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Have A Nice Death - Review


It feels like humor in video games is pretty difficult to land nowadays. That isn’t to say humor is bad or games shouldn’t attempt to be funny. I enjoy a good laugh every now and then, and once in a while I attempt to plug some jokes into my reviews. To spice things up and keep everything a tad bit more interesting. What I mean is that nailing a specific sense of humor is pretty hard as you don’t want your audience to get tired of it too quickly. Borderlands being the best example of this. Not only do these games become repetitive too quickly, but you realize a crack ton of the jokes seem to focus around exaggerated violence, sex, swears, poop, or a combination of every element I just listed. I don’t hate poop jokes, but your jokes need weight and decent enough build up for it to actually work. Half of the jokes of Borderlands do not land, to me at least. Portal 2 on the other hand is a humorous game that works. Every joke focuses on something different rather than circle around the same ideas, and are told at the right moment. You could deal with sarcastic AI rambling on about how insignificant you are while solving her manufactured tests. Or you could be listening to pre-recordings of the founder and how dumb half the experiments he funded were as you solved tests in the lower run down sections of Aperture Science. 


Then you have titles like the Like A Dragon or Shovel Knight series where they play on the fact they are video games. You are supposed to be having fun, so they give you wacky content to go participate in. Then when it’s time to tackle the story seriously they deliver the rawest moments in video games. What I’m trying to say is that humor can or cannot work depending on how you handle it. Which finally brings us onto today’s topic, Have A Nice Death. A 2D action roguelike made by independent developers Magic Design Studios. I know Gearbox handled the publishing and they’re considered a Triple A company, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Anyways, this is a game I’ve been keeping a close eye on ever since they revealed it during the Game Awards back in 2021. They got Kevan Brighting, the VA for The Stanley Parable narrator, to narrate for the trailer and they showed off some really cool gameplay footage of their upcoming project. It was a nicely animated game with a distinct monochromatic art style, and you should all know I love good 2D animation. Being an animator or artist is hard , and getting animation to work well alongside your video game is tricky.


Have A Nice Death was released in early access shortly afterwards and ever since then I’ve been watching the development for this game. Seeing what cool additions they added with time until they eventually released the complete version last year. It wasn’t until late last year I picked it up during a sale, and since then it’s been sitting on my backlog.  I played it every now and then, and recently I sat down to play it until I achieved one successful run. Have A Nice Death is a pretty good roguelike. In fact, I would go far to say this is a fantastic roguelike and it’s one of the more standout titles in a bloated genre. It has a distinct identity, visual style, and for a game aiming for a light edgy sense of humor it achieves its goals. I like it and I’ll say right now it’s worth picking up. It’s when you start comparing it to roguelikes of the same design that it falls off a bit. If you were to look at Dead Cells or Rogue Legacy you realize they have a lot more depth compared to Have A Nice Death. This is a game that is really fun to play for the first few hours, but with time you begin to notice either weird design choices or ideas that feel a little shallow. Still, I do think this is a great game and it is one of the better roguelikes in the market. Hot take, but I may prefer it over Rogue Legacy 2. Today we’re gonna be talking about why I liked Have A Nice Death and why it deserves your attention. Time to show these fools that you’re one hell of a boss. 


Story


For generations mankind has prospered. Living their lives to the utmost fullest and evolving the world around them. However, humans can’t live forever and that’s where you come in. You are Death, the grim reaper himself, and your job is to harvest souls when someone is just about ready to expire. You walk up to them, swipe your scythe at them, and thus they are whisked off to the afterlife. You’ve been doing this job for quite a long time now. Through countless wars, rising religions, plagues, mass murders, and so on. You were in control of people’s destiny until finally you snapped. Death grew tired of bringing souls to rest, so he found some workarounds. He then created a system that brought souls to him without having to travel the world constantly. Using his powers he summoned Sorrows, ferocious beings who would do the major work for him. He then created an office for which he could work in, and whenever the Sorrows brought upon more death he would sign the papers to help the souls they collected move on. Death’s job became more manageable, but as he signed he became weaker. 


