PC, Nintendo Switch
March 8, 2023
Magic Design Studios
Have a Nice Death is a thematic 2D rogue-lite side scroller with a lot of charm. With highly renowned games like Hades, Cult of the Lamb and Dead Cells ruling the charts, it is always exciting to get a new spin on the rogue-lite genre. Have a Nice Death delivers exactly what is needed in the space. A strong content warning is present and shouldn’t be taken lightly, because whilst Have a Nice Death looks cute and charming, there are some really dark and heavy themes throughout.
Have a Nice Death brings a rich story full of thematic characters and ongoing storylines. The cinematics and story are incredibly endearing and very entertaining to watch. You play as Death, the Founder and CEO of Death Incorporated – a sprawling corporate empire that processes souls for the afterlife. You learn that Death has outsourced his reaping to his executives the “Sorrows” so he can have more time for himself. However, it seems to go horribly wrong as the Sorrows are reaping so many souls that Death is just stuck in his office filling out mountains of paperwork. Which is honestly any being’s worst nightmare! Deciding he has had enough, Death goes out to give his minions a stern talking to and take back control. This doesn’t go to plan as the Sorrows (bosses) are now drunk with power and dare to challenge your greatness! It seems Death has been gone for so long in the upper management offices that none of his minions recognise or respect him anymore. It’s up to you to now whip your minions back into shape, one department at a time! But it is really not as easy as it sounds.
“The hardest thing to ever do when creating comedic dialogue is to not push or overextend the jokes.”
An aspect that gamers enjoyed with Hades was the mass amounts of lore and dialogue that the characters had between themselves and how it rarely, if ever, repeated. The team behind Have a Nice Death has listened to the praise and has built robust characters and lore just waiting for you to experience. Thematically, the subject of death is quite dark but there is a lot of humour laced in.
The overarching story of Death reclaiming his company is consistent with his employees and assistants helping. The first Sorrow ‘Dave’ can be a little difficult to defeat on the first few attempts, so you’ll find the staff ‘gossiping’ about how Dave had the gall to talk back to you. Harriet will encourage you to try again, or berate you for not being able to manage him. You’ll find new dialogue each time you return to your office and it revolves around how you failed each time. Events also run throughout like Halloween, Christmas, and April Ghouls (to name a few), and there are ‘secret’ quests for each of these to help complete the events. Like Pump Quinn losing their body in a Halloween Ritual gone wrong, or someone putting super glue on Harriet’s whistle during April Ghouls. It all had me giggling along. The hardest thing to ever do when creating comedic dialogue is to not push or overextend the jokes. The writers behind Have a Nice Death execute the dialogue perfectly without any eye-rolling or forced meme jokes. None that I’ve found anyway!
The game starts with a pretty hefty tutorial to help you get on your feet and navigate the landscape. Harriet, your guide, will teach you how to use your weapons, collect anima (HP), regen mana, heal, and take curses. However, there are a few things the tutorial fails to explain completely which could lead to confusion on some of the more specifics. Curses are your run modifiers. They are split into 3 categories which (I believe) are Weapons, Health, and Magic. They have their own skill tree which branches up as you play the game. This was the most confusing mechanic as I was never really sure how these skill trees were formed. However, each run gave a completely new skill tree with lots of different modifiers to choose from. It is a shame that the icons have no text or explanations though.
The Curse mechanic does work really well though, allowing you to gain more HP, get 20% more attack damage, infuse attacks with poison, have lower cooldowns, etc. This allows the player to have control over the build for the run. If you decide to have 2 spell weapons, then maxing out your magic-based Curses is a great strategy. Some higher-level Curses also come with downsides, which might decrease your damage with a weapon or make certain enemies hit harder. The good thing is that you can select which side effect you would like, and there are some items you can collect in runs that nullify the negative effects! Every run seemed completely different and random, which helps each run feel new and fun.
