Review: Have a Nice Death [Switch]
A rogue-like Grim Reaping morbidly good time
The lead-up to Gearbox Publishing’s Have a Nice Death has been long. We’ve covered many aspects of the game leading up to the release, from the well-rounded trope of the afterlife as a bureaucracy to the history of the Grim Reaper himself. But how does the final product hold up?
If you’re just joining us, Have a Nice Death is a 2D platformer rogue-like adventure in which you take on the role of Death himself. This overworked Grim Reaper, after eons getting buried in paperwork, must dust of his trusty scythe and knock his subordinates into place. Along the way he acquires skills, curses, battle moves and occasional assistance from those still loyal in the company.
Beautifully rendered graphic grays
Visually, the backgrounds are amazing. The hand-painted worlds really invoke a bleak, over-loaded with paperwork, reality. The expressive use of multiple shades of blacks, grays and whites only help draw the player into the battlefield Death must traverse. While the levels all have a similar feel to them, there are various environmental elements to keep things distinct. This gives enough variety that keeps everything from looking recycled.
It’s also nice to see enemies themed to their environment as well. Evil cupcakes and soda will attack you in the Toxic Food Processing Department while you run past mountains of junk food and old neon signage. The in-game battle animations are relatively smooth, too, giving combat a much more visually pleasing transitions when shifting between combos and a variety of weapons.
These visuals are paired with a jazzy score of Halloween-esque music. A keen ear will pick out theremins and didgeridoos and bongos, giving the game a fun yet ethereal quality. One almost wishes Oingo Boingo were still around as this world is perfect for their musical stylings. There are some comedic tracks like the loading screen muzak elevator ride and the record scratch when Death gets hit mid-combo. Amidst the dark themes, the gibberish the characters emote adds an unexpected cuteness to this world.
Scythe in hand
When it comes to gameplay, there is no question Have a Nice Death is on the high end of ‘hard.’ Just on its base difficulty level, the game is a grind. Even the (barely non-existent) character progression really just expands the weapons and purchases you can make before each run. Dexterity and reflexes are what you need to outmaneuver the many, many enemies that simply exist to hurt you. Don’t plan on thinking you can level Death’s stats high enough to lower the difficulty, this isn’t like playing a New Game +.
The variety and innovation in the boss fights, and indeed, several of the regular minions, offer a surprising number of challenges. The game doesn’t want you to just spam the attack button. Narrowly dodging a barrage of fast-hitting strikes is almost a more important part of the gameplay. And when you finally reach a boss, they do NOT pull their punches, even on the easiest setting. Repetition, memory, and timing are what you need to succeed.
Eventually elevators will unlock, allowing Death to skip some of the slog through stages and directly face a big boss. However, this is not a warp zone, but more setting you up for a ‘brutal’ type challenge. If you skip a level, you also skip all the currency, upgrades, and Curses you would have earned on those floors. Although, the elevators do give you choices on which TYPE of level to visit next. Once you learn which floors are more valuable than others, you can craft your urn to maximize bonuses and improve your progression.
Curses and currency
Occasionally, you’ll be given the option to select a new Curse that will directly enhance Death’s abilities in some way. They come in red, blue, and green, and they have a variety of effects, from infusing your attacks with lightning or decreasing you dodge cooldown. The more of a particular color you get, the stronger the ability. But there are tradeoffs. The amount of damage you take from certain enemies, for example. While a great addition to gameplay, Curses definitely leave room for experimentation and their random nature ensures no two runs will be identical.
Ingots are the currency of Have a Nice Death. Every new unlock has a price. Most can be bought with collected ingots, like new equipment and power-ups. Some items are discounted based of fulfilling tasks and challenges, like killing a set number of enemies with a certain weapon or defeating a level X number of times. These aren’t exactly like trophies or achievements, but a way to earn the bonuses if you’re the sort that hoards your in-game finances.
To beat the afterlife, you must think like Death
Strategy will be your key to surviving Have a Nice Death’s challenges. It will take time to learn which weapons are most effective against what bosses and need to be used in which levels. The completely uncompromising challenge on each run does make progress feel truly ‘earned.’ To really excel, it will take practice, practice, practice. And this is one of the game’s downfalls, as it will definitely be problem for anyone who does not have the time or patience to really get into the game’s mechanics.
On a performance side, the game could use some tightening up. As I only played the Switch version, there was a slight difference between playing docked versus undocked. Mainly load times vary between 15 to 30 seconds between each floor. While that sounds relatively low, they do add up since each level is only a minute or two to complete. Load times undocked were slightly shorter than when streaming to the television.
At the end of the day, Have a Nice Death, in genuinely fun. You will laugh, struggle, possibly rage-quit. But it’s friendly enough that you’ll want to come back. There’s more than enough challenge to compel you to try to get ‘just that much further’ on your next run. And, as the game greets you each time with, “Welcome to the Afterlife!” you might find yourself staying for a spell.
Have a Nice Death is available on Nintendo Switch and in the Steam Store.
Have you played this fun, Death-centric platformer? Leave us a comment or review!
A visually beautiful 2D roguelike platformer with a fun story and adorable characters. While a little repetitive on some levels, the power-ups and bonuses keep it interesting for repeated playability.