He grew tinier and the Sorrows started to see Death, their boss, as a coward. They began going against his rules, and one day they decided to start a competition. See which of them could bring the most souls possible. They took on different manifestations and created things such as disease, pollution, drug addiction, war, and so on. Too many souls began to enter the afterlife and Death’s job became stressful. Documents transformed into mountains and something had to be done. It was time for Death to put his robe back on and show everyone who he once was. The reaper is back and he was ready to slap sense into the madness he created. However, things are gonna be tougher than he thinks as the Sorrows have grown powerful. He’ll be killed again and again, but nothing's gonna stop him from showing everyone who's boss. Maybe he’ll even take a vacation when all of this is over. Who knows.


Gameplay


The best way I can describe Have A Nice Death is that it’s a slightly simple take of Dead Cells. If you don’t know, Dead Cells is another 2D action roguelike and one of the more popular ones. This game borrows a few ideas from Dead Cells and in some cases it puts a fun twist on them. Like in Dead Cells you rush through levels, hack your way through enemies, obtain upgrades, & try to make your way to the next floor/boss. You pick up upgrades during your travels to increase things such as maximum health and mana to use special skills, but the most major ones have to be the curses. Whereas Dead Cells had stats you leveled up during your runs here you are given three perk categories. One deals with the strength of physical attacks, one deals with survival and healing, and the last one deals with mana and magic. The more you level up one of the categories the higher ranked the next curse of that category will. The higher ranked a perk is the potency of said curse shall become, but that’s if you hadn’t selected said curse earlier. That’s why the game gives you a rare resource known as Curse Re-rolls. These allow you to reroll a curse choice if you want to save one for later or have a chance of getting something you want. Perfect for if you want to tackle certain builds or have specific plans for runs you wish to get far into. 


To offer variety during runs you have a wide selection of tools to use. Two main categories being scythes and cloak abilities. Scythes are your main form of attack. The ones you’ll be mashing the button for the most. You have your basic scythe which is well rounded and you’ll always have the ability to start a run with. Sometimes you’ll get a second option like the duel scythes which sacrifice attack speed for higher damage output. This mini scythe that is tied to a rope which you can swing around at high speeds. One scythe you unlock later on is basically a greatsword that you can slam into the ground to increase the damage of the next hit. You have your basic three hit combo, but you also have a charged attack. An uppercut, downward slam, aerial attack, ground attack, and so on. In some ways in plays like Super Smash Bros seeing how combo mad you can be at times. Cloak abilities are secondary attacks you can pick up during runs. Some will have a cooldown timer and others will use energy from the mana meter. These abilities range from spears that thrust you forward, a bow and arrow, hammer, colossal sword, bees for some reason, explosive shot, and much more. Knowing when to whip these out during fights can make difficult scenarios a bit more trivial. You also have an ultimate meter that builds up the more you kill foes. This can be triggered to unleash deadly attacks that kill multiple foes at once. 


Now this is a roguelike and you are going to die. When you die you are shown a level up screen. You get gold depending on how many floors you traversed through, how many enemies you slay, and how many bosses you managed to beat. You also get experience points for a level gauge. If these gauge increases you unlock an upgrade like starting a run with an extra heal charge, or if you progress enough are able to skip to the end of a section. Really good, especially during the late game. Afterwards you are kicked back to your office which is a home of operations. Here you can spend gold you earned to unlock new gear. Tools that may prove helpful if you get them during runs. When you are ready to move on you enter through a doorway, but you can also go tackle an optional challenge. This challenge may ask you to fulfill something specific such as clear the first world in a certain amount of time, or kill enemies in a small period of time. Do this and you may get a helpful reward. If not a deadly penalty. Besides that there’s nothing much else I can say about Have A Nice Death. It’s pretty simplistic when you take a close look at it, but it is ultimately a really fun game. Hopefully you can slay the Sorrows and prove ‘em who's in charge.


