Embodying an idea can be a hard task, but that has not stopped Magic Design Studios and Gearbox Publishing from trying in Have a Nice Death, a deathly charming roguelike that features an overworked Death trying to regain a semblance of order in his hallowed workplace, and frenetic, challenging combat that keeps the adrenaline pumping.
From its procedurally generated levels to the intimidating bosses that stand in Death’s way, Have a Nice Death is never afraid to ramp up the difficulty and ask for mastery from the players. Combat is swift and responsive, allowing the varied arsenal of scythes, magical spells, and secondary weapons to shine when facing down numerous foes.
Every level draws its inspiration from a manner of death, be it warfare or too much sugar, and the visuals simply ooze style and substance at every turn. Enemies are fitting and distinct, and the background is often eye-catching as Death platforms across the level and slays his foes. The charm and creativity on show are certain highlights, and it scarcely gets old seeing the various avenues in which to cause hurt play out on the screen.
Within each level, players will eventually open up multiple paths to choose from, which makes it easier to skew towards your preferred playstyle, whether it be gathering more resources to spend or taking on the mid-level miniboss to prove your mettle.
Death also has the benefit of picking up a variety of Curse cards, each designed to confer passive buffs in the current run. Cards runs the gamut from adding enhanced effects to certain attacks or regenerating health from vanquishing tough foes and players will need all of them and more if they hope to succeed in Have a Nice Death.
This is largely down to the steep learning curve that comes with each of the Thanagers and Sorrows that bookend a level, offering a fight that is vastly more difficult compared to the disposable henchmen that are littered throughout. For those who are adept at memorising patterns and disciplined, the combat in the game will make perfect sense. As for the rest of us, it will take much practice and plenty of dying before it becomes easier.
It helps that Have a Nice Death actively requires players to embrace the end, as a roguelike should do. However, therein lies some issues regarding the progression system, which may disappoint genre veterans. Defeat naturally comes with a price to pay, but it is too heavy a price when almost everything significant is removed, robbing players of that urge to go on one more run, bolstered by an ever-building momentum.
Although permanent stat increases sound good, they never have too much of an impact compared to getting the good rolls, with rerolls being another area that players can affect for a subsequent run. However, both are never as useful as unlocking more powerful abilities and passives that will be added to the growing pool, and if you know the right combination of unlocks, it can make the game much easier to handle with controlled randomness. Otherwise, it becomes more of a slog that feels like punishment to go through at times.
Progression also comes in the form of unlocking express elevators that can skip the gauntlet of levels before an actual boss. Unless you like a tougher time than usual, it will be wiser to go through the different levels to build up your strength. This feels counterintuitive on some level, simultaneously rewarding the player but also punishing them as well.
At least on the storytelling front, there is much more to like about Have a Nice Death. Each run will expound more about the chaos that is unfolding in the afterlife, with a cast of memorable characters doing their part to make the place of death much livelier. It pays to build these relationships, especially for those that like their worldbuilding, and the roguelike repetitiveness makes great use of that.
For what it’s worth, Have a Nice Death is a competent roguelike that pushes hard on the challenge when it comes to big encounters. The afterlife need not be that dreary, and there is something inherently fun and delightful in the worlds and characters, but its progression systems definitely need a refresh to breathe new life into this punishing new kid on the block.
Have a Nice Death is available on Steam for $27.00.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A wonky progression system stands in the way of glory for the afterlife in Have a Nice Death, an otherwise entertaining roguelike full of wit and charm.
Gameplay - 7/10
Story - 8.5/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 7/10