondary and tertiary attack spells. These can consist of ranged spells, melee weapons with different properties, bows, magic, and a host of other abilities. These weapons themselves feel fun to use, but the issue with them is the way their stats are presented. The color coded spells and their attached numbers sometimes got confusing, especially as cursed drawbacks were introduced, so I eventually stopped worrying about what the various numbers meant and relied more on attacks that were fun to use, like the javelin and the homing fire arrows.
Fortunately, success in Have a Nice Death is more than picking the right weapon. It rewards paying attention and learning enemy patterns. Before long, players can breeze through each floor's lower chambers, pick up the right mixture of stat buffs, and hold their own in the later boss battles, which can get grueling. The experience over time starts to feel rewarding, especially as the game eventually lets you skip more tedious sections.
Hell is other coworkers
While the combat is fun in itself, it's the mixture of office humor and colorful characters that make Have a Nice Death a pleasure to repeat again and again. Players will meet oddball characters like inside-out personal trainer Harriet and dry HR worker T. O'Shea. On top of speaking to them personally, players will often encounter Death's various employees talking amongst themselves as they walk through the different break rooms or at the start of each floor.
While the dialogue can be funny, it's Death's dialogue with his Sorrows that start to get a case of the Mondays. Fight a boss enough times (given that it's a roguelike, this is inevitable) and you'll eventually reach a point where you'll see the same jokes more than once. Other roguelikes have been very good about keeping things more dynamic and while Have a Nice Death does that in most instances, it isn't perfect.
Like office life, the stage layouts can also get repetitive. Have a Nice Death is meant to operate on procedurally generated stages, but too often I came across levels that felt too similar to one another. It's the worst of both worlds at work. The levels change so often that it's impossible to plan an efficient path, but the layouts aren't varied enough to feel intriguing.
The boss, baby
Have a Nice Death is both fun and rewarding enough that I enjoyed returning for repeat runs. There are a few things that didn't quite work, like the more repetitive level design, some of the confusing stat numbers, and some of the repetitive humor, but Magic Design Studios has still put together a compelling roguelike. The combat is buttery smooth, the art style manages to be vibrant while retaining a dreary color scheme, and there are enough secrets to keep players engaged for the long haul. It might not be Employee of the Month when it comes to roguelikes, but Have a Nice Death is strong enough to warrant a positive employee evaluation.
This review is based on an advance copy of the Have a Nice Death 1.0 update via a Steam digital code provided by the publisher. Have a Nice Death will release on PC and Nintendo Switch on March 22 for $24.99 USD, but is currently available on PC through Steam Early Access. The game is rated T.
Have a Nice Death
- Engaging roguelike gameplay loop
- Fluid combat with strong weapon variety
- Fun, off-the-wall characters
- Eye-catching art style and character design
- Dialogue can sometimes get repetitive
- Procedural level design can feel too similar