Alongside Curses, your weapons are the main modifier in each run. There are so many weapons and spells to collect! Each weapon and spell comes with different stats, with incredibly punny names, and each offers an ‘ultimate’. To collect them all you will need to purchase them in your office and you’ll then have a chance to find them during the runs. These can be offered at a discounted cost if you meet the specific requirements. This could be ‘use Anima 20 times’ or ‘kill Dave 10 times’, for instance. There does seem to be a rarity aspect to the equipment as well, however, it was hard to tell which items were actually better than others. A personal favourite of mine was the Bees. This is a spell that shoots a pair of bees that are like little homing missiles, and then the ultimate attack is to send off a hive of them, so there is a continuous swarm of angry bee missiles hunting down your target. It would be really awesome to have a way to remove weapons you don’t like from runs, as it is never fun being stuck with something you aren’t really feeling. The Scythe has several different options to choose from as well. In the beginning, you’ll only have a single option but as you level up you’ll unlock different Scythes to choose from at the beginning of each cycle.
As in many rogue-lite games, there were several elevator ‘levels’ per department, and the aim was to reach the end boss before moving on to the next. Each time you got into the elevator, you could choose the path you took, whether it was weapon storage, the HR department, an assortment of mini-bosses called ‘Thanagers’ and many more. There were usually between 2-4 options each time but there was no clear indication of why that was. Having so many different options really helps the player have more control over how they build curses and weapons to advance through the run.
Once you’ve dealt with the Sorrows at the end of each department, you are treated to a respite. The break room offers new storylines to enjoy each time, as well as some added buffs and bonuses as well as the ability to upgrade your weapons.
The departments, minions, Thanagers and Sorrows are unique, well thought out and heavily themed. Mixing the cute art style with heavy dark themes can be quite disturbing, such as doctors shooting needles, children suffocating in bubblegum, and mini-boss ‘Will Hung’ who fought with the rope around his neck. The content warnings aren’t just for show, there are heavy themes of addiction, suicide, and war.
Have a Nice Death offers controller support which really seemed like the best option. There are 3 main buttons for attack with the Scythe plus two slots for either Cloak or Magic weapons. The combat feels smooth and fluid as any side scroller should be, with a responsive dash and attack structure. Knowing when to continue your scythe attack can be tricky as the animation can’t be finished once it has started, but this is a common mechanic. The game can be punishing at times, however, the genre of rogue-lite almost demands a certain amount of difficulty. The best thing about this is that there are two settings of difficulty straight off the bat that can give bonuses and assist those who want to enjoy the game but aren’t really into the hardcore rogue-lite style. So everyone can enjoy!
There are also some other accessibility options within the menu that are already turned on to assist with character-facing and combat assistance. It is really awesome to see games allow all players to get a chance to play the game.
It has to be noted though that the game does escalate in difficulty quite quickly and the outside modifiers, the ‘lite’ part of the genre, aren’t as balanced as they could be. Weapon upgrades only exist during the run and disappear once failed. Unlocking new weapons feels more like a hindrance than helpful as you are just adding more dice to the pool. After 10 hours of gameplay and unlocking a huge amount of weapons, it was hard to feel more powerful. The outside power-ups just didn’t feel like enough. Though it’s admittedly a rather small gripe when compared to the incredible successes of the title.
- Banging soundtrack
- Great difficulty settings and accessibility options
- Excellent addition to the rogue-lite genre
- Adorable and well thought out character design and development
- Engaging storyline
- Gameplay can get repetitive late game
- Lack of meaningful character advancement outside of runs
Have a Nice Death is a well-put-together and polished game with crisp controls, an engaging story, and an adorable hand-drawn art style. The soundtrack is an endless string of bangers that makes the runs engaging. With over 600 lines of dialogue, 9 departments, 10 bosses, and heaps to explore, there is plenty of content awaiting. The script, soundtrack and art style really set the tone for the game and ties everything together in a neat little bow. Have a Nice Death is a welcomed addition to the rogue-lite genre and sets a high bar for future releases.