Thoughts


Have A Nice Death was really fun for the time I played it. It isn’t the most compelling roguelike I’ve played and in some cases it struggled, but for the most part it’s confident. The combat which is one of the main focuses of this game is impactful and fluid. Every attack seems to have this mighty slam to it, and slaying foes releases this nice gushy burst sound. There’s a nice variety of enemies to keep you on your heels, and seeing how every room ends with a short enemy barrage it forces you to play reactively. Dodge around foes, hit them with flurries, and get combo mad. I wouldn’t say you are pushed to perform perfectly. Some cloak abilities you can ignore and you could technically beat the game using just scythe attacks. However, there’s enough room for you to approach each scenario differently especially if you know how to use your tools’ potential. I found the most useful cloak attack to be the hammer, because while it has a long windup and can leave you easily exposed it does make up for it by killing a majority of enemies in one hit. Boss fights are a real highlight of this game as they take on weird designs usually matching that of the department they rule. Like the pollution section is ruled by the muddy creature or the food section has the fast food restaurant mascot who takes off the cute look to whip out a chainsaw.


The art style is also going to be another huge selling point for players. It’s 2D animated and the color palette is monochromatic. Everything is black and white, but just because it’s bleak does not mean it’s a soulless experience. You see what I did there. Near the beginning of this review I talked about humor in games, and for the most part Have A Nice Death contains some nice witty humor. Whether that be making fun of the cycle of life, or how crummy it is to work in a boring corporate office space. The cast of characters isn’t too big, but they are memorable due to their personalities and designs. I like this little pumpkin secretary who likes to speak to you at the start of every run. He’s quite cheery and helps remind you there are good people to meet in the lowest of places. Now this is where I move into some of the more divisive aspects of the game. Things I think were handled alright enough, but might divide players on whether this is a good roguelike or not. One of the most crucial aspects that makes a good roguelike is variety. The encounters & progression you make during every run, because if every run were to be the same then the replay value of a roguelike rockets downward. Have A Nice Death has a considerate amount of variety, but not as much compared to something like Dead Cells or Brutal Orchestra.


Level design is strictly linear for the most part. You do occasionally get rewarded for exploring areas, but the rewards for doing so aren’t great. There’s always one exit at the end of each room, and this exit gives you one of three paths. On one hand they could scatter multiple exits about which could increase exploration. However, this could also make floors go on way longer than they should and confuse the player more seeing how every path looks the same. Like there is a solution, but I don’t know how they could’ve handled it. I’d say I’m fine with the linearity, as again this game prioritizes combat and it does it really well. I found the game fairly challenging for the most part, but there were a couple times the game’s difficulty curved or felt too easy. The first boss becomes laughable after a few runs. In fact, I beat him on the first run because he has very few attacks to use and they are all really easy to dodge. Some bosses can be beaten in a few seconds if you just spam your cloak abilities whenever they are available, or if you have the ultimate attack prepared beforehand. Then you have moments that just screw you up the butt. My least favorite thing about Have A Nice Death has to be its healing system. The way it works is that you carry three healing charges max. You have normal healing charges and powered healing charges. When you get hit you lose health, but a portion of your health bar is gray. So I thought to myself it would be like Bloodborne where that faded portion of the health bar could be recovered if I retaliate back, but no it turns out that’s what I can recover if I use a regular healing charge. Any bit beyond the faded bit can’t be recovered if you use a regular heal. This is stupid. Healing charges are really rare, and the fact that you only carry three max makes this even more punishing for an already hard game.


I can understand this design choice getting players to perform more perfectly, but if anything this discourages them from playing more actively. Now I was a bit iffy on the progression system at first. The main major upgrades you get from leveling aren’t the best, and the tools you purchase with gold are things you may not even get during runs. It feels like you make little advancement, but I eventually opened up to it. I thought it would have the NecroDancer problem whereas if you buy more things you decrease the chance of getting something that is useful. Instead, you just unlock better tools than your starting ones, which I kinda like. I already said that I love the art direction, but it does come at a cost. As flashy as the animation is, it leads to visual clutter and chaos during fights. This is especially not good when you are fighting in a small space with a ton of foes coming at you. I especially felt this with the army major fight, the last boss in the game, as his attacks just overflow the screen and screwing up just a little bit leads to a quick loss. This game is satisfying to master, and once I finally got him it felt exhilarating. I had beaten this darn game, but then the game told me I had to achieve another successful run to properly beat it. I’m not gonna say this is bad, baby the end I was feeling ready to be done.  Have A Nice Death, again, is a great game. I do recommend it for its fun combat loop and nice animation, but if you’re a veteran of the roguelike genre you might struggle to get into this one. I loved it and that’s good enough in my book. I give this game an 8.5/10 for being pretty good.



This